The road from Pienza to Montepulciano offers countless unforgettable vistas of vineyards, cypress-lined hillsides, abandoned stone fortresses, bucolic herds of sheep, cheerful sunflower fields and much more.
But it also harbors secrets that few travelers see on their way from here to there. One of these is the minuscule ancient hamlet of Bagno Vignoni (which has also been known to call itself Bagni Vignone!).
Probably less than a hundred people live in this oasis, which dates back to the Middle Ages.
In ages past, one of the many ways to assure yourself passage through St. Peter's pearly gates was to make the pilgrimage to Rome. For the vast majority of medieval Europeans, this meant walking from northern Europe across the Alps and down the Italian peninsula.
By the time you got to Tuscany, it was a good chance your feet were, well, on their last legs. What better remedy than to dip them into the warm soothing waters of a thermal stream?
Although very few of these devout Catholics could read a guidebook, they were all able to listen to stories around the campfire, and soon word spread about a secluded hillside in southern Tuscany where mineral-laden spa waters gurgled out of a mountaintop and ran down the slopes in rivulets just energetic enough to give sore feet a world-class massage.
Inevitably, this hillside became a popular stopping-off point for the millions of faithful about to start the very last segment of their grueling trip. If they had any money left, they might stay at the humble inn or have a meal at one of the simple kitchens before they continued on their way.
The pilgrimage to Rome died out long ago, but the tiny village of Bagno Vignoni is still there, barely a dozen ancient stone houses clustered around the big rectangular thermal pool that is now their town square.
If you're in the vicinity, be sure to find time to spend an hour in this enchanting place.