Between the Hills and the ‘West’


Our holiday farm is located in the splendid Valdarno Superiore, the upper reaches of the Arno valley, a scrap of land extending for just 40 km around the Arno riverbed. Since time immemorial a strategic Tuscan crossroads for travellers to and from Florence, Siena and the Chianti region, it is unknown to many – but it is a land of unique marvels.

The Four Wonders of the Valdarno, as we see them.

1 – The Romanesque Pievi

In the Middle Ages, the pievi were the parish churches of the common people, and for this reason were built outside of the castles, often in the countryside, always near important routes – because they also served a ‘walk-in clientele’ of pilgrims, travellers, merchants and soldiers. One of the most important of eastern Tuscany’s medieval roads was the Cassia Vetus, the Roman road linking Arezzo with Fiesole; important – and beautiful – Romanesque parish churches rise along this route, in the stretch today covered by the Valdarno’s Strada Setteponti.

And one of the loveliest of all these tiny Valdarno churches is just a few minutes from our holiday farm: the Pieve di San Pietro a Gropina in the town of Loro Ciuffenna.

pieve di gropina
le balze del valdarno

2 – The Balze

They rise in sharp spikes and blades above the valley, shattering the green of the gentle hills; their dry, yellow stratifications bring to mind the locations of Hollywood westerns . . . in the heart of Tuscany! The geological structures known as the Balze are a unique sight, testimony to prehistoric times when the valley was a lake, its banks inhabited by mammoths, and the forces of erosion over the ages. During your stay, don’t forego the opportunity to hike one of the many marked trails through the Balze, perhaps at sunset, when the cliff faces reflect infinite nuances of oranges deepening to brilliant reds.

3 – The Villages

The Valdarno is a land constellated with a profusion of charming towns and villages, each with its own history and its own peculiarities, off the beaten tourist tracks and definitely worth a visit during your stay in Tuscany – to learn about many less ‘glossy’ but certainly more authentic aspects of life in our region. One standout in the multitude is the ancient village of Loro Ciuffenna, a few minutes distance from our holiday farm.  Its historic centre is one of the most characteristic and best-conserved in the entire Valdarno Superiore area and home to Tuscany’s oldest still-operational water-powered mill, first built in the year 1000 ca., on the banks of a gorge on the Ciuffenna stream.

prosciutto toscano

4 – Wine and Food

Wherever you turn in the Valdarno, there’s always something appetising to tempt you! An amazing number of typical gastronomic specialties, some of which enjoy Slow Food recognition, and a full roster of excellent wines. Let us mention just three of these ‘must-tastes’:

  • Finocchiona, once the salami of the poor, in which black pepper was (and is) replaced by the much less costly fennel seed.
  • Fagiolo zolfino, the Zolfino bean, grown only in Loro Ciuffenna, Terranova Bracciolini, Castelfanco di Sopra and Reggello and renowned for its delicate flavour and texture.
  • Prosciutto del Pratomagno, a PDO ham produced in the Pratomagno mountains by a time-honoured hand-curing method. Its intense flavour and aroma faultlessly complement the local stiacciata flat bread (also known as ‘schiacciata’).

A tip: for an outstanding schiacciata col prosciutto, detour up the Pratomagno massif to the tiny hamlet of Chiassaia (population: 10) at 770 metres asl. A celebration, for the eyes and the palate!

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