Discovering the Florentine countryside
For those who love the beauty and flavours of time gone by, all around Florence lies one of the most fascinating places in the world: the Tuscan countryside, with landscapes to enchant and seduce every traveller. Anyone who visits these hills and strings of vineyards leaves a piece of their heart here.
Just a little outside Florence, there are some small jewels to discover: the first is Fiesole, less than five miles from the county seat. An Etruscan centre with 14,000 inhabitants, this was the favourite holiday spots of the Florentines and was the backdrop Boccaccio chose for his ‘Decameron’. You reach this area by climbing a gentle slope populated by prestigious villas and mansions from which to admire the city; all around, woods and hillsides extend where one can still breathe in the magic of yore.
Besides the opulent Villa Medici, built in the middle of the 16th century, one can admire the lovely Villa Schifanoia – a significant name – with its formal Italian gardens. The surrounding beauties are remnants of Etruscan walls, the Roman baths and the Roman theatre, still in use.
To the north, towards the border with Emilia Romagna, you come upon a magical area – the Mugello – where Tuscany hugs the Apennines and one can revel in the warmth of vineyards, Romanesque churches, and mysterious towers out of the past. A necessary stop here is a visit to the House of Giotto, in Vicchio (hamlet of Vespignano), the place that cradled the famous Tuscan painter who, although from a peasant family, became one of the great masters of late Medieval art.
But the Mugello is also a land of religion and culture, one of the most meaningful places for ancient Tuscan Christianity. For a moment of reflection, far from the hubbub of the city, we recommend a pause near the Church of Saint Agatha, the most important church in this area, dating from the thirteenth century but with a basis in the sixth century.
In its simplicity, it conceals some small gems, like the fine votive chapel built by the Florentine Cambi family, an altar from 1616 by Simone Sacchettini dedicated to Saint Frances and a moving Madonna with Child by Jacopo di Cione.
Florence is completely surrounded by country: moving to the south, you find one of the most charming and celebrated places, if not in the world – although we like to boast of this title – at least in Italy and all of Europe. Everyone, at least once in their lives, has heard of Chianti, whether for wines or the international jetsetters who adore its quiet and enchanting panoramas, or for the many films, books and stories inspired by this place.
The Chianti area, lying gently between Florence and Siena, welcomes the traveller into its broad fields and vineyards, coloured in autumn with soft shades of red and yellow, where one sees small medieval villages where the ancient walls still survive, a testament to the glory of the past, a past which doesn’t seem to be all that distant here.
The first city we encounter on our travels among these fabled lands is Greve in Chianti, an ancient crossroads on the street leading to Florence, as you can see from the flourishing businesses that crowd around the Mercatale (called the Piazza del Mercato today).
A little way outside the centre of Greve rises Montefioralle, the most ancient village in the area that has masterfully maintained its original appearance, perhaps thanks to the slightly elevated position on a hill, and the protection of its special elliptical walls. Here, among villas and cottages, rises the Verrazzano castle where the famous explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano was born in 1485 – a man who made it from the hills of Chianti to the Bay of New York – and the Montefioralle stronghold, which according to tradition belonged to the family of Monna Lisa and hosted, among others, the emperor Frederick Barbarossa.
Proceeding towards Siena, you find another little jewel mounted in the green countryside: Barberino val d’Elsa. A little more than 370 metres high, the village naps calmly inside its walls that protected its churches and palaces for centuries (the Municipio, the Church of Saint Bartholomew and the ‘Borgo’ Palace, with the coat of arms of the rich and powerful Barberini family) and looks down to an expanse of green, where Chianti meets Val d’Elsa.
Among vineyards, emerald hills, villages that seem straight from a fairy tale and villas where the blue of luxury swimming pools mingles with the shimmer of olive trees, the Tuscan country is one of the most precious gifts you can give yourself and your loved ones, to treasure in your mind and heart.