Reportedly founded by the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne back in 781, the abbey church at Sant'Antimo is one of Tuscany's most beautiful sights, set against a backdrop of olive-smothered hills in a river valley. Constructed of mellow, cream-colored travertine, the structure more likely began life in the ninth century before the apse, delicately frescoed side chapels and cloisters were completed in 1260. Its Romanesque style features a façade carved with figures of the Apostles, while an ornate bell tower is decorated in Lombardian style with two bells. Travelers can further admire the church's luminous, alabaster interior and its carved columns while keeping an eye out for the 13th-century crucifix that guards the altar.
Thanks to its proximity to the Via Francigena pilgrimage route between France and Rome, Sant'Antimo was once one of the most powerful Benedictine abbeys in Tuscany before it was closed by Pope Pius II in 1462. In its deconsecrated years, the church was used as a wine cellar and a cow shed, only becoming an active place of worship again in 1992, when it was run under supervision of Augustinian monks. In early 2016 a community of Benedictines returned; they sing Mass in Gregorian chant
each Sunday at 11 a.m. and during the week at 9:15 a.m. The abbey is a popular stop on day trips to Tuscany from Rome.
The abbey has free admission. The site is open daily from 6:45 a.m. to 7 p.m. but is only fully accessible to visitors from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and again from 3 to 6:30 p.m. unless for mass. An easy 5.5-mile (9-km) drive south of Montalcino, the abbey is near Castelnuovo dell’Abate. Alternatively, travelers can take the bus from Siena or the train to Buonconvento.