A boundary land between Marche, Umbria and Emilia Romagna, the Valtiberina draws a striking landscape among the Apennines, ploughed by the sacred Tiber Rover. Our walk in Tuscany leaves this half-way land characterised by walled towns, abbeys and convents, parishes and medieval castles that mark the land and tell its history. After having spent the night in the town of San Sepolcro, birth place of he who “translated into painting the secrets of light and space” (Piero della Francesca), with our backpacks on our backs, in a day of strong wind, we leave the Passo di Viamaggio following, in part, the ancient Via Maior, a Roman road that linked Rimini with Rome.
Crossing the state road, the path of the Great Apennine Excursion (G.E.A.) starts a little further on from an ancient chapel and along a white road leads down to the town of Pieve Santo Stefano. This first part of the route goes to the left, around a dome-shaped relief called Montalto, whose slopes are completely covered with beeches and oaks. The thick vegetation has the job of protecting the silence of the hidden Eremo di Cerbaiolo, that we reach after an hour’s walk, abandoning the main road and climbing a mule track closed off by a wooden gate. The Monastery, on a rocky ledge, is a simple and bare place and for this reason authentic and rich in spirituality, far from the cerimonies and fasts of other “holy places”, noisy and at times too touristy (in my opinion the proverb “he who has seen La Verna and has not seen Cerbaiolo, has seen the mother but not her son” is very true).
According to tradition, Cerbaiolo, founded by Benedictine monks in 722, was offered to St. Francis by the local population in 1217 and the next year became a convent of minor monks. Today it is sister Chiara Barboni who lives a real hermit’s life here, breeding her large goat herd and welcoming anyone who wishes to spend a time of prayer and meditation. It is to her, her commitment and disarming faith that the reconstruction of the monastery’s buildings is owed after it was gravely damaged during the Second World War. Our trip to the discovery of particular places could not have started better and with heavy hearts we continue our walk towards the Parish of St. Stephen. Having crossed the town, whose history was in large part destroyed by the bombings during the war, we open onto path number 20 (still signalled as G.E.A.) to climb back towards Caprese di Michelangelo.
This stretch of the walk is really interesting not just because it offers a beautiful view over the Tiber valley but also because it allows us to reach small inhabited areas where time seems to have stopped, such as Stratino Alto and Basso, il Casalino, Marcena. Deifintely to be visited is Tifi where we find the beautiful Abbey of San Martino. This church, perfectly renovated, was built upon request by the pilgrim and hermit St. Romualdo, founder of the Camaldolite order. After resting we confront the last climb and, passing an iron bridge that allows a ford on the Singerna stream, we reach the asphalted road that leads to the day’s destination.
Caprese di Michelangelo is especially known for being Michelangelo Buonarroti’s birthplace: born among these mountains he “sensed the life in the stone”. In fact, the park-museum that is found in the highest part of the town is dedicated to him. With one final effort we visit the sculptor’s house before putting up our tents and eating in the lovely "Buca degli Angeli" hotel-restaurant.