Where we are
The nearby village of Pergine Valdarno, at a walking distance, has a small historic city center, small shops for daily need (bakery, butchery, grocery, chemistry, etc.) a restaurant and all services for the basic needs. The oldest inscriptions uncovered in Pergine read AQUAE FERVENTES SIVE NINFAS. Signs of Etruscan-Roman civilization have left a profound mark – and not by chance – on this area, which has always been intersected by some of the longest, most important roads. The very name Pergine seems to be of Etruscan origin. Among the various vestiges of the past, this lead sheet with an inscription dedicated to the gods of water – aquae ferventes – stands out. Worship in this area was inspired by the springs that bubble up to the surface and the powerful jets of carbon dioxide in the springs of Poggio Bagnoli.
Among the most carefully guarded “memories” of our local tradition are olive growing and production of renowned extra-virgin olive oil. This historic work is such a key part of our tradition that it’s literally shaped our land: you can see how that looks and what that means by exploring the Via dell’Olio (Oil Road), an approximately 10km loop.
If you want to continue exploring nature, another ideal spot to check out is the Nature Reserve of Bandella, which protects the stretch of the Arno River between the Levane and Ponte Romito dam. The river waters here spill out calmly, forming a lake known as the Lago di Levane. This is the true heart of this beautiful protected area. In various periods of the year, you can observe numerous bird species.
All of us know full well that water flow makes one think about the passage of time – in its own way, it prompts us to reflect on our memories. So it’s really no coincidence that in Pergine you’ll find the Cultural Center of Memories and Contemporaneity. The center includes the civic library, the historical archives, video and photo archive, the Cardini plot (for cinema) and a huge collection of documents on local identity: they span recurring cultural events, film festivals, and the European cultural village, all the way up to the Robert Katz Archive. The archive – donated by the City of the recently deceased American writer and journalist – documents important aspects of Italian history from the second half of the twentieth century, coming from the perspective of an attentive observer, keenly aware of Italian political happenings. The Center aims to support the community’s cultural needs and conserve the memory and key traces of local identity.
As a walled hill city, Siena's centro storico is extremely picturesque, and from high towers, you can see the beautiful countryside that still largely surrounds the city. With a few notable exceptions (including the pretty yellow color of the sunflowers that are cultivated for oil for export), the Sienese countryside looks almost the same as it did in Medieval paintings. The Sienese countryside is part of the Chianti region, and therefore, it is easy to find good local wines in Sienese shops and to accompany your meals in ristoranti and trattorie. Sienese cuisine is delicious, and though some eateries are definitely better than others, it is difficult to find truly bad food in this city. Sienese people are fiercely proud of their city and their neighborhood (contrada). Each contrada has its own flag, emblem, contrada parish church and contrada house, which functions as a kind of neighborhood social club. The Palio is all about neighborhood pride and rivalry, and also constitutes the unbroken continuation of a Medieval tradition associated with religion, pageantry, trash-talking, bragging, and occasional violence. It is taken very seriously and is in no way a put-on for tourists; in fact, you are likely to feel less welcomed during the Palio than at any other time, and there isn't the slightest doubt that Siena would run the Palio with great enthusiasm regardless of whether any visitors ever showed up.
Siena was an Etruscan city in ancient times, but the era that is most evident in its architecture and remains a constant presence in the city's character is the Middle Ages. Siena was a proud, wealthy, and warlike independent city-state during the Middle Ages and held off its rival Florence in several battles before finally going down to defeat. Medieval Sienese art (painting, sculpture, architecture, etc.) is unique and of great historical importance. Some of the most famous of the artists who lived and worked in Siena are the painters Duccio, Simone Martini, and Ambrogio and Pietro Lorenzetti and the sculptor Jacopo della Quercia.
Arezzo is one of the wealthiest cities in Tuscany, due to its tradition in gold-smithery. Located in southeastern Tuscany, it sits atop a hill (where else?) at the crossroads of four valleys: the Val Tiberina, Casentino, Valdarno and Valdichiana. Its ancient origins are verified by the stone tools and the so-called Man of the Elm discovered here and found to date back to the Paleolithic era. The Etruscan Aritim was founded around the 9th century B.C., and quickly became one of the most important cities in Tuscany, playing an important role over the centuries due to its strategic position along the Roman Via Cassia. Arezzo still has plenty of monuments, churches and museums remaining that offer visitors a chance to step back into history. The Church of San Francesco is probably the most famous in Arezzo, with the incredible Early Renaissance fresco cycle by Piero della Francesca depicting the Legend of the True Cross. You then head uphill to Piazza Grande, then on to the Medicean Fortress, visit the Cathedral dedicated to San Donato, then back down to the Roman Amphitheater and the Church of San Domenico with the wooden Crucifix by Cimabue. Visit Cortona, Anghiari, Monterchi and Sansepolcro (if you love Piero della Francesca) and the beautiful castle of Poppi - these are just some of the most beautiful towns in the province of Arezzo that wait to be discovered on your Tuscan trip.
Florence was a centre of medieval European trade and finance and one of the wealthiest cities of that era. It is considered the birthplace of the Renaissance, and has been called "the Athens of the Middle Ages". A turbulent political history includes periods of rule by the powerful Medici family and numerous religious and republican revolutions. In all, Florence has something over 80 museums. Among those at the top of most lists are the City hall, the Palazzo della Signoria (aka Palazzo Vecchio), a wonderful building with magnificent rooms and some great art; the Archeological Museum, the Museum of the History of Science, the Palazzo Davanzatti, the Stibbert Museum, St. Marks, the Medici Chapels, the Museum of the Works of Santa Croce, the Museum of the Cloister of Santa Maria Novella, the Zoological Museum ("La Specola"), the Bardini, and the Museo Horne. There is also a wonderful collection of works by the modern sculptor, Marino Marini, in a museum named after him. If you are interested in photography, you should not miss the superb collection of works by the early photographers, the Alinari brothers. The magnificent Strozzi Palace is the site of many special exhibits. To get a great overview of the city, you have plenty of choices: climb the dome of the Cathedral or Giotto's Bell Tower which is much easier or head for Piazzale Michelangelo a large parking lot on the hillside just south of the center of town, or climb a bit further to the church of San Miniato al Monte, a sublime 11th century masterpiece, with superb Renaissance sculptures. At vespers, the monks add to the beauty with chants.
In the Valdambra, in the heart of Tuscany, between Arezzo, Siena and Florence, magic and history have been at one for centuries. This area has always been a place of excellence thanks to the wisdom of its farmers and craftspeople, who still preserve these centuries-old traditions today. It’s no coincidence that wines from San Leolino, Cennina and Galatrona, both Trebbiano (whites) and Vermigli (reds) features among the finest wines accounted for in the Florentine land registry of 1427. Even the Grand Duke of Tuscany Pietro Leopoldo wrote the following words about the Valdambra: "a very well cultivated valley".
Still today the valley offers visitors a sequence of snapshots and places of extraordinary charm, an area where wines continue to be produced that bottle the magic of a typically Tuscan landscape, where humans have been integrated with their land for centuries with the deepest respect.
Il Valdarno Superiore
Between the tourist cities of Arezzo and Florence is the unusual erosive rock formation called ‘Le Balze of Valdarno’ meaning the Cliffs of Valdarno. The Balze are a series of large jutted rocks that rise high about the surrounding landscape in quite a striking fashion. They were formed from the compressed sediment that once lay at the bottom of the Lake Pliocene that once filled the entire Valdarno area many millennia ago. As the lake gradually drained over millions of years, the hardened sediment rock bed was exposed to the elements of air and water which began eroding it into a natural sculpture.
Erosion has transformed Le Balze into the sharp jagged rocky peaks they are today. The master Renaissance genius, Leonardo da Vinci was mesmerised by them and included them as a background in many of his painting, including his masterpiece, The Mona Lisa. Created from compressed gravels, clays and sands, some of the peaks of the Balze reach as high as 100 metres!