The most important river in Tuscany gives its name to the Valdarno, one of the four valleys in the province of Arezzo. Did you know there was a lake in this area millions of years ago? It occupied the entire Aretinian Valdarno and, when it dried up, it left hills in place of those that were its banks.
On one side the Chianti, on the other the Pratomagno. The water had vertically carved some creeks on the walls of these reliefs, then modeled by atmospheric agents. It is the Balze del Valdarno.
The Tuscan Grand Canyon
The route to admire this spectacular natural architecture is called Cave Road. It crosses the countryside and joins San Giovanni Valdarno and Penna, a hamlet of Terranuova Bracciolini.
Excursion Instructions, some advice
The Cave Road allows you to closely observe the yellow ochre spires of the Balze del Valdarno within a protected area. The route is nine kilometers long in total. Following this route you will walk along paths, dirt and asphalt roads.
If you are already a bit of a hiker, you know that for a perfect hike you need the appropriate equipment. Long pants and an “onion” style of dressing are recommended to avoid insect bites, overheating, or chills from blasts of cold.
The route is also suitable for children. To make your stops comfortable, put a cloth in your backpack to lie on the ground. A postcard-like landscape opens up around you, made up of vineyards, olive groves and farmhouses.
The Most Important Stops along cave Road
This trekking will guide you in the territory of Terranuova Bracciolini, rich in small, delightful hamlets. The first one you meet is Piantravigne, known as the pearl of the Balze. It is a village built on the edge of a ravine. Other special signs? Here there is the painting of the oldest Our lady in Valdarno.
From Piantravigne you can enjoy an amazing view. An equally amazing view is the one offered by Persignano, a Roman origin village that later became a castle of the Pazzi family of Valdarno.
Not far away there is Montemarciano with its picturesque Medieval Porta Campana and a timeless atmosphere caught in the glimpses of its alleys. Usually a lot of hikers leave from here to view the Fate Hole.
The farmers christened this point because of the very scenographic shadows that are produced in the evening on the walls of the Balze del Valdarno. But there is nothing supernatural to be afraid of. Only an amphitheatre built by nature that at the end of the day can give you pure magic.
Beyond trekking. What to see in the Aretinian Valdarno
If you are not a sports guy, do not get discouraged. In this area of the province of Arezzo there are plenty of exciting attractions and locations to visit. In the surroundings of the Balze del Valdarno are scattered pretty towns, paradisiacal natural areas, churches and beautiful villages.
San Giovanni Valdarno and Montevarchi
In San Giovanni Valdarno, Palazzo d’Arnolfo shines as a diamond in piazza Cavour. It is one of the symbols of the Aretinian Valdarno with its crenellated tower and the facade adorned with a multitude of coats of arms of the Florentine vicars. Inside there is the New Lands Museum.
Take a trip to the Basilica of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Upon entering, you will find yourself behind the altar. Strange, isn’t it? The reason for this particular entrance depends on the Miracle of Monna Tancia linked to an image of the Virgin that was never transferred from where it was placed at the time of the appearance. In the lunette above the entrance to a chapel housed in the church there is a glazed terracotta signed Giovanni Della Robbia.
At the Basilica Museum you can contemplate religious works gathered here from various churches of the city (including the Annunciation by Beato Angelico). If you feel like contemporary art, go to Casa Masaccio, the building where the famous painter was born, which is also an exhibition venue.
A ten-minute drive will take you to Montevarchi. Start with a walk in Via Roma, full of eye-catching shop windows and ancient buildings. Wandering around the historic center you will come across Piazza Varchi, on which stands the Collegiate Church of San Lorenzo. Also beautiful Piazza Vittorio Veneto, which once welcomed the market.
You stumbled into a high-density centre of museums. In addition to the Museum of Sacred Art and the Museum of the Cassero, make time for the Paleontological Museum. Plant fossils and animals collected almost exclusively in Valdarno will pull you into an exciting exploration of the prehistoric past of this part of Tuscany.
Another gem not to be missed in Montevarchi is Villa Masini. Ideal destination for lovers of Art Nouveau style, it is nicknamed Casa del Nonno and dates back to the ’20s. It is possible that you have already glimpsed it on the big screen because here Roberto Benigni shot some images for his Oscar-winning film Life is Beautiful.
The Valle dell’Inferno and Bandella Nature Reserve
Not far from the Balze del Valdarno area, you can enter another protected Eden. It is the Valle dell’Inferno and Bandella Nature Reserve.
Know that the Arno will be the protagonist of your visit. This was the waterway that transported the wood of the Arezzo forests to Pisa, where it became building material for ships.
In the reserve you will find the swamp and the forest and you can follow with open mouth the flight of river birds. Bird watching is a classic of this place. What do you say we set up a spot for herons, egrets, moorhens or the tiny kingfishers?
These are the same scenarios that seduced Leonardo da Vinci. This is demonstrated by the fact that the Tuscan genius chose this part of the course of the Arno as the background of his most famous masterpiece, the Mona Lisa.
Discovering Valdarno, mosaic of splendor in the land of Arezzo
The list of what to see in Valdarno certainly does not end here. Loro Ciuffenna, the Borro, Castelnuovo dei Sabbioni, Bucine, Pergine Valdarno, Cavriglia… There are many destinations that would be worth travelling to within the province of Arezzo.
Plan your itinerary according to which face you prefer of this extraordinary valley. From architecture to art, from history to the virtuosity of nature, the horizons of the Valdarno will always know how to leave you breathless.