Montalbano and the Misty Valley

Some days I wake up ready for a hike up the Montalbano mountains. Less than 30 minutes west of Florence, I’m very familiar with the area and very much enjoy hiking here. There are quite a few trails, and you can cross the whole range from Capraia Fiorentina to Serravalle Pistoiese which may take 8-10 hours depending on your pace. To really get to know more about this charming location, I’d recommend dividing the Montalbano in sections. This time, we’ll explore its northern part which faces the bewitching Valdinievole, or Misty Valley.

The Valdinievole and Monte Pisano in the background

We leave Florence on an early train to Pistoia, a half-hour ride. Across the train station in Pistoia, there’s the Copit bus agency where we can purchase a one-way ticket to Serravalle Pistoiese. Bus n. 53 stops right in front of the train station and in 15 minutes drops us at the bottom of Serravalle, where we begin our hike. Another possibility is to take the train from Florence to Serravalle’s train station, but you’ll have to walk on a busy provincial road to get to the start of the trail. I much prefer arriving with the bus.

Path CAI n. 300 starts uphill on Via Ville and then onto Via Monte. On late winter/early spring days, the acrid smell of burning leaves fills the air. Early spring is the time of the year when olive trees are being pruned in Tuscany. Farmers pile up the cut branches in big mounds and set them on fire. Bright green grass and wild flowers decoring the sides of the road make for a pretty but intense first hour of hiking.

Every now and then, you get a glance of vigilant Serravalle Pistoiese perched on the hill behind you. This medieval fortification closes the access to the Valdinievole leading to Lucca and Pisa. Thus, it was an important strategic point until the 1300s in Tuscany. In those days, the town was controlled by a fascinating character, the ghibelline condottiero Castruccio Castracani (literally meaning ‘dog castrator’). Although a constant torment in his drive to conquer Tuscany, which included a failed plan to flood Florence, eventually malaria got the best of him in 1328 and a few years later the Florentines took over Serravalle.

My mind wandered through that period of history until I was brought back to our days by the loud roar of motorbikes coming down the trail. Yes, in Tuscany we share trails with everyone – motorbikes, four wheelers, mountain bikers, hunters and the occasional wild boar. The good news is that the uphill part was almost over as the trail opened to a lovely olive grove.

Soon we reach a fork where I leave the CAI n. 300, and go on an unmarked path through Fuso and Casa, reaching Via del Vaticano. This is a straighter path to Montevettolini, although you’d probably want to study the map before venturing on it. We’ll eventually find Poggio Tondo and head downhill while enjoying the picturesque beauty of old farmhouses in the Montalbano. We can admire Montevettolini and the imposing 16th century Medici villa atop the hill as we progress. This sleepy town was once a fort, part of the military infrastructure of the area, but there isn’t much happening these days. It’s very peaceful by the medieval church of Santi Michele Arcangelo e Lorenzo Martire. After enjoying a few moments of contemplation, we continue towards Monsummano Alto.

We go down to Via Castelvecchio, a nice shortcut to Grotta Giusti. Since this is an unmarked trail, we often walk through private fields, but they don’t offer any obstacle. I crossed paths with a local farmer, who told me on his southern Italian accent that people walking on his land didn’t bother him. His issue was with cars going through because they damage his crops. We arrive in Grotta Giusti through Via delle Cave, then Via dei Romani. This town is known for its thermal pools so here is your chance to relax your sore muscles.

Otherwise, if you’re the hiking type who doesn’t believe in taking it easy like myself (just kidding: I love thermal waters!), we hike uphill again after we pass the resort and its pools to find the path CAI n. 30. This is a very interesting trail that takes us through ancient quarries to the medieval fortification of Monsummano at the top. You’ll need some knowledge of Italian to read the many signboards on the way up. Or, if you are a geology buff, you’ll appreciate this area either way. Several types of limestone and shale form these hills, their colors ranging from a deep greenish grey to a soft red.

Wonderful view of Montevettolini from Monsummano Alto

The impressive views of Montevettolini, Valdinievole, the Nievole river and the swampland around Fucecchio are worth several stops on the way up. The Padule di Fucecchio is an important nature preserve in Tuscany and one of my future hiking destinations. We arrive in Monsummano Alto through a medieval archway, long in disuse, but it makes for a grandiose ending for this hike. We find the 13th century church of San Nicolao and a mini-archeological site with the foundations of medieval structures. The town itself isn’t very lively, just a couple of houses, a restaurant and a workshop. But the amazing views make the trip up here absolutely worth it.

Time to go downhill again, so we can reach the center of Monsummano Terme and take our ride back to Pistoia. There is another beautiful panorama on this side of the hill, with the towns of Montecatini Alto and Serravalle Pistoiese in the distance. In less than an hour, we arrive at our bus stop in piazza Giuseppe Giusti. If you still have some time before the next one comes, have a walk around the expansive square and visit the sanctuary of Santa Maria della Fontenuova, where the Virgin Mary miraculously appeared in 1573.

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Serravalle Pistoiese – Montevettolini – Monsummano Terme

  • 3h30
  • 9.5 mi (15.3 km)
  • Arrive: Serravalle Pistoiese (by bus or train)
  • Depart: Monsummano Terme (by bus)
  • How to get there: my preference is to take a 30-min train ride to Pistoia, then 15-min bus ride to Serravalle. Another option is a 50-min train ride to Serravalle train station, but you’ll have to walk on the road before starting the trail.

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