The history of Florence has taken place (and continues to take place) not only within its walls. Its valleys and the area around it are just as important. Spending time outside in the campgrounds near Florence you can see wonderful places that have a rich artistic and architectural history.
Mugello: To get here just follow the local highway for Bologna. After 15 km of hilly roads you will be in Pratolino. The first sight of the Mugello is from here, and its colors and Tuscan character are stunning. Continue along "the Bolognese" as it is called, and you will discover more and more of the Mugello, There are hills with pines, cypresses, chestnuts and vast woods but also countryside, farmland, with small farms where every bit of land is used to grow grain, olives and wine.
San Piero a Sieve: After leaving the northern end of Monte Morello, you reach San Piero a Sieve. This small medieval town which the Medici elected as their summer home is where the plain of the Mugello begins. It is crossed by the Sieve river, which runs into the Arno. Towards the north you will see the pine and fir trees of the Tusco-Romangnolo Appenines, while to the South you can see the basin of Florence and to the west the mountains of Vernio, and the Alps of San Benedetto and Falterona, where the Arno has its source.
Barberino: Today the Mugello region is known for the Lake of Bilancino, which is located in the municipality of Barberino. Between the dark green woods and the yellows of the planted field, the bright reflections of water give the area a special feeling. To understand the secrets of this valley it's worthwhile seeing it from many perspectives.
The low valley of the Mugello is perfectly flat and is dotted with reflections of the water that runs through the hills all the way to the Appenines, presenting a harmonious line of woods that slope downwards to the Florentine plain, and upwards again towards Romagna. This uneven quality, the ups and downs, the views - are amazing. The small lakes, the wilderness that extends all the way to Romagna and the gentle hills that roll towards the Sieve, not to mention the old towns of San Piero a Sieve, Borgo San Lorenzo, Vicchio, make it special.
Mugello was the center of an important Etruscan community and then was settled by Romans before becoming part of the contado fiorentino, and during its most important period was a key center for the economy and politics of the Comune, and then of the Granducato. This was the period when large villas and residences were built, when it became a habit for wealthy families to live outside the city center. The interest in the countryside was matched by an increase in agriculture, as you can see from the Medici castle of Trebbio in San Piero a Sieve. Art and architecture blend into the countryside, and man has put his mark on the land in unique and beautiful ways that we can still admire today.
In the center of Mugello, in the flattest part, crossed by the Sieve river is Borgo San Lorenzo. This was the industrial and artisanal center of the area. There are etruscan and neolithic remains here. During its high point, Borgo San Lorenzo was the most progressive industrial city in Mugello. This was aided by the construction of the railway that went from Firenze to Faenza at the end of the 19th century. It was also a center for ceramics in the first half of the 20th century with works by Galileo and Chino Chini who in 1906 created the San Lorenzo ceramic factories which created remarkable work in the decorative arts and applied design which were known all over the world. Some of these pieces can be see in the Museo della Manifattura Chini.
Not far away is Scarperia, at the base of the Appenines, 30 km from Florence on the Bolognese. A medieval city, Scarperia is famous for the production of cutting tools in iron. Its knives are extremely famous and go back to the origin of the city. The best time to visit is September when there is a fair in medieval costume to celebrate the city.
From Borgo San Lorenzo through the valley we must stop at Vicchio, an old town with an important history. Vicchio was the home to both Giotto and Beato Angelico. It was also where Don Lorenzo Milani worked during the middle of the 20th century, an important figure in contemporary pedagogy.
As with every rural community, there are traditions typical to the Mugello. It is important for people to make use of all the resources offered to them by nature. As a result, game is a specialty and at the base of the cuisine here. Mushrooms (porcini and ovoli) from the mountains are famous all over Italy, as is the white truffle, which can be found along the Sieve. Pork is a favorite, but the best known dish here is potato tortelli, which every family knows how to make.