The Chianti hills, the medieval villages of Leonardo and Boccaccio, the Via Francigena, the nature of the Fucecchio marshes and the artistic craftsmanship of Montelupo: this is the Empolese Valdelsa and Montalbano region in the heart of Tuscany. It's the ideal location for those seeking a holiday in nature, far from the most common tourist routes, discovering art and great food.
Take a vacation and come with us on a 6-day trip from Montalbano to Valdelsa. Remember that these places are only an hours drive from the Tyrrhenian coast and the art cities of Florence and Pisa.
Our journey starts from Fucecchio, at the foot of Montalbano, one of the stages of the Via Francigena. Here, we visit Palazzo Corsini which hosts the Civic Museum, to get to know the history of this territory, its past and present times. If you love hiking in nature, you can follow the route of the pilgrims of the past, walking the Via Francigena until the Padule di Fuccechio, the largest inland marshland in Italy. You can cover this itinerary on foot or by boat, renting the traditional barchini to enjoy the beauty of the local fauna and flora.
In the afternoon, we visit the small village of Cerreto Guidi, dominated by the Medici Villa, a historic summer residence of the Medici family and today a UNESCO World Heritage Site. At the end of the day, we visit the spectacular 32-yard miniature, made by the “Crochet Dames” who reproduced the landscape between Cerreto Guidi and Vinci.
The second day begins with a visit to Vinci, Leonardo’s birthplace, the great Renaissance genius. After exploring the medieval village, we visit the Museo Leonardiano, dedicated to the artist’s marvels of engineering. However, if you prefer relaxing among hills covered with olive trees, you can go walking along one of the many paths of the Genius: from the Via dei Mulini to the Strada Verde which leads to Leonardo’s House, up to the Via di Caterina, dedicated to Leonardo’s mother.
In the afternoon, we go for a trip to Capraia e Limite: two villages that are part of the same municipality. Located along the Arno, there are many original ideas for those who love local traditions: the Museo Remiero (Rowing Museum) of Limite, where we can learn the history of the shipwrights who used to cross the Arno River on traditional boats, or the Fornace Pasquinucci in Capraia, once known for terracotta craftsmanship, and now transformed into a contemporary art exhibition centre.
Montelupo Fiorentino welcomes us on the third day of our holiday. As Montelupo is renowned for its artistic ceramics, we should start our visit from the Museo della Ceramica (Ceramics Museum), where you can choose among one of the many thematic itineraries. It's also possible to participate in the workshops dedicated to families, upon reservation. If you are passionate about archaeology, don't miss the Archaeological Museum, which preserves finds from the Villa del Vergigno, one of the few Roman villas in inland Tuscany.
A few miles by car and we reach Pontorme on the outskirts of Empoli, the city of the painter Pontormo, and visit his birthplace. Then we move to the historical centre of Empoli, on foot or by car. Art lovers absolutely must visit the complex of the Collegiate Church of St Andrea, the oldest ecclesiastical museum in Italy. However, if you are travelling with children, the Museum of Palaeontology will amaze the whole family with mineralized dinosaur eggs dating back 65 million years ago and the life-size reproduction of a Velociraptor and a Protoceratops fighting.
We move to Castelfiorentino in Valdelsa, a town between tradition and modernity. The discovery of the village begins at the Sanctuary of Santa Verdiana that's dedicated to the patron saint, and the adjacent Museum of Sacred Art which houses precious works of art. If you love art, visit the Bego Museum to appreciate the works of the 15th-century painter Benozzo Gozzoli and the frescoes he painted for the two tabernacles of the town.
In the afternoon, we reach Certaldo, Giovanni Boccaccio’s birthplace. We reach the upper part of the village by cable car to visit the house of the writer and Palazzo Pretorio Museum, the historic Courthouse. We end the day by admiring a magnificent sunset over the hills, followed by a dinner including typical products such as the Certaldo onion and white truffle from Valdelsa.
The village of the white truffle is the first stop of day 5: Montaione, surrounded by the rolling hills of Valdelsa and typical villages such as Castelfalfi. Walking through the historical centre, we reach Palazzo Pretorio and visit the Civic Museu, where we can admire the fossil of a whale dating back 4 million years. A few miles from the centre, we find the Jerusalem of San Vivaldo, a historic place of pilgrimage that was built to recreate the topography of Jerusalem in the 16th century.
In the afternoon, we reach Gambassi Terme, one of the fundamental stages of the Via Francigena. Here, it's worth stopping to admire the beautiful Romanesque church of Santa Maria in Chianni, mentioned by Archbishop Sigerico in his diary at the end of the 10th century. From here, we walk in the surrounding woods to reach the Grottoes of Maurizio, named after the hermit from Gambassi who lived in this area for decades in the mid-20th century.
The last day of our trip takes us along the Wine Route in the direction of Montespertoli, the capital of Chianti. Here we visit the Museum of Vine and Wine, installed inside historic cellars, and learn the techniques of the processing and production of Chianti wine.
In the afternoon, we relax with a walk along the Via di Castiglioni, an educational itinerary crossing the Florentine hills, which starts from the centuries-old castle of Montegufoni. At the end of the tour, we can choose one of the many wineries for a final tasting of Chianti wine and typical Tuscan food.