Finding the Beauty of Autumn
and the spectacular scenery of the parks, forests & mountains
This is a special time of the year when green turns into yellow, and red starts to bleed into the leaves. The cold evenings signal to the trees to prepare for the winter, and shortly thereafter the forests near Florence and the parks and trails in the Apennines that surround the city produce a parade in a fantastic array of colors for those who venture off for a couple of hours.
Just because you based yourself within the heart of the Renaissance City, doesn't mean that you need to forego the crisp perfumes, the warm colors, and fragrant flavours of autumn. With either a short trip in the car or the use of public transport you can find yourself walking through the vast uncontaminated areas surrounding ancient monasteries, forests and national parks.
There are many options for travellers who have a car and want to wander a bit aimlessly, but we also have a few ideas for those who prefer to rely on public transport. Buses reach many of these areas, leaving you in places which are ideal for starting a hike into the colorful wilderness of Tuscany. We suggest that you come prepared with sturdy shoes, an extra sweater or jacket and pack water as well as lunch or some snacks.
This area is characterized by trails that cross through the major watersheds creating a vast ring of paths along the “soft contours of the Tuscan hillside and the ruggedness of the steep mountain passes, the gorges and rocks of the Upper Apennines” encircling the city of Florence with spectacular panoramic views from the crests of the mountains to the valley. There are about 500 km of paths called SO.F.T. (Florence Springs Hiking Trails) that form a ring around the north east area of Florence. The closest point and trail to the city starts in Polcanto, which is accessible with public transport.
Mugello also offers easier walking itineraries suitable for everyone, including a number of pleasant leisure walks in the Gabbianello Natural Oasis and in the magnificent park of Villa Demidoff at Pratolino (Vaglia).
The Great Appennine Excursion, more commonly known as GEA, stretches 402-km reaching 2,054m at its highest point crossing the mountain ridges of the Tuscan – Emilian Apennines, from Bocca d'Abria (Umbria) to La Spezia (Liguria). If you are passionate about long walks in an uncontaminated environment then you would need to set aside 23 days to explore its full length!
However,for those who don't have that much time, the area is well organized so that you can do it in little pieces enjoying the fresh air and wonderful colors - summer, spring and especially fall. Passo del Giogo is perhaps the easiest to explore, starting around the Passo della Futa, just above Lago Bilancino.
Heading out of Florence and into the wilderness around Pistoia gives you a wonderful possibility to explore the two glacial circles at the Abetone Forest: the Black Lake and another near Campolino. The wilderness area covers a total of 53,767 hectares, more than a half of the Province of Pistoia! It is absolutely amazing that this piece of Tuscany was first envisioned as a park as far back as 1777 by the Granduca di Toscana. However, if you are looking for something just a little bit easier and closer to the city you can visit the Suspension Bridge, and the forest around the river Lima.
Heading just a bit further out of Pistoia towards the town of Cutigliano,you can follow a series of dirt roads towards Doganaccia, and the lake of Scaffaiolo ending up at Croce Arcana (1675 meters above sea level) on the very border of Tuscany and Emilia Romagna. Even though you will find yourself in the stupendous peaks above Tuscany - the trail is actually very easy and suitable for all levels, with only an hour you can enjoy both the colorful foliage of Autumn and some of the hidden jewels of Tuscany. Cutigliano is characterized by narrow streets flanked by ancient palaces and monuments and Doganaccia, as it's name implies, was a customs checkpoint on the borders (dogna = customs).
Casentino, truly offers an infinite number of opportunities to explore the wonders of fall in Tuscany. Between the National Park and the two monasteries nestled in the Apennine peaks, this area southeast of Florence is a day trip to be filled with castles, antique churches and incredible wooded areas. Start by exploring the seasonal event “Autunno Slow”, which proposes seven weeks dedicated to the beauty of the National Park during the fall months.
Inhale the colors of the forest, with is personalized display of yellow, red, green and orange. Spanning two regions (Tuscany & Emilia Romagna) you can participate in hikes, listen to the bull deer bugle their way through mating season, gather chestnuts, food festivals and sagras.
While in the valley, be sure to check out Camaldoli, which is located within the national park, a monastery founded in 1012 by Saint Romuald, a Benedictine monk. It includes an immense wealth of natural beauty and an interesting antique pharmacy, hermitage and a well cared for forest area with many trails to follow among chestnut trees, pine trees and many other varieties native to the area.
La Verna was established by Saint Francis in the 13th century. This monastery appears to be literally attached to a rock. A visit to the hamlet of Chiusi della Verna, and then following the cobbled stone road to the lofty peaks will give you a one of a kind opportunity to see both coasts of Italy - on a clear day.
There is so much beauty in Chianti! Some of it is the stunning natural beauty of the valley while much of what attracts visitors worldwide are the man made vineyards that create fantastic photo opportunities especially in the fall and autumn seasons. The organization C.A.I Valdarno Superiore has quite a few clearly marked trails and maps which are great for helping you plan a detailed hike or bike ride. This hike is the closests around the small town of San Polo in Chianti as well as this one around Cintoia, which is a bit shorter and perhaps easier to incorporate in a day trip.
For those without a car, you can catch a bus towards the town of Grassina and start to hike towards San Polo in Chianti, this road offers a soft climb, and a lovely mix of vineyards next to the low lying forest areas which are so typical to Chianti. Another easy to reach hike, is a bus to Greve in Chianti and then follow the roads up to Montefioralle, which will give you a stunning view of the valley, vineyards and Greve from above.
Without a doubt if the great outdoors is your passion you will find that staying in Chianti during the autumn season opens up many opportunities for hiking, biking and lovely fresh air, colors and perfumes of fall. There are so many lovely and comfortable holiday accommodations in the hills and especially on vineyards that offer the perfect vantage point to start your exploration of the fall scenery.
Just an hour southeast of the the Renaissance City, in an area virtually unexplored by curious tourists, Regello offers several wonderful opportunities for those interested in the natural beauty of Tuscany and especially Sant’Antonio Forest, and the curious and unique geological Balze.
You can find several well documented itineraries in the Sant’Antonio Forest, unfortunately the site is all in Italian but reading a map is an international language. The Forest of Sant’Antonio, a Protected Nature Area of Local Interest is included in the Pratomagno mountain chain, extending for about 900 hectares. This link features 14 paths and trails which can be followed for some stunning scenery.
Established before the year 1015, Vallombrosa is a hermitage and monastery nestled in one of the most enchanting forest areas of Tuscany. Easily reached by bus and car these wooded areas provide many marked trails - or simply follow the main road by foot since there is a limited amount of car traffic, so you will find a fairly silent and tranquil environment.