Italy by bicycle. Mugello and Dante's Lands, Tuscany that you didn't know about

by Ewcyna

Italy is overwhelming with authenticity - centuries-old history of places and people peeks out of every alley, who made it, those very well known and completely unknown, buildings and works of art of extraordinary beauty and value, difficult to comprehend the mind to such an extent, that after some time almost ceases to pay attention to them and all this beauty around becomes something obvious.

I liked Italy as a teenager, I lived there and I visit her quite regularly for years, from 2019 I live there for a few months a year, every time by bike. This time the journey took the color of bright green and yellow shades spinning up for good spring and moderate temperatures of April were favorable for pedaling. For me, this is the best time to visit Mediterranean countries, which are overwhelmingly hot in summer.

These Tuscan postcard views!
View of Monte Amiata, the highest mountain in Tuscany from the city of Pienza

More fate than the previous plan dumped me for a few weeks to the "shoe" of the Apennine Peninsula in Tuscany, located in the north-central part. Due to the historical and artistic value and the beauty of nature - buildings and works of art, charming hills, stone houses and towns, Cypress-lined avenues –  Tuscany is a top-tourist destination and what can I say - for most of the year it is packed with millions of visitors. Most tourists go to the Chianti region, which is famous for its vineyards and medieval towns, or the famous resorts of the Tyrrhenian coast.

Meanwhile, wandering sideways I missed Chianti, Siena, and even Florence and headed to the Apennines.

Italy Mugello by bike
San Giovanni d'Asso – “my” house periodically from 2019 year
Apennines – Biforco. Kasia lives here

Why there?

Just a stone's throw north of Florence, Against the backdrop of the charming Apennine mountain passes is a historic land called Mugello. Part of the area is a vast valley located at the top of the Sieve River. On the north, between mountain peaks and trails, which descend on the other side of the mountain chain towards Bologna and the region of Emilia Romagna, at the top of the Santerno rivers, Senio and Lamone is located by Alto Mugello (Upper Mugello).

These are the home pages of the famous Medici family, birthplace of artists Giotto and Beato Angelico. This is the place, where he lived and worked in the early fourteenth century, after being banished from his hometown of Florence, the medieval poet Dante Aligieri, creator of "Divine Comedy".

Despite the beauty and history dating back to early medieval times, eminent names of people, who were born here or lived centuries ago, crowds visiting the nearby capital of the region do not reach here. I might not have come here too, if I didn't meet Kasia, who in love with this place settled there permanently in A stone house (which is also the name of her blog) in the town of Marradi.

Edit 2023 – Kasia is the author of three guides to this corner of Tuscany and Romagna and Florence itself – there is no better guide than a person in love with a given region and living there permanently. If you want to know more than “only” – riding a bike is the best purchase!

A more contemporary touch, quite exotic for me after months spent overcoming local, mainly Asian roads, is an interesting website "Mugello in bike". Suggestions for cycling trips around the area of ​​varying degrees of difficulty, including a lot for those who like ramps – gains are given, local attractions and events. That's enough, to stay here a few days, so… click!

I came in a little unusual – from the side of Dicomano, a small town located at the western end of the valley. I took a local train here, nice low set with space for transporting bicycles (on local trains in Italy there is no problem with that, bicycle ticket applies for 3 EUR per day along the entire route, however, the bicycle cannot be transported on express trains) and there is nothing to complain about, but .. departure from the third platform which can only be accessed via the underground passage and the elevator is out of order. Three courses with panniers and a bicycle up and down, Murphe's law applies!

bike path along the river Sieve

As soon as the wheels begin to roll, the thought of previous nuisances disappears instantly. The road on the south side of the river is smaller than the main road on the north, there is little traffic here. Before your eyes you can see the valley and the Apennine peaks still covered with light snow. Sowing in the fields, lazy grazing animals, flowers are blooming, chirping birds - you can say a perfect example of a "disgusting" idyll. To make it even more "unbearable" after several kilometers in Ponte Vicchio begins the cycle path, which leads along the river bank. It stretches through the fields of fragrant now blooming rapeseed through the capital of the region – Borgo San Lorenzo almost to San Piero a Sieve.

It's one of those little ones, stone Italian medieval towns with streets converging on the market.

Here I get the smell of pizza. This is unreasonable, I know, but nowhere, but nowhere will you get such a pizza as in your country of origin. Only here it is, what I think it should be - the cake is thin, made on site and baked mostly in a clay oven, lightly smeared with tomato sauce and not flooded with ketchup, covered with mozarella cheese, not its weak counterpart.. and everyone chooses additions at their own discretion. Pizza with vegetables, with grilled vegetables, which I order is absolutely perfect and no wonder, I'm coming back the next day. Otherwise, Italy pulls money out of the wallet quite intensively, and pizza is still one of the cheapest dishes, which you can get from 5 Euro. And then it's time for ice cream. There is no better ice cream than Italian. So, and also buy cheese.

– Please sweet pecorino I am talking to the seller. In Poland, we can't make such cheeses..

– but you are making great popes! he replies with a laugh

Italian pizza – of course, it is supposed to be thin and with LEAST ingredients
Maybe for ice cream? What flavor do you like? I eat very little sweets, but Italians can make ice cream like no other in the world

It was already about authenticity, but on the other hand I lack this authenticity. In supermarkets, fruit and taste flavored and tasteless European standardized, adjusted and packaged, loudspeakers screaming in supermarkets, to wear disposable plastic gloves to select fruit, which soon thrown into the sea will clog the stomachs of marine fauna, all this absurdity, which brought our planet to the brink of destruction.

The area around San Piero a Sieve where camping Mugello Verde is located is a great place, to make a base and go around a little without panniers. The oldest properties of the Medici family are nearby - the fortress of San Martino and fortified Villa del Trebbio and Villa di Cafaggiolo. These elegant palaces situated on the tops of hills, surrounded by extensive gardens, which served as rural family residences, who lived permanently in Florence.

The Medici family ruled Tuscany for three centuries from the fourteenth to the eighteenth centuries. They are then businessmen – they were bankers of European rulers, English kings, politicians and art patrons. The family issued three popes and two French queens (Katarzyna Medycejska and Maria Medycejska). Needless to say it's so popular, that their heritage - among others, the properties in Mugello are extremely beautiful and valuable. These are excellent examples of Renaissance and Baroque architecture and this was the main reason, thanks to which some of them in 2013 were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

That was the tour plan for today.

But how, closed?

But how, private property?

ok, and renovation?

Well, I kissed the proverbial door handles. Both palaces are in private hands, and in addition Villa di Cafaggiolo is undergoing renovation and there is no possibility of sightseeing. Fine though, that it is perfectly visible from the road - this is the characteristic shape of the Tuscan Renaissance buildings - the quadrangle with the courtyard and the tower with the bay window are impressive. Villa Pecori Giraldi in Borgo San Lorenzo has a similar shape, which I visit later. This time it's not private property - it houses the Museum of Manufactory Chini, which collected works of art - paintings and Art Nouveau ceramics belonging to the Chini family.

If from visiting the thread it is time for bicycle relaxation or a round around Lake Bilancino. This reservoir is an artificial creation – was created after the construction of the dam on the Sieve River in order to solve the problems of the hydrotechnical system in Florence - flood or drought. The fact is, that it blends in perfectly with the landscape and is also a great place to relax, practicing water sports – not only on the territory of Mugello, but also the whole of the Tuscany region. And catch fish. I meet several cyclists at racing cars, but despite the beautiful sunny weather for bathing it is too early.

nad jeziorem Slingbar

The road in the loop marked for today begins quite intensively climbing the Apennine slopes. The old Bosco ai Frati convent hid here, one of the oldest in Tuscany, was founded in the tenth century, later passed along with most of the forest of St.. Francis of Assisi. Among the valuable wooden crucifixes is one attributed to the master Donatello.

Bosco ai Frati

Along the road leading to it, the plates are densely arranged - "entry to the forest is forbidden, only for those authorized to collect mushrooms ". I have a feeling, that everything is fenced and banned in Italy.. at the head of the possibility of sleeping in the wild. I also encounter such prohibition signs quite often.

wild camping? not really

Behind Galliano lies the village of Santa Agata, the oldest town in the area. Despite the noon hours in the tavern opened in the center of the dialect - in addition to the local several backpackers trekking gathered here - here at the foot of the Apennines cross hiking trails.

And for Saint Agata, the descent begins and in my opinion, the most beautiful piece of the Mugello region. Something, making it, that it is unique and different, for example, from the views of the Tuscan regions of Chianti or Val d'Orcia – is a view of the Apennines peaks reaching up 1300 meters. Forests,  Olive trees groves and few patches of vineyards against the background of harmoniously interpenetrating higher and lower hills. In the distance, Bilancino Lake.

view of the Apennines

But Scarperia - which can be translated as a "city of shoes" - belongs to the cities officially recognized as the most beautiful in Italy. They don't do shoes there, but still a few craftsmen make knives - because it was from making iron tools for cutting and cutting that the village became famous and in the central amphibian Palazzo dei Vicchari there is their museum. Building, another example of the Medical Renaissance was from the 15th century the seat of a Vicar sent from the Republic of Florence to manage the vast area of ​​the Mugello poviat. The pediment is decorated with coats of arms of local powerful families, the walls of the courtyard are decorated with Renaissance paintings.

I am drawn to the very higher parts of Mugello, however, it is difficult to plan an optimal loop. For fear, will I be able to overcome the distance and gain the idea of ​​using the so-called. Dante's train. He has so much in common with the poet, that lies on the city trail, in which he stayed - his hometown of Florence with the city of Faenza on the other side of the Apennines. Now it is a modern warehouse with space for bicycles, scenic railway line, which overcomes many overpasses and tunnels at heights above 500 meters above sea level. What are the rules for transporting a bicycle in Italy on the train? – have a look at entry.

“Dante's train” – ordinary, modern, but low-floor!

Train in 20 minutes takes me to the other side of the pass to Crespino and from here the road winds towards Marradi. The water in the Lamone river is transparent and the mountain river is even unreal greenish-turquoise color. In the summer you can bathe in it, and it's good to visit this area in October, when Chestnut Festival takes place in Marradi, most famous in Italy.  

Lamone River

The driveway from Marradi again. To reach the Palazzuolo sul Senio lying among the mountains you have to overcome the pass. Maybe it's not the heaviest of ramps, some 300 meters vertically to a height above 700 meters, but still. And then down as much as a reward ! For those wanting there are much higher passes, it's just a matter of planning – I left too late.. Italian cyclists liked this region.

drug Marradi – Palazzuolo sul Senio
Palazzuolo sul Senio

In the afternoon hours Palazzuolo sul Senio is stuck with lethargy. Two streets cross, including one along the river, in which current two fishermen are standing. In this silence, walking in the streets seems to be a noise, so I unknowingly climb my toes and walk on the pavement, not to disturb this atmosphere. You can still smell the bread from the now closed bakery, the dog flings shyly, a cat is warming up on the windowsill. Well, and stores closed, because it's holy siesta time. I want to laugh, that nothing has changed in years - the rest time must be! I appeal to travelers here, who will target Italy - remember that, that in hours 13.00-16.00 in small towns everything will be closed with four triggers (because in the big ones one can sometimes "shoot" an open shop). It's best to close the ranks and do nothing, because in summer it's usually too hot to pedal these hours.

Dante's lands

…"Something you did Italy, Alighiery,

That these two graves would be dishonest people,

Exile first ... "

writes Cyprian Kamil Norwid in You did something to Athens, Sokratesie ...

Two graves? Although Florence demanded the poet's ashes, he was buried in the opposite side of the Apennines massif Ravenna, where he lived at the end of his life and died. I get there after leaving the Mugello region.

Colorful houses in Brisighella. This town is a hidden gem

But let's get back to Dante. The poet died in 1321 r. He did not see his native Florence through 20 years and he did not return to her. He spent these years wandering, refusing subsequent conditional offers to return to Florence on terms, which he considered unfair. Divine Comedy is a work written in exile, and what's more – this exile was the source of its creation. The author's personal fate, bitterness over the situation in the homeland, everything that moved him found a direct reflection in the work. The poet's presence, it is actually felt everywhere.

on the way through the Apennines to Ravenna

There are different languages ​​on the streets of Ravenna, but the city seems to live its own way, not stifled by tourists. It is famous for Byzantine architecture and mosaics, which decorated the interiors of important buildings, mainly sacred. These are the best preserved mosaics outside of Constantinople, next objects on the Unesco list. In the past, the city was located right on the sea, on the coastal lagoon, which made them the perfect port, over the centuries, due to its silting, it moved away from him for good 10 km.  The mosaics in the local basilica of Saint Vitalis are the most beautiful, come from the fifth and sixth centuries. Above the colonnade in the main nave of the Basilica there are Old Testament frescoes: Abraham's story, sacrifice of Isaac, the life of Moses, and also a story about the biblical: Cain and Ablu. In addition, the interior is decorated 15 medallion-mosaics, depicting Jesus and the apostles ... nothing more than to look up and admire.

Ravenna mosaics. UNESCO heritage
Ravenna and its mosaics

I find incredible pleasure in discovering the connections between people and places, learning their stories, joy of it, I'm going the same way, who was famous for ages ago, I look at the same stone house, where he lived and I touch the same door. Live history is received differently, than the history of books and textbooks. Osmosis so administered through the skin. In school years, I scrubbed the felt floors of museum floors with felt slippers, now I can almost touch, ba - ride a bike.

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1 comment

TRAINING IN ITALY – TRAINING IN ITALY – Ewcyna 27 March 2022 - 21:53

[…] On this occasion, I invite you to my posts on cycling in Tuscany – region Mugello, Puglia. There are also some old photos from Lake Garda and the north route – Rome. Coming soon […]


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