The Regional Natural Reserves of the Aretine Apennines are key to interpreting the changes that have taken and continue to take place in our planet. In these nature reserves, there are geologically diverse landscapes, each with millions of years of history: we pass from the ophiolites, the rough-looking magmatic rocks of the Monti Rognosi Regional Nature Reserve, to the white limestone walls of the Sasso di Simone, made from fossils of marine organisms. Even the vast forests have fascinating stories to tell: in the past, humankind has intensely exploited the forests to obtain wood and eliminated large portions to make way for arable areas and pastures.
The ring-route has a distance of about 160 km, and connects the 5 Regional Nature Reserves in the province of Arezzo: the Rognosi Mountains, the Upper Tiber Valley-Monte Nero, the Bosco di Montalto, the Sasso di Simone and the Alpe della Luna. The itinerary includes connections with the National Park of the Casentinesi Forests, Monte Falterona and Campigna, and the State Natural Reserves of Fungaia, Poggio Rosso, Formole and Zuccaia.
This is a route to be explored on foot or by mountain bike, bearing in mind that the cycling route doesn't always coincide with the walking path.
Starting from the Sansepolcro railway station, we reach the countryside along the Tiber river. We skirt the wetlands and riparian woods of the ANPIL Tiber floodplain and continue through the rural landscapes of the land where the Battle of Anghiari took place. After a short detour towards Bagnolo, we arrive at the entrance to the Monti Rognosi Regional Nature Reserve. The path in the reserve takes us through unique environments dominated by ophiolites, igneous rocks with a rough and solid appearance that have a dark green colour similar to that of reptiles. Continuing along, we intersect the nature path that leads to the Sanctuary of the Madonna delle Selva and reach an area for sleeping and dining.
The leg begins on the path that leads to the Singerna stream, a tributary of the Tiber River. Continuing on, we come to the Fungaia State Nature Reserve. Shortly after, we find the Poggio Rosso State Nature Reserve on our right towards the north, and finally the Formole State Nature Reserve, an important area for the breeding of the centuries-old breed of horses, the Haflinger. After passing the State Nature Reserves, we reach Cà Pigolotti and from here it's less than 2 km to reach Caprese Michelangelo, the birthplace of Michelangelo Buonarroti.
Leaving the village of Caprese Michelangelo and passing the villages of Lama and Fragaiolo, we come to a forest road that climbs to Monte Foresto in the centre of the Catenaia Alps (CAI 20A). We find ourselves walking in the midst of magnificent chestnut groves (Castanea sativa). While climbing in altitude, we enter the beech forest (Fagus sylvatica) that goes up to the top of the Montarcoppio hill where the Eremo della Casella stands. The path then continues along the ridge towards Chiusi della Verna, offering wonderful panoramic views up to the Sanctuary of La Verna.
La Verna is interesting for its wooded heritage with the monumental Apennine forest found here. Taking the CAI path 53 that starts right at the monastery, you access the path network that crosses the National Park of the Casentinesi and Campigna Forests.
Starting from the Sanctuary of La Verna, we reach the Croce alla Calla (CAI 50 and 55) at 1140 m asl where we leave the National Park of the Casentinesi Forests, Monte Falterona and Campigna.
The trail climbs into the coniferous forest until it reaches the grassy summit of Monte Calvano at 1250 m asl. It then crosses the Passo delle Pratelle (1075 m asl) and arrives at the Passo delle Gualanciole (1040 m asl) that leads to the Regional Nature Reserve of the Upper Tiber Valley - Monte Nero. The path brings us to the accommodation facility, the Le Gualanciole shelter, where the Le Gualanciole Agritourism and the visitor centre of the Regional Nature Reserve are located. The reserve is home to several species considered at risk of extinction in Tuscany such as the alpine daphne (Daphne alpina) and the Alpe della Luna thistle (Cirsium alpis-lunae). Rare plants include the two aesthetically pleasing species: the Himantoglossum orchid hircinum and the Italian spigarola (Melampyrum italicum).
In the fields in the area of the Gualanciole Pass, you can see typical birds such as the woodlark (Lullula arborea), while in the silver fir forests (Abies alba) you can find the elusive alpine treecreeper (Certhia familiaris). From the Gualanciole shelter, we continue the route and descend southwards to the villages of Mogginano (CAI 12), Ville Roti and Valdazze, where it's possible to stay overnight.
Starting from Valdazze, we reach Camerelle (along the CAI 00 and the cammino di Francesco) a short distance from the Bosco di Montalto Regional Nature Reserve on the CAI 2 path (Via Cerbaiolo). The reserve protects the entire northern slope of Mount Montalto that's covered in forests that have been preserved to this day thanks to the rugged morphology of the relief. There are two habitats of high community interest "forests of slopes, scree and valleys of Tilio-Acerion" and "beech forests of the Apennines with Taxus and Ilex".
Continuing on, we reach the Viamaggio Pass and the Sasso di Cocchiola (CAI 3), a place of great historical importance due to the presence of numerous points along the Gothic Line. The leg ends in Badia Tedalda where there are various accommodation and dining facilities.
Starting from Badia Tedalda, we pass by the Castle in the direction of Palazzi, up to Colcellalto, a small medieval village in Val Marecchia. We go through the Pretella Pass and find ourselves inside the Sasso di Simone Regional Nature Reserve (CAI 61). The route continues until you reach the Casa dal Re shelter (CAI 61B and 61C), with a rest area immersed in an oak grove where it's possible to stay overnight and reach Sasso di Simone via a Nature Trail. Going towards the Sasso, we find the unique formation of varicoloured Argillites that date back to 110-50 million years ago.
Above this formation is the limestone slab of Sasso di Simone, rocks which settled in a shallow sea basin and rose during the formation of the Apennines around 15-20 million years ago.
We leave Sestino and cross the Foglia river, heading towards Monte Serra di Battiroli (CAI 5). Along the way, we find the Ranco Spinoso Wildlife Park where many fallow deer (Dama dama), red deer (Cervus elaphus) and mouflons (Ovis orientalis) live. Continuing on, we reach the viewpoints of Monte Bello and Sasso Aguzzo from where we can admire the valleys below and the peaks of Alpe della Luna. Near the Poggio di Monterano, we access the Alpe della Luna Regional Nature Reserve where we can find the characteristic stratifications of the Marly-Arenacea Formation: a majestic rocky wall known as Ripa della Luna.
The forests in the area underwent heavy anthropogenic pressures from the Middle Ages up until a few decades ago, as they were used for the production of coal and firewood. The isolation of some areas made it possible to keep large portions of the forest intact over the centuries, and they now boast many monumental trees.
Near Monte Maggiore, we descend into the beech forest until we reach the La Spinella Shelter where the leg ends (CAI 6 and CAI 8).
From the La Spinella Shelter, we head along the forest road. We arrive in Germagnano where it's possible to follow a Nature Trail. After passing Germagnano, we leave the Alpe della Luna Regional Nature Reserve near Montagna. The itinerary leads us to the Hermitage of Montecasale, built in the twelfth century on the remains of a historic fortress. Originally, the hermitage belonged to the Camaldolese monks who used it as a hospice for pilgrims and a care centre for the sick. From the hermitage, continue along a path in the forest that descends towards the valley of the Afra stream, at the end of which we reconnect to the minor road network to reach the inhabited centre of Sansepolcro where our ring-route ends near the railway station.
For more information on the "Tuscan Nature Itinerary - Reserve routes in reserve", please refer to the page of the Regione Toscana (Tuscan Regional Council) where it's possible to find further information on the whole network of thematic itineraries that connect the regional nature reserves, as well as download information on the stages and trails of the itineraries that can also be travelled by MTB.