The Apennines has always something to surprise the visitor, confirming that Tuscany has plenty of treasures. One of these hidden landscapes is the Orrido di Botri, a canyon carved out of the rock over thousands of years. The Orrido di Botri is a deep limestone gorge carved by the Rio Pelago. The area is located in the municipality of Bagni di Lucca, in the Val Fegana, under the slopes of the Tre Potenze and Rondinaio mountains.
The area of the biggest Tuscan canyon is accessible from Ponte a Gaio, where you can walk along the dried bed of the stream formed by the rivers Mariana and Ribellino. Access to the area is only allowed from mid-June to September, weather permitting, and when the water level is low. The Orrido di Botri forms a very narrow valley created by water erosion. The tectonic forces of the earth shaped a dramatic gorge and the land is formed by the flow of the water, creating fractures and crevasses.
You can reach the Orrido by yourself or on a guided tour. Guides lead visitors through this magnificent scenery, a mix of clear waters and verdant vegetation. The Orrido di Botri has been a nature reserve since 1971 and the canyon is unspoiled. It is home to many rare and majestic animals, such as the royal eagles and the wolves. Besides the wolves that live all year round in the Apennines, there are roe deers, hare, squirrels, marmots, foxes, porcupines, skunks, pine martens and a small group of goats.
The 286 hectares of the reserve are managed by the Corpo Forestale dello Stato (the State Parks Protection Service). In Ponte a Gaio, where both individual and guided tours begin, there is a visitors’ center and a ticket office. Tickets cost 2 euro per person and all visitors must wear helmets (provided by the ticket office). The whole itinerary to the area known as “Piscina” (Pool) takes about 4 hours, or less if you are sporty. Wear shorts and a sweatshirtproper, but especially a pair of shoes with a good grip as the path is slippery.
Bring a complete change of clothes (to leave in the car).
The paths along the river bed from Ponte a Gaio to Piscina are:
Stage 1. Guadina: 30 minutes from Ponte a Gaio First narrowing of the river bed for about 80 metres.
Stage 2. Le Prigioni: 45 minutes from Ponte a Gaio About 500 metres to be covered in water. At the end of Le Prigioni the so-called Solco Grande begins.
Stage 3. Salto dei Becchi: 80 minutes from Ponte a Gaio Limestone shelf with intense erosion. From this point the route becomes more challenging and is recommended for experienced walkers only.
Stage 4. Piscina: 120 minutes from Ponte a Gaio, you can reach the end of the route by yourself. From here the path is alpine and a specific permission is required.
The reserve can be reached from Lucca with the state street n. 12 (del Brennero), that runs up to Fornoli, near Bagni di Lucca, then turn towards Tereglio, on the provincial road n. 56 and follow the signs to Ponte a Gaio – Orrido di Botri. The village of Ponte a Gaio is also accessible by Montefegatesi, starting from Bagni di Lucca, or from La Scesta for those who follow the Brennero road to the south.