Posted by: Debra Kolkka | April 8, 2018

3 hilltop medieval towns

Last year on our way to Saturnia we passed some stunning looking hilltop towns and vowed to return to explore them. We stayed an extra day to do just this.

The first town we visited was Arcidosso, great name. It is first mentioned in 860 when it belonged to the Abbey of San Salvatore. It was once the most important political and administrative centre in the Monte Amiato area.

There is an impressive fountain in the newer part of town, which was reasonably busy on a cool spring day.


We walked into the medieval part of town through an old portal.


It boasts a very old castle. It claims to be one of the best preserved in Europe. We only saw it from the outside as it was firmly closed. The oldest part of the castle was built in 990. The main tower dates from 1160, the newer part in the 1200s and the watchtowers and battlements in the 1300s. It was built to last on a solid rock base.


There is a model of the castle in the piazza below. The castle now hosts events.


The medieval streets are narrow and steep, and empty. Some houses appeared to be lived in, but not many.


I was impressed with the many coats of arms.

There was another entrance to the old town lower down the hill.


The next town was Castel del Piano which looks amazing from a distance along its hilltop ridge. The town dates from 890, but Etruscans settled in the area long before that. From 1175 – 1321 it was a possession of the Aldobrandeschi family.

The first thing we came upon after parking the car was an excellent washing site. These communal washing areas are found all over Italy, but this is the biggest one I have seen. A lot of town news must have been discussed here over the centuries.

Castel del Piano

From there we walked up (always) to the old town.

The main piazza is big and impressive with 2 enormous churches almost side by side. This is Chiesa della Propositura.

Castel del Piano

Beside it is Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie.

In front of the churches the piazza looks towards the newer part of the town.

Castel del Piano

Behind the churches is another, more modern piazza with views over the countryside and a fountain.

We walked through the old town door beside the piazza up the steep, narrrow street to the top of the town. Most houses were empty and every second door had a Vendesi – For Sale – sign on it. I doubt there will be any buyers forthcoming.

Castel del Piano

From the top of the village there were beautiful views of the countryside and another hilltop town.

Castel del Piano

Castel del Piano

Castel del Piano holds a Palio on 8th September. It was run for the first time in 1402.

Our third stop was Seggiano, on the foothills of Monte Amiata. The town was built in the early 10th century as a possession of the nearby Abbey of San Salvatore.


We drove to the top of the town where we found a lovely piazza with a pretty church and a restaurant where we had a very good lunch.


We wandered a little further and found another church and some empty streets.



The view from the top was great and will get better as spring kicks in.

There is a olive oil festival held in December.

At the bottom of the town is the impressive Church of our Lady of Charity. It was built between 1589 and 1603 thanks to the Bishop of Pienza, Francesco Piccolomini. It boasts the only Spanish Baroque facade in Tuscany.

The light was in completely the wrong position for a good photo. It was closed so I can’t show you the inside.



We were a little disappointed with our visit to these 3 towns. They looked much better from a distance than they did up close. I realise that we were early in the season and spring is late coming this year, but the towns were unremarkable and a bit charmless.

The medieval parts of the towns are virtually empty, which is sad. Many people seem too have abandoned the old houses and moved to newer ones nearby with easier access to transport and shops.

I would suggest visiting if there is a local festival when the streets might come alive, or at least in summer when perhaps there will be more people about.




  1. Shame it is so lifeless in parts now, but may be difficult for modern families. Great photos tho.

    • I think it would be very difficult to live in some of these places. There would be little local work. The shops have closed so you would have to leave every day to shop and work.

  2. Debra, Sadly the towns may be charmless, but your photography most certainly is not.Let’s hope there is a turn in fortune for these locations.

    • I try to look for something interesting and I don’t like to be negative about places. It is someone’s home town and I’m sure there are great things to do there, but there is not a lot of interest for travellers.

  3. What lovely photos!!

  4. I remember visits to similarly almost deserted towns…..I guess the young people move away

    • Each of these towns was surrounded by new areas with new homes. It would appear that the residents have moved to more comfortable places to live.

      • Oh, OK

  5. Progress leaves a mournful echo, doesn’t it.

    • Yes, it does. Unless a reason to preserve some of these towns appears I fear they will eventually be pulled down.

  6. I love the organic way the Medieval towns grew with all sorts of nooks and crannies…Shame they are mostly empty… they will deteriorate over time.

    • It won’t be possible to preserve all of these old towns. If nobody is going to live in them there isn’t much point.

  7. It is very sad indeed how abandoned these ancient hilltop towns are. When we toured Tuscany, I too would spot these towns and probably embroidered them in my imagination. Thank you for taking the time and effort to check out these three, even though they were a disappointment to you. Good advice about visiting during festivals or in the summer!

    • Some towns manage to look lovely despite the lack of people, but some are a bit ordinary.

  8. It is a pity, but these towns will not fully inhabited again unless a source of sustainable income is found for them. The ones which have a better survival chance are those within half an hour from a larger town which has a good infrastructure and can provide jobs.

    • Some have more potential than others. Some old towns you walk into have a charm about them and make you want to return. These did not. I can’t even say what it is.

  9. Maybe a little sun would help. I liked the little person incorporated into the model of the castle. I sort of wonder if that wasn’t someone’s grand irony as to the state of affairs of the town.

    • It was sunny, but these streets are so narrow that the sun doesn’t get there except for a couple of hours a day. I wonder what will become of some of these places.

      • So many of Italy’s villages are emptying out…

      • It is happening around us here in Bagni di Lucca and I find it very sad. It helps a bit that foreigners buy some, but often they are only here for a short time each year, which still leaves them empty for most of the year. There is no simple answer.

  10. The situation in these tiny villages got worse once the steep tax on second homes was imposed. Many homes were abandoned by younger people who had moved on for work and could not afford to keep their ancestral family home in these remote villages.

    • It is a real pity that this is happening. I fear that some of these towns will not survive.

  11. Thanks Debra, another stunning photo tour. I’ll be wandering throughout central Italia this summer and will see if my travels get me close to Saturnia. The last few summers I’ve been exploring Delta del Po, stopping in little villages.

    • There is lots to see around Saturnia.

  12. We visited Arcidosso last year in summer but the castle was closed – I believe it’s privately owned. The town was busy with flowers everywhere – we also went to Saturnia which, once again was busy – maybe people are out and about when the weather is warmer

    • I’m pleased Arcidosso gets busy in summer. Saturnia is quite a pretty town which seems more lived in throughout the year and doesn’t seem to be abandoned for outlying houses.

  13. You could put all your Italy posts together and make a travel guide guide. So amazing!

    • We have covered quite a lot of Italy over the years.

      • Yes! Someday when I do a nice long return to Italy, I will use your blog as my guide. 🙂

  14. I recently told a friend about the wonderful feelings the old, small towns of Italy give me … and they are countless in numbers. Cheers to 3 more!

    • We couldn’t visit them all in one lifetime.

      • Well stated.

  15. It was awesome

  16. Beautiful! Came across this post on my reader and I just had to read it. I visited Tuscany last year, and my favorite memory is of spending the afternoon in San Gimignano, also a gorgeous medieval hilltop town. I always love visiting and reading about places like these; medieval architecture and history is really beautiful. I’ll have to add these three to my travel list!

    • There are many wonderful old villages in Italy to visit. I hope in summer that there is a bit more life in these 3.

  17. very beautifully captured, I was just thinking how would life be if these houses could be revived and made liveable.

    • It would be great to see these houses renovated and lived in, but there are just so many.

  18. Muito lindo ! É de fato que,um profundo regresso a um longinquo passado.

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