On the top of a hill or nestled in the mountains. Isolated or at the core of picturesque villages. To be visited on a cold, sunny winter day or while the snow is falling. For a short day-trip or for these next Christmas holidays. Between a ski run and another. Between a hot chocolate and a hot soup.
After the top 6 churches in Tuscany with a sea view here is the top 5 with a mountain view!
1. Santuario della Verna
The Franciscan Sanctuary della Verna, on Monte Penna (near Chiusi della Verna, Arezzo province), is one of the most important and well-known in the world: it is said that Saint Francis of Assisi received the stigmata here, in 1224. The sanctuary includes the small church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, the corridor and the Chapel of the Sacre Stimmate (with an Annunciazione by Andrea della Robbia) and the Basilica, dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta. It is a place of absolute beauty and magic, with the sanctuary almost rising from the rocks underneath and surrounded by woodland: the “Monumental Forest della Verna”, with its extraordinary fir and beech trees of over 50 meters in height. The view is breathtaking, especially if you have the fortune of a post-snowfall visit!
2. Santuario di San Pellegrino in Alpe
San Pellegrino in Alpe is a small village resting on the mountains, at 1525 meters, between the provinces of Lucca and Modena. It is the highest inhabited town of the whole Apennines. The place is famous not only for the striking view, but also for its ancient Sanctuary, a well-known place of pilgrimage. According to legend, San Pellegrino, son of the king of Scotland, renounced his throne, traveled to Jerusalem and on his way back home, while crossing the Apennines, was struck by the beauty of this place: he stopped here and became a hermit.
The name of San Pellegrino is also linked to another local legend: the creation of Monte Forato (“Holed Mountain”). It is told that the Devil, tired of watching San Pellegrino praying and singing all day long, tried to tempt him in every way, up to the point of slapping him … but, this time, the Saint decided to strike back and slapped the Devil so hard that he ended up against the opposite mountain, creating the hole! Monte Forato can be seen from San Pellegrino in Alpe and, when looking from some spots, the arch creates an effect of double sunset, when the sun falls between the arch and soon reappears for a short while in the hole below.
3. Abbazia di San Salvatore
On the eastern slopes of Monte Amiata, there is the Benedictine Abbey of San Salvatore, a Romanesque building that the tradition indicates as founded by the Lombard king Ratchis, in 743. The church’s façade and its Latin-cross plan were probably the first of this kind in the Siena area; these characteristics, and the exceptional nature of the structure’s crypt, make the Church of San Salvatore one of the most interesting prototypes of Tuscan architecture. In the mid-1600s, the church structure was transformed and altars were renewed according to a Baroque style; however, these elements were later removed. Also, the charming medieval village built around the monastery, Abbadia San Salvatore, is worth the visit, while Amiata is a true jewel in winter time, both for nature and sport lovers.
4. Abbazia di Vallombrosa
Vallombrosa (that means “shaded valley”) is a silent paradise in the Apennines, immersed in a centuries-old forest of silver firs and beech trees: a cool shelter during the sultry summer days of the cities (Florence is just 30 km away) and a fascinating site in winter. It’s not by chance that it was chosen by the Benedictine monks for their worldly refuge, the Abbey of Vallombrosa, founded by Giovanni Gualberto, a Florentine noble, in 1038. Here the monks managed also to put to good use the large forests, selling timber and sending them to Livorno by river to maintain the abbey, but also helping preserve the woods by planting trees and taking care of them. Inside the Abbey is are important artistic works: paintings, frescoes, reliquaries, the wooden choir stalls carved by Francesco da Poggibonsi, a large altar-piece of glazed terracotta from the workshop of Andrea della Robbia and more. Around the main building there are a few “hidden gems”, such as the “Scalinata del Calvario” (Calvary staircase), which goes from the abbey to the “Paradisino” building.
5. Pieve di San Pietro a Romena
A true beauty in the Casentino area (near Pratovecchio): the Romanesque parish church of San Pietro a Romena (1152), with its amazing architecture and its careful stone work. Inside, there are three naves divided by decorated stone pillars and asymmetrical windows that create a special effect with the light that shines through them. The oldest part of the building is the square bell tower, but the complex also houses the ruins of an even more ancient church, beneath the present one. On the outside, the part of greater interest is the apse, facing East, like all the Romanesque parish churches, and so it is “kissed” by the morning light.
Cover image credit: Stefano Cannas