Our tour today takes us to the Southern part of the territory of Arezzo, in a fertile valley dedicated to agriculture that owes its name to the Chiana, the waterway – now an artificial canal – that crosses it.
When we talk about Valdichiana the question is always the same: where to start? This valley in the province of Arezzo is so rich in wonders that it is not easy to decide. Meanwhile, here are some useful coordinates to orient yourself. Cortona, Castiglion Fiorentino, Monte San Savino, Civitella, Foiano della Chiana and Lucignano will be your landmarks.
From swamp to garden of Arezzo, how the Valdichiana has changed
The ancient river Clanis has a very special history. It is impossible to summarize it in a few lines, but the most important thing to know is that in the past there was a great swamp here. The beautiful countryside which will accompany you during your holiday here is the result of the reclamation which occurred between the Nineteenth and Twentieth century.
In 2020 the landscape of the reclamation of Leopoldina became part of the register of Historical Rural Landscapes. A beautiful crown for this kingdom of vineyards, orchards, olive groves and garden centres where modernity has not erased the ancient rural traditions.
Walking in the land of Arezzo, here is the tour for you
In Valdichiana you can enjoy fantastic excursions in the middle of nature and visit the many attractions that its places offer you. In addition to postcard views of farmhouses, fields and hills, you will discover delightful villages and fascinating architecture of the past.
Here are some suggestions for a proposed and not at all obvious itinerary. A route in four stages recommended especially for those who want to avoid the routes of mass tourism. Without giving up, however, the inimitable charm of the Valdichiana.
The Castle of Montecchio Vesponi. Welcome to the house of Giovanni Acuto
Between Arezzo and Castiglion Fiorentino you will encounter an amazing manor house. The towers and the battlements of its walls characterize the panorama that surrounds the fortress. The Castle of Montecchio Vesponi rises on top of a hill, where the Valdichiana joins the Val di Chio.
It looks at the perimeter of the scenic city walls, which encloses the keep and a tower of about 30 meters. As long as they are well preserved you would say that they have built them recently, right? Instead, the first fortified structure was erected in the Eleventh century.
After the Battle of Campaldino in 1289 (the one in which Dante Alighieri also fought in the enemy line-up at the Arezzo area), the castle ended up under the control of Florence.
Every December for more than twenty years, on the hill of Montecchio Vesponi is set up a huge lighting system in the shape of a Christmas tree that the locals are very proud of. But there are at least two other reasons why it is worth including this destination in your trip to Valdichiana.
Number one: the stronghold appears in some works by the painter Beato Angelico. And you should know that by the end of the 14th century, those who sought John Hawkwood’s services could find him at this very address. In Italy he is best known by the name of Giovanni Acuto, a fearsome mercenary leader who went down in history for his cruelty.
The Castle of Montecchio Vesponi was given to him by the Florentines as a reward for his work. A respectable residence for a bloody captain of fortune. Chills, eh?
Abbey of Farneta, a diamond guarded by monks
It changes totally with the Abbey of Farneta. You have to move towards Cortona to admire this building dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta.
Oasis of peace and spirituality in the countryside, this is the oldest Romanesque church in the territory of Arezzo. It was founded by the Benedictine monks between the Ninth and the Tenth century, then it was managed by the Olivetans. Heads spin to think of how many centuries its stones give comfort and hope to the faithful. Its crypt was rediscovered only in the Twentieth century and is one of the strong points of the abbey. The sobriety of the interior gives emphasis to the atmosphere of recollection out of time of this building.
Want some advice? Avoid the spoiler by looking at the photos available on the net. Be surprised by the show that awaits you. Trust me, you will not regret it.
Lucignano, a dream village
Your next destination is on a hill that was on the border of the possessions of Arezzo, Florence, Siena and Perugia. Lucignano is a pearl of the Valdichiana. It is not by chance that it boasts the Orange Flag of the Italian Touring Club and is included in the list of the most beautiful villages in Italy.
A walk is the best way to explore this Medieval village whose origins are lost in the Etruscan era. It is structured in the shape of an ellipse with concentric rings and its heart corresponds to Piazza del Tribunale, where the three main buildings of Lucignano are gathered.
It starts from the Church of Saint Francis, which dates back to the 13th century. The Gothic style facade with horizontal bands is in travertine and local sandstone. Among the various works of art that await you there, a polyptych by Luca di Tommè depicting a Madonna with child and several saints. Among them there is Archangel Micheal who supports the castle of Lucignano.
A hundred meters away, there is the Collegiate Church of San Michele Arcangelo, built in the Sixteenth century. Surely you will notice its magnificent ellipse staircase, which recalls the town planning of the village. Take a look inside the building, too, of a somewhat austere elegance. The imposing profile of this church will remain etched in your mind as one of the symbols of Lucignano
Do not miss the Municipal Museum. Its highlight is the Golden Tree, the only reliquary in the world that has the shape of a plant. Can you believe that in order to make it, its authors, Ugolino da Vieri and Gabriello D’Antonio took 121 years in total (from 1350 to 1471)? They say it brings good luck to couples to promise eternal love in front of this exceptional masterpiece
The Golden Tree and the Maggiolata, a parade of floats covered with flowers held in spring, are the two fundamental reasons why Lucignano is so renowned.
Foiano della Chiana. What to see in the Village of the oldest carnival in Italy
A bunch of red roofs on the hill and there is Foiano della Chiana. This lively town, with a strong agricultural identity, is a gem of your itinerary in the province of Arezzo. The Valdichiana will reveal its most authentic face, dotted with treasures.
If you are a sporty type, you can get there from the Sentiero della Bonifica, a cycle path that connects Chiusi to the outskirts of Arezzo and passes a few kilometers from Foiano della Chiana.
Otherwise you can try your hand at the naturalistic path from San Francesco to Santo Stefano alla Vittoria of about five kilometers. Near the town there is also an English military cemetery because, during the Second World War, this territory counted casualties among the Allies.
Do you know the ceramics by Della Robbia? Here the works of this family of sculptors will leave you speechless. There are many in the village, in the Church of Sant’Eufemia and in those of Saint Francis and San Michele Arcangelo.
Always talking about art, go and see the beautiful Coronation of the Virgin with angels and saints by the painter Luca Signorelli in the Collegiate Church of San Martino.
The Civic Tower, the Grand Ducal Palace and the Garibaldi Theatre are just some of the most valuable buildings you will encounter walking through the streets of the village. The same roads that have been populated by giant papier-mâché for decades.
They are the allegorical floats of the Carnival of Foiano della Chiana. Its first evidence dates back to 1539. That is why the village is famous: to host this important event, the oldest in Italy. For months the Foianese, grouped in four rival yards, prepare for the challenge that takes place every year in the historic center of the town. The best wagon will be the winner.
In the masked parades, music, dances and costumes invade Foiano della Chiana and the movable figures mounted on the wagons wander the streets, touching the buildings and the public in the street. It all ends with the burning in the square of the puppet of King Giocondo, the main character whose story you can get explained by the locals.
An exhilaration of cheerfulness and streamers that is repeated in the summer in a second carnival, to greet one last time the wagons of the previous winter. If you are in the land of Arezzo in the “season of corianders, it is a shame not to attend this fascinating festival.