Val d’Afra and Regional Natural Reserve Alpe della Luna

by Stefano Farinelli

The Tuscan Valtiberina is rich in naturalistic specimens of several kinds. Sedimentary rocks, magmatic/metamorphic and fauna and flora known all over the world. 

All this biodiversity and geodiversity is well suited for outdoor sports and recreational activities  such as: trail running, mountain biking and trekking. All these are combined with landscapes which vary rapidly from the bottom of the Tiber River floodplain to the hills/mountains of the two most important watersheds: the Alpe della Luna and the Alpe di Catenaia.

In this article we are going to discover a path which crosses the municipal territories of Sansepolcro and Pieve Santo Stefano, intersecting geology and sport in a very interesting combination!

Val d’Afra

The valley washed by the Tiber River goes from North-West to South-East with a rather elongated shape. From a geological point of view, it is a veritable fault system located at the foot of the two main ridges. We are in the Apennine and as in every other mountain range, the shapes of the landscape and the climate are typical of the place. Speaking of the Tiber River and therefore of the alluvial valley we cannot overlook one of the main and most important tributaries which is the Afra Torrent.

The Torrent rises from the slopes of the Alpe della Luna and flows, eroding the marly-sandstone rock, until it reaches its collector at the borders of the municipality of Sansepolcro. A characteristic “geological” landscape known with tabular sub-horizontal or inclined rocky outcrops accompanies you up inside the Regional Nature Reserve of the Alpe della Luna.  Here the flora changes and you are in front of a halfway coast plateau which can be covered by bike or on foot until the peak of Monte dei Frati, located about 1450 meters above sea level.

Ready? Go!

Start from the ancient biturgense town along Via dei Montefeltro in the direction of San Giustino (Pg). Upon arrival, in front of the famous Hotel “La Balestra” turn left and head towards Frazione Montagna. The asphalt road, which initially has slopes, is the classic sloping ground as they say in jargon, which definitely serves to warm the muscles in view of the climb which will take us into the Natural Reserve.

A wonderful view

After about a kilometer, you can see the first bridge over the Afra torrent. You can immediately guess the seasonal and torrential nature of the waterway from the curves and the erosion on its inland shores.

From here, the road starts to climb slightly and, passing the fork for the path or the asphalt road which leads to the convent of Monte Casale, spectacular scenery can be seen. The majestic ridge against the background is a picture which assures you do not miss the high peaks of the alpine landscapes.

Going farther, on the right the valley narrows and the stream is full of eddies and coves which are frequented by the inhabitants of the area in summer taking pictures of nature. On the left, the outcrops of Arenaria and Marnosa rock, characteristic of the homonymous geological formation of Marnoso-Arneacea, begin to make their way. They are thick layers of sedimentary rock with a rather coarse granulometry which alternates less thick layers of clay/calcareous marl. Both these lithological types belong to sedimentary groups in which the fluid currents of turbid flowed along the slopes of the mountain reliefs, eroding and transporting sediment. Once the strength of the current itself diminished, it could rest on the bottom of ancient seas creating the layers which can be seen today.

Towards Germagnano

Of course, due to the strength of tectonics and following very strong earthquakes, these rock layers can also be found very inclined, almost vertical. Now, turning left at the junction for Loc. Germagnano (about 7 kms from Sansepolcro) you leave the asphalt road and take a large dirt road with medium-high slope which leads to the farm of Germagnano. Here, you can find donkeys, horses, goats, and cows which manage to maintain a high biodiversity of the place and also provide a profitable source of income to those who manage them.

The road, keeping right at the first fork after the farm, continues climbing steadily on dirt road until you reach Loc. Spinella. An old stone house dominates from the top of its almost 1,000 meters above sea level. After a short break to take some panoramic photos, keep on (entering fully in the Municipality of Pieve Santo Stefano) through the path CAI 6, in the direction of “Pian delle capanne.” Here is a second stone structure in which a part remains open as a bivouac and self drinking place and another part is managed.

Follow initially only the path CAI 8B and then leave it permanently. The cart track is always of large semi-carriageable sizes and develops on the coast as in a plateau alternating short and easy up and down where you can see the valley below with its great reservoir of Montedoglio. Beautiful images can also be observed from the viewpoint called “il bastione”. After about 15 Kms from Sansepolcro, the road descends to intersect the Strada Provinciale 258 Marecchia which, lying on the left at the junction leads back to Sansepolcro – all on asphalt.


Between curves and hairpin bends, pass Loc.Aboca, known for being the headquarters of the homonymous company Aboca S.P.A. which cultivates and transforms medicinal plant species in their organic farming regime to market biopharmaceutical products. A jewel in the crown of Valtiberina and of  all Italy, it colors the hills with its fragrant plants.

After about 32 Kms from the start you can see again Sansepolcro and you can travel downhill there, relaxing after the beautiful bike ride on the hills of Valtiberina.