Try to imagine: rolling hills (between Florence,Pisa and Siena), historical hamlets, local products: a journey in the very heart of Tuscany. You will smell the flavours of the local tradition like the Chianti Wines, extra-virgin oil, truffles, Tuscan breads, cheeses and so on.
You will discover also the ancient crafts AND trades that have been handed down for centuries : the ceramics of Montelupo Fiorentino, the terracotta items, the green glass of Empoli end the famous leather accessories.
These are one-day itineraries:
ITINERARY NUMBER 1
THE HILLS OF LEONARDO DA VINCI
Lenght: 25 Km
Localities: Capraia, Limite, Faltognano, Anchiano, Vinci
Product: Extra-Virgin Olive Oil : with its unique, spicy flavour, extra virgin olive oil is the real excellence of Montalbano area. It is obtained from olives that are grown, picked and pressed in the territory, this olive oil can be tasted in the olive mills and holiday farms along the Olive-Oil and Wine Road, in the hills of Leonardo. (www.stradadileonardo.org)
The landscapes of Montalbano look very much like Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings of with their massive hills rising up among the towns of Capraia, Limite and Vinci.
Starting from Capraia Fiorentina, the authentic terracotta capital, and following the banks of the River Arno, we come to Limite sull'Arno, home of the oldest rowing club in Italy (founded in 1861), where we can visit the EXHIBITION CENTRE DEDICATED TO SHIPBUILDING AND ROWING with exhibits of the works of wooden-boat builders, and small ships which in the past exploited the close vicinity to the river.
From Limite we start to climb the scenic road leading to Castra and the crest of Montalbano where the vineyards soon give way to olive groves and finally, oak forests, for centuries the scene of hunting expeditions organised by the Medici family who established a game reserve there, called the Barco Reale Mediceo. Thanks to a dense network of tracks that wind towards to ancient settlements, tiny hamlets and breathtaking views of the Arno Valley, these hills are now a real paradise for hikers.
On arriving in Pietramarina we begin our descent towards Vitolini and come to Faltognano where there is an obligatory stop-off to admire the landscape in the shade of a majestic,CENTURIES-OLD HOLM OAK. Continuing on towards Vinci, in the locality of Anchiano, we reach LEONARDO’S BIRTHPLACE this fifteenthcentury farmhouse, now a museum dedicated to Leonardo’s paintings and life, also reserves a surprise encounter with the Genius himself. There are spectacular views of the olive groves (which each year produce the prized PGI Extra-virgin Olive Oil of Montalbano), and the delightful village of Vinci, where this itinerary comes to an end with a tour of the LEONARDIAN MUSEUM and its important collection of works by Leonardo, the technologist and enginee
ITINERARY NUMBER 2
THE MEDICEAN LANDS
Distance: 40 Km
Localities: Cerreto Guidi, Padule di Fucecchio, Ponte a Cappiano, Fucecchio
Product: Leather: The area between Cerreto Guidi and Fucecchio forms part of an important production district in the leather industry, where numerous local companies are specialised in the processing of leather for footwear and accessories that are exported all over the world, and where you can purchase top quality leather goods
The hill on top of which the characteristic hamlet of Cerreto Guidi sits is dominated by the unmistakeable profile of MEDICI VILLA the erected by Cosimo I de Medici in 1556 as his hunting lodge and today home of the HISTORICAL MUSEUM OF HUNTING AND THE TERRITORY with displays of hunting weapons from various époques and an impressive collection of portraits of members of the Medici family itself. In 1576 this villa was the scene of the mysterious death of Isabella de Medici, whose fame is revived each year in July at the event, Isabella’s Night.
From Cerreto Guidi, travelling along the scenic road of Poggio Tempesti and passing by Fucecchio, we continue in the direction of Montecatini Terme in order to reach the Research Centre of Castelmartini, gateway to the Natural Reserve of the MARSH OF FUCECCHIOThe final haven for numerous animal species and a ‘must’ for birdwatchers, this area is the largest inland marsh in Italy and can be visited on foot or bike for most of the year.
Returning towards Fucecchio we follow the signs to Ponte a Cappiano where we can admire a monumental sixteenth-century structure, also commissioned by Cosimo de' Medici and built over the ancient crossing of the Usciana canal, still part of the itinerary of the Via Francigena route. The bridge, equipped with a modern system of locks that made it possible to regulate the flows of water of the marsh, was designed by Leonardo da Vinci himself.
The last leg of this itinerary consists of a visit to Fucecchio, birthplace of famous journalist Indro Montanelli whose original studies are conserved in the MONTANELLI BASSI FOUNDATION. The oldest testimonies to the history of this village are on display in the rooms of the MUSEUM OF FUCECCHIO found in the Corsini Park which also houses the imposing sculpture Eloisa by Arturo Carmassi, as well as the ruins of the medieval walls.
ITINERARY NUMBER 3
THE COLOURS OF TRADITION
Distance: 8 Km
Localities: Empoli, Pontorme,Montelupo Fiorentino
From Borgo La Casaccia (roundtrip): 74 Km
Product: The Ceramics Road passes through the towns of Montelupo Fiorentino, Capraia e Limite, Montespertoli and Lastra a Signa, on the discovery of the artisan workshops and factories where still today craftsmen hand down their century-old secrets of creating ceramics and terracotta items. (www.stradadellaceramica.it)
The city of Empoli, renowned as the birthplace of painter, Jacopo Carucci, also known as Pontormo, and musician Ferruccio Busoni, and famous for its churches, museums and thousand-year-old history, is also characterised by the historical production of green glass.
For decades the protagonist of table settings of the middle classes, and perfect for conserving olive oil and wine, this glass with its unmistakable bright green colour, is the emblematic product of the city of Empoli. From the eighteenth century onwards, thanks to the presence of raw materials and an advantageous position on the main communication routes and the River Arno, this important industry grew up and became the city’s largest manufacturing activity. Only a few furnaces are still operating in Empoli, however the memory of this industry that had such a great impact on local history is now conserved and revived in the GLASS MUSEUM OF EMPOLI (MUVE). Thanks to environmental reconstructions, videos and audio presentation, this is where the display of glassmaking is brought to life and we have the impression of being inside a furnace as we follow the history and production steps of this famous green glass.
Leaving Empoli behind and heading towards Montelupo Fiorentino, we come to the village of Pontorme, PONTORMO’S BIRTHPLACE,the ideal spot for discovering the most intimate universe of this outstanding artist.
Upon finally reaching Montelupo Fiorentino, the City of Ceramics, we cross through the historic centre decorated with coloured installations in majolica ceramics and filled with typical artisan workshops, until arriving at the MONTELUPO CERAMICS MUSEUM which houses over 1000 ceramics items produced in this area from the Middle Ages up to modern times. The very famous majolica ceramics of Montelupo, which enhanced the most important courts of Italy and Europe during the Renaissance, is still the symbolic product of this city, exported and admired all over the world.
Distance: 35 Km
Localities: Castelfiorentino, Meleto,Montespertoli, Lucardo
From Borgo La Casaccia (roundtrip): 170 Km
Product: Produced exclusively on the hills of Montespertoli, this wine, which has a unique flavour obtained by blending varying proportions of Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Malvasia and Trebbiano grapes, is the perfect accompaniment for the dishes of Tuscan cuisine. Every year, between the end of May and the beginning of June, the Chianti Wine Show in Montespertoli is the ideal occasion to discover, or perhaps rediscover, this local excellence. (www.chianti-montespertoli.it)
Surrounded by the rolling hills of the Valdelsa (Valley of the River Elsa) and animated by the tranquil rhythms typical of provincial Tuscan towns, Castelfiorentino is the starting point of this itinerary dedicated to the most important product in the EmpoleseValdelsa area, Chianti wine. In the heart of Castelfiorentino, the SANTA VERDIANA MUSEUM and the BEGO museum with frescoes by Benozzo Gozzoli, tell of a century-long artistic tradition, while only a short distance away from the centre is the district of Meleto where in the nineteenth century Cosimo Ridolfi wrote one of the most important pages in the history of Tuscan and Italian agriculture. Travelling down Via Samminiatese that leads past Castelnuovo d’Elsa we finally reach Meleto. Cultivated fields and vineyards testify to the activities of Ridolfi, who in 1834 transformed his MELETO FARM into the very first agricultural college in Italy where new irrigation and planting techniques were tested in an experimental farming area (still conserved today).
With our minds filled with images of the works of this protagonist from the Risorgimento, we return to Castelfiorentino and head towards Montespertoli on a road that offers breathtaking views of hills that the skilled hands of man have known how to transform into a winegrowing district par excellence. It is precisely here in Montespertoli, the Wine Capital, that several years ago breadmaking with ancient grains was rediscovered, earning it the additional title of City of Bread. TheMUSEUM OF VINES AND WINE is located here, the perfect place for learning about the different local grape varieties and the winegrowing and winemaking procedures, while also being able to taste the different wines.
From the Wine Museum, continuing in the direction of Certaldo we come to Lucardo, an authentic medieval hamlet that offers a sweeping view of the surrounding countryside. Here, where time seems to stand still, we can end the day in style while enjoying some excellent Marzolino cheese, the oldest pecorino in Tuscany, which Benozzo Gozzoli himself portrayed in one of his frescoes that is on display in Castelfiorentino.
Distance: 26 Km
Localities: Certaldo, Gambassi Terme, San vivaldo, Montaione
From Borgo La Casaccia (roundtrip): 170 Km
Product: The Onion of Certaldo: Closely linked to the town’s identity and also depicted on the coat of arms of the city council, is the red onion of Certaldo, a very well-known local gastronomic product. Available in two different varieties, a winter one with a more pungent flavour, and a summer one that can be eaten raw, the red onion is excellent in soups, on crostini, and as an ingredient of the classical “lesso rifatto” (meat stew). It can be purchased in the stores of Certaldo and local farmers’ markets plus you can enjoy it at the historical onion festival held at the beginning of September.
The alleyways, piazzas and medieval buildings with their bricks caressed by the warm glow of the setting sun all make Certaldo one of the most spectacular villages of the Empolese-Valdelsa area. It was here in the fourteenth century that famous writer, Giovanni Boccaccio chose to rest forever and his HOME has now been turned into a museum and specialised library. Also inside the city walls we can visit the MUSEUM OF SACRED HEART and the evocative rooms of PALAZZO PRETORIO for centuries the fulcrum of civilian authority. If we look over the perfectly conserved city walls we can admire the towers of nearby San Gimignano and the tiny hamlets and oak forests on the surrounding hills.
On one of these hills a few kilometres from Certaldo is the town of Gambassi Terme with its scenographic CHIANNI PARISH CHURCH on the Via Francigena, the famous route taken by Archbishop Sigeric ten centuries ago and still today traversed by thousands of pilgrims on their journey that leads from Canterbury to Rome. Gambassi is also a renowned thermal spa where we can take a pleasant break and enjoy the beneficial properties of the brine waters of Pillo.
Resuming our journey and heading towards Montaione, a short detour leads to San Vivaldo where we can visit the famous JEROUSALEM OF TUSCANY a complex of chapels built at the beginning of the sixteenth century arranged so as to reproduce the exact layout of the city of Jerusalem, and decorated with splendid polychrome terracotta works depicting scenes from the Passion.
The last stop-off on this itinerary is the tiny hamlet of Montaione, perched on a hill and huddling around the typical central piazza, often animated with local festivals, one of which is the Tartufesta, a market fair dedicated to the prestigious white truffle which at the end of October attracts numerous exhibitors and truffle enthusiasts