Backstory, pt. 3: Head for the Hills
Updated: Mar 22, 2021
Everybody comes to Florence for the art, the culture, the history, or let's not forget the food, the wine, the shopping! But one of the most beautiful elements of this great city is what SURROUNDS it. Florence sits astride the Arno River in a low valley surrounded by verdant hills. To the south you have the beginning of the Chianti region, famous of course for its red wine production. To the north you have the the hill that rises up towards Fiesole, a charming village built over the ruins of an ancient Etruscan site, which stretches east towards the hamlet of Maiano (famous for its marble quarries) and Settignano. These are the hills where I go walking, along narrow lanes sandwiched between high walls, into the woods where the ancient Celts used to lie in wait for Roman garrisons, out into fields of olive trees, past castles and tiny chapels and the occasional farmhouse. Being able to escape into nature has been my meditation, my connection to the earth, as well as great exercise during the pandemic. Let's go take a walk, shall we?
Head south and you're out into the green sooner than you think!
Or head north and you pass some sumptuous villas on your way up to Fiesole
Stay low along the Arno and you can walk for miles, both east and west, on gravel and grassy trails. This shot is to the east of the city.
Take the #10 bus to the northeast of the city and explore the area around the hamlet of Ponte a Mensola. From there you can walk up past the Villa "I Tatti" towards the castle of Vincigliata.
The Castle of Vincigliata played an important role in defending the city from attack but eventually fell into disrepair. It was "rescued" by a British nobleman who renovated the tower and crenelations to their medieval splendor.
By late winter the flowering trees start to bloom on the way up to Settignano.
Pass beneath the imposing bulk of the Villa di Maiano, with its private chapel snug up against the protective walls.
Keep going and you find yourself high above the city with sweeping views down into the valley. If you wanted you could continue walking into the Apennine Mountains. There's a multi-day trail called the "Via degli Dei" (Path of the Gods) that connects Florence with Bologna!
And one things is for sure: while the city is full of tourists and traffic, you will almost certainly be ALONE up here!
Pop into the woods for some cool tree cover. In the spring you'll be serenaded by birdsong, and in mid-summer you'll cruise to the pulsing buzz of cicadas. Just don't linger past dusk or you might hear the grunting of wild boar!
The hills are divided mainly between forest and olive grove. Come over in November and help out with the olive harvest!
You'll also find stands of these iconic cypress trees. They rise like sentinels keeping guard over the hillside.
You'll come across isolated farmhouses like this one, whose narrow upper floors were probably used as farm storage/silos or for drying harvested crops. Now of course this is a much-coveted holiday home!
Back in the valley, return to the city along the Arno, looking beautiful on a calm day.
That's it for now! I think that's enough Backstory to get you situated. Next up: some fun street-art and other curiosities from the streets of Florence! :-D