Wandering Florence off the Beaten Path

It’s winter. There was a time when the cold and gray days wouldn’t affect me as much. As I age, I feel that my Brazilian blood is manifesting itself preferring hot summer days over this. I can’t wait for spring! I want to get back to my routine of early morning walks and I’ve been planning several hikes for when the weather improves.

Duomo from Via di Monte Oliveto. Seriously, the picture doesn’t make justice, come see it for yourself

But, hey! Today is a gorgeous sunny day and before I go out of my way, planning the next hiking adventure, I should make a point to explore the beauty that is so close to home. Most people who come to Florence (and there are millions who come every year, especially during the summer months) visit the main attractions and museums in the city center. Everybody knows not to miss the Duomo, David, the Uffizi, Ponte Vecchio, etc. Slightly more adventurous souls take the short walk up Monte alle Croci, passing the church of San Niccolò and Porta San Miniato, to reach Piazzale Michelangiolo for a stunning panorama of Florence. However, few experience life beyond the city walls where, believe it or not, exist abundant green parks, historical sites and authentic neighborhoods that can truly enrich your visit to the City of Art. I currently live in Oltrarno, outside the city walls (fuori mura, as locals say) at the bottom of the hill of Bellosguardo. A brisk walk uphill leads me to the first local path that I would like to share with you.

Now, this lovely walk is seriously close to home. This is how I usually start my day, walking up and away from any madness happening down in the center of the city (especially when tourist season is upon us). Bellosguardo (Beautiful Sight) offers genuinely beautiful views of Florence, from a less known angle than most visitors are used to when they climb up Piazzale Michelangiolo.

Charming Via di Monte Oliveto

Starting at Via Monte Oliveto, going up from Viale Aleardi, the facade of Santa Maria del Fiore and the gorgeous Duomo is in full view where the street bifurcates. To right the church of San Bartolomeo and the park of Villa Lo Strozzino, to the left a steep uphill toward the church of Santi Vito e Modesto and the Strozzino villa and park. Let’s take left – I like to punish myself and eventually we will loop back here… wait.

View of Soffiiano from Villa Strozzi

On a second thought, it is better to appreciate the views of Bellosguardo coming down Via Monte Oliveto. So, we’ll go right instead, reaching the dead end of the narrow street to enjoy a serene view of olive groves and Marignolle in the distance. Here, we also find the church and ex-monastery of San Bartolomeo, which I’ve never seen open to the public, and we continue through the side gate of the park of Villa Strozzi.

While Giovan Battista di Lorenzo Strozzi conceived the plans for the park and the villa in the XVI Century for his own enjoyment, modern Florentines have free access to a refreshing green space with pine, platanus and horse-chesnut trees, to walk around, play with their kids and let their dogs loose in the reserved area. The villa, stables and the limonaia (where the lemon trees in terracota vases would be kept in the winter months) were completely repurposed in the 1970s to house an institute for contemporary art and design, and promote events during the summer. Behind Villa Strozzi, the panorama opens up toward the southwest of Florence, revealing Isolotto, Soffiano, Scandicci and the Montalbano hills far in the distance.

Try to spot the following churches on this view: Santa Maria del Fiore, Orsanmichele, Santo Spirito, Santa Maria del Carmine, Santa Croce, San Frediano, Santa Maria Novella and Ognissanti.

Continuing downhill on the road or through the dirt paths, we arrive at the elegant main entrance and turn left on Via di Soffiano, which gives us a feel of little Florence, away from the city center, the area is teeming with locals, corner caffè bars and typical trattoria restaurants. It’s a shame this is such a heavily trafficked street. Shortly after, we turn left onto Via San Vito, a slightly steep uphill walk back to Bellosguardo. The traffic noise soon stays behind. At our back, every now and then the stone walls flanking the street open to wonderful views of Soffiano and Bellosguardo. We reach Villa Lo Strozzino and its quiet park and continue right up to Piazza di Bellosguardo, stopping on the way to admire a gorgeous panorama of Florence with the facade of Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral, Palazzo Pitti, Belvedere Fort, Fiesole and the surrounding mountains.

We arrive at our crossroads in Piazza di Bellosguardo. We will end up back here through Via Piana but for now we will make a slight right turn into Via San Carlo. A few steps forward, we have another breathtaking panorama of Florence by the Montauto castle: cypress trees and umbrella pines lining up on the horizon, the neighborhoods of Isolotto and Novoli down below, Monte Morello watching over them. Via San Carlo is enchanting, its stone walls low enough to allow us to enjoy the green fields and olive groves around the neighborhood.

Panorama from Via San Carlo

We descend again into Via di Soffiano, already far from the city center and with a lot less traffic, to soon arrive at the XIX century cemetery of Soffiano. Continuing ahead towards Via del Ferrone takes us on the last uphill hike of this trail and to more panoramic views of Isolotto and Scandicci. Taking a left on Via dei Morelli, a tunnel of oak and cypress trees shades the path that leads us to Marignolle, where it feels like walking in campagna, in the countryside, with vineyards and olive groves dominating the scenery. After passing Villa Tolomei, a high-end hotel nowadays, we soon reach Via Piana again, the ‘flat street’, which will take us back to Piazza di Bellosguardo.

Via del Ferrone and the 16th century Villa I Visibelli on top of the hill

From here, it’s downhill to Villa Lo Strozzino and to rejoin Via di Monte Oliveto. We walk by the quaint church of Santi Vito e Modesto and soon we can gasp one last time at the magnificent view of the facade of Santa Maria del Fiore and its Duomo. The ‘Veduta della Catena,’ a XV Century incision by Francesco di Lorenzo Rosselli, immortalized the city in the glory of its early Renaissance from this viewpoint. Then, at the very bottom, we are back at Viale Aleardi, where bus ATAF n. 12 takes us back to the city center; or, in the other direction, to Piazzale Michelangiolo in case you haven’t had your fill of panoramic views of Florence yet.

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Bellosguardo-Marignolle-Soffiano

  • 2h00
  • 5mi (8.1km)
  • Depart/Arrive: Via di Monte Oliveto
  • How to get here: Bus ATAF n.12 from Ponte Alla Carraia (stop Pescaia di Santa Rosa) going towards Piazzale Michelangiolo (get out on bus stop Sanzio)
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