Hiking through the Montalbano: historical towns, roasted chestnuts and great wine

The Montalbano mountains are a part of Tuscany that I thoroughly enjoy. Populated by charming towns filled with history, they are easy to reach from Florence and offer a 20-mile (32.2 km) hike on path CAI n.300, with several other side trails. CAI n. 300 starts from Serravalle Pistoiese, through the northern area which I covered on a previous post about Montalbano and the Valdinievole. Now, I’ll focus on its central section, between San Baronto and Vinci.

The initial hike follows Via Monte uphill for an hour, then it gradually descends to I Papi. Every now and then, we get an opening through the oak and chestnut trees to admire the beautiful panoramas surrounding us: Pistoia and the Abetone mountain area to the north; Valdinievole and the Fucecchio Marshes to the southwest. In fall, the dirt trail gets covered with chestnuts, and you may cross paths with one or more locals gathering them.

From I Papi, we head east on the provincial road along an olive grove to soon find a trail sign for Casa al Vento. We go uphill to Monte Rocchina and Monte Cupoli, where the chestnut woods thicken, blocking the view of the Apennines but offering a shaded and lush hike. We proceed on Via Sanbarontana through a sparsely populated area covered by Sangiovese vineyards. These grapes will be transformed in exquisite wine varieties such as Chianti Montalbano and Carmignano. A small subzone of Chianti, Montalbano produces a lighter wine, less tannic and fruitier than a Chianti Classico in my opinion. This wine isn’t readily found outside Tuscany, so enjoy it while you’re here!

We cross the community of Mungherino and pause once more to gaze at the striking panorama of the Abetone and Pistoia down below. Soon after we pass the large campsite area of Barco Reale, we head down in Via del Corso to reach San Baronto. The delightful church dedicated to the 8th century benedictine monk who lived in this area was partially destroyed during WW2. Fortunately, it’s medieval crypt survived with some of the original columns, zoomorphic capitals and colorful frescoes.

From San Baronto, we can continue on CAI n. 300 to Torre di Sant’Alluccio and soon encounter the remains of 17th century walls that enclosed the Barco Reale. These were the hunting grounds of the Medici Grand Dukes, home to wild boar, pheasant, hare, partridge, grouse and other game, some of which still roam these woods. Another worthwhile option is to spend some time exploring the side trails, especially n. 20, 18, 16, and 14, and discover historical sites like Lamporecchio, Sant’Amato and famous Vinci.

Lamporecchio and Porciano

CAI n. 20 descends from San Baronto to Lamporecchio for about an hour (3 miles). From the church square, we go down on Via dell Chiesa, then Via Pio La Torre, crossing the main road (Via Sambarontana) to reach the oratory of Madonna delle Grazie. The grassy path proceeds to Spicchio, where we are welcomed by a gorgeous view of the elegant Villa Rospigliosi. Commissioned in the 17th century by Pope Clement IX to the amazing artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the villa doesn’t have regular visiting hours but you can enjoy a stroll on its grounds if the gate is open.

Further down, quaint Lamporecchio awaits. We follow Via Ventura Vitoni to pass the church of Santo Stefano, which houses a 16th century glazed terracota masterpiece by Giovanni della Robbia. Then, we hike up again towards Papiano on Via di Capalle (CAI n.18C). The surrounding territory is gorgeous, a mix of established vineyards, pristine woods, rustic towers and the open marshes below. We get out of the road taking the left path on a fork, which is the Via Vecchia Maremmana. At the top of the road, dominating the scenery is Villa di Papiano, also called Villa dell’Americana because Laura Merrick, daugther of a wealthy American industrialist, purchased and restored it in 19th century.

We continue on Via di Montalbano, a provincial road, to soon arrive in Porciano, where we enjoy the 13th century church of San Giorgio coupled with a terrific panoramic view. After a well-deserved pause, up we go again on Via Poggio alla Baghera, passing by a 12th century tower before getting on a dirt trail and re-encountering CAI n. 300.

Sant’Amato and Vinci

Another beautiful part of this territory, the area around Vinci has plenty of charm, history and mysticism. Vineyards and olive tree cover the lower hills, while ritual stones mark ancient Etruscan sites higher up in the mountains. Vinci and Anchiano, the birthplace of Leonardo, take us back to the days of the Renaissance.

On a short trail off CAI n. 300, before we reach Torre di Sant’Alluccio, we find the Sasso di Pietra, a massive boulder used by the Etruscans probably as ceremonial grounds. In the winter, climbing the stone offers a spectacular view of the valley below; in the summer, the thick chestnut woods completely block the panorama. From Torre di Sant’Alluccio, an abandoned 12th century tower and hospital, we take CAI n. 14 down to Santa Lucia.

Instead of heading straight down to Anchiano, I suggest branching out on CAI n.16 and 16B, a gentle trail through more chestnut woods that will take us to sleepy Sant’Amato and its lovely 12th century church from where we can gaze at the gorgeous panorama of Valdinievole. We continue downhill on CAI n. 16B, enjoying the views and the quiet on the way to Anchiano. Here, a simple stone building serves as a museum dedicated to the Renaissance genius. The house is considered as the birthplace of Leornardo although the historical documentation is inconclusive.

We are back on CAI n.14 and about 20 minutes away from Vinci. The descent offers a pleasant hike through olive groves and an evocative view of the town, marked by the Guidi castle and the belltower of Santa Croce church. If you want to learn more about Leonardo, Vinci has a few museums that are worth visiting, which will give you an insight on his contribution to the arts, sciences and the humanistic philosophy of the 16th century.

I hope the post helped you learned more about this beautiful territory! Next time, I’ll explore the southern part of Montalbano, with Carmignano, Artimino and the Etruscan site of Pietramarina.

Serravalle Pistoiese – San Baronto – Vinci

  • 21.7mi (35km)
  • 8h45
  • Arrive: Serravalle Pistoiese (train to Pistoia, then bus)
  • Depart: Vinci (bus to Empoli, then train to Florence)
  • If you’d like to shorten the hike, you could take the bus from San Baronto or Lamporecchio either to Pistoia or Empoli, and then head back to Florence.

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