The Magical Balze del Valdarno
The Balze del Valdarno are an enchanted place, where the green of the valley harmoniously combines with the strange and elegant reliefs that rise sinuously, creating a rolling landscape of gorges and steep slopes.
Their origin goes back to prehistoric times, when the Valdarno was a vast lake, whose shores were some of the current mountains, such as the Pratomagno massif on one side, and the hills of Chianti on the other. With the extinction of the lake, about 100,000 years ago, the Arno river and its tributaries began a process of erosion of what was the bottom of the lake itself. Process that is still in progress today. For this reason the reliefs that make up the Balze are made up of sand, clay and sandstone. Even today there are toponyms that recall these ancient events, such as Incisa Valdarno, so called because it is precisely there that the break or incision of the lake basin – from which the water began to flow – took place.
Already in the sixteenth century, Leonardo Da Vinci was so impressed by this extraordinary panorama that he described and depicted it in his Codes, as well as painted it – as it seems – in the landscape that frames one of his greatest masterpieces: the Mona Lisa.
Today the Balze are a magical and unique place, counted since 1998 among the Protected Areas of Tuscany, but still little known. A corner of the world to be discovered, where tourism has not yet taken hold and where it is hence possible to lose yourself in search of caves, gorges and unexpected panoramic views. There are numerous itineraries on foot, by bike, on horseback or even by car to discover. The most striking reliefs rise along the slopes of Pratomagno, near Terranuova Bracciolini and Castelfranco di Sopra. It is certainly worth taking the Sentiero dell’acqua zolfina path leading to the picturesque village of Piantravigne or the Strada delle Cave to the Fattoria di Poggitazzi, from which several paths depart, such as the one that leads to the so-called Cava delle Fate or – not far from Castelfranco di Sopra – the suggestive Balze di Faella.
The unique landscape of the Balze del Valdarno is so suggestive that, over the centuries, its inhabitants have called their farms and the most hidden corners with evocative names able, even today, to let our imagination run wild towards enchanted landscapes. Inferno (Hell), Purgatorio (Purgatory), Case Fate (Fairies’ Houses): names with a magical flavour.