Holm Oaks, considered a sacred symbol of conjugal love, are the dominant tree species of the Pisan mountains, though you'll also find holly, butcher’s broom and elder trees in the area's forests. Wild boars and porcupines populate the woodland while the undergrowth is full of dormice and squirrels. Numerous jays, thrushes, hoopoes and tawny owls can also be heard singing from the forest's branches.
The area's chalky and porous ground allows for the quick absorption of rainwater, a feature that limits the undergrowth to a select number of species. Mount Penna's small plants vaunting tiny flowers might be overlooked in the cooler months, but in the summer, these plants are responsibile for the wonderful fragrance that fills the air. The myrtle is the area's most commonly found bush, often found alongside cistus plants and broom.
The Pisan fort of Ripafratta is situated on a rocky outcrop surrounded by thick woods. This fort was a strategic post during the endless conflicts between the Guelphs and Ghibellines, not to mention the battles between Pisa and Lucca in the 12th and 14th centuries.
Gattaiola's striking Renaissance villas form a ring around the town’s church, the Church of Sant’Andrea. Gattaiola is home to Villa Rossi, the Notter villas, Villa di Puccio and Villa Guinigi. The town's beautiful 8th-century church was enlarged in the 12th century to mirror the Romanesque style of nearby Lucca: white decorations were added, including embedded sculptural ornaments that were subsequently cleaned during restoration work in 1901.
The small Villa Bernardini, a structure that dates to 1615, has remained in the family since its original construction. In front of the villa you'll find two old sequoia trees planted in the 19th century, while behind the structure you'll see the 18th-century Verzura Theater, which can hold up to 650 people.
Guamo’s austere fortified villa, vaunting four study towers, is the work of Castruccio Castracani. Its harsh outline contrasts the softer architectural features and more refined and welcoming atmosphere of the surrounding area.
This town is home to a small museum dedicated to everyday objects from centuries ago. The museum is named after one of its shining features, la ruota: an ingenious pedal mechanism that allowed farmers to raise water from wells and distribute it in their fields. The five rooms of the Ruota Museum of Peasant Culture thematically present topics from textile production to farm work, including the up-keep of olden homes and places of work. The museum’s collections include artifacts used until the end of the 20th century.
Sant’Andrea di Compito and Pieve di Compito are home to Villa Borrini, Villa Orsini and Villa Giovannini. These villas are famous for the beautiful camellias growing abundantly in their gardens. The damp, fresh and protected soil of this area's hills is ideal for growing many species of camellia flowers, a species that long ago was imported from East Asia along with spices and other decorative plants.
The Longobards once inhabited the area that is now known as Vorno, probably attracted by the neighboring woods and its rich game. In the 16th century, the Tegrimi, Mansi and Trenta families reorganized the area’s farming estates and villas using a system they found successful in other areas. Thanks to the abundance of water in the area, numerous watermills, olive presses and two paper mills were opened here in the 17th century. Many of these still stand today in excellent condition.
Follow the signs from Ripafratta to Cerasomma. Turn left onto via di Cocombola. Continue until the bend in the road, turn left, this time onto a beaten path that leads to Meati. Follow the road to Gattaiola. After the church, turn right and follow the boundary wall of Villa Rossi. At the fork in the road, turn right. After a short time on via del Brennero (travelling in the direction of San Quirico di Guamo), you’ll eventually join the Sottomonte provincial road. Massa Macinaia, San Giusto, Sant’Andrea, Pieve, Colle and Castelvecchio di Compito are all signposted from this road.