Imagine a hiking trail 100 miles long with no particular destination. Sound strange? What if you could actually see the focus of your wanderings, yet never arrive there? What if the trail encircled the most magnificent symbol of the Italian Renaissance—the Duomo, Cattedrale Santa Maria del Fiore—the main cathedral in the heart of Florence? Now, this is really getting interesting. Well, there is such a trail—where the real destination is a deepening of the magic and mystery of that special place known as Firenze—the heart of Tuscany—an experience like no other!
The famous dome of the Duomo, was thought to be impossible to build, but has been a reality now for nearly 600 years. It’s both a miracle and masterpiece, designed by the great Filippo Brunelleschi in the 15th century. Located near the banks of the river Arno, the unforgettable dome can be seen miles away, rising stolidly amid the red tile roofs of the old city center.
Florence, as we all know, has history, art and architecture like no other city. However, not many understand the unique relationship the “City of the Lily” has always shared with the rolling hills and beautiful countryside that surrounds the Arno valley—the small towns and cities that grew up alongside her, but certainly not in her shadow. Characterized by centuries of mutual influence and respect, the connections between the various areas become palpable as you experience the rather intimate valley, not from its center, but rather from its outer edges. The people who lived in, and loved the surrounding countryside, also gazed down on the compelling dome that changed the course of architectural history. Or, if by chance the Duomo was not within view, they knew it was there, just around the next bend. And just like us, they surely smiled at the thought of its powerful presence.
A group was commissioned, just before the new millenium, to create a continuous ring of trails leading past monasteries, castles, ancient walled cities, and country churches that all grew up together in that larger “Florentine family.” While unraveling the story, we’ve walked meadows, old Roman roads, mule trails, through olive groves, vineyards and cypress woods. Creatively linked together, the series of trails is known as the Anello del Rinascimento, or Renaissance Ring. There are 13 unique itineraries that break the 170 kilometers (100 miles) down into bite-size pieces. Day excursions, spread out over time, can be a great way to experience the entire circle—slowly and thoughtfully, just like it evolved over the centuries.
We started following the historic sentiero, or trail, a couple of years ago in a related story about the Burraie, butter houses, hidden in the hills. That was a treasure hunt we fondly remember, as we discovered some rustic little stone buildings peeking from the ground. No two are alike! Recently, we completed another section of the circle from the hilltown of Santa Brigida to Pontassieve, Florence’s upstream sister city. That day hike was inspiring in its own way. It concluded with a delightful lunch and a surprising bus ride back to our car. (See the story here.)
As we complete additional sections, there surely will be many more stories, photos and perhaps even a few videos, to whet your appetite for some exploration of your own. Or, just sit back, relax, and we’ll take you along with us, telling our own version of the Arno valley tale, as this magical adventure continues to unfold.
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