Upstream on the river Arno, between the Romito, the Acqua Borra bridges and the romantic Buriano Bridge is a wildlife area of waterways and gullys. This area is the Valle dell’Inferno and Bandella Nature Reserve and the Ponte a Buriano and Penna Nature Reserve.
As you move upstream, the river flows smoothly between the almost vertical sides of a rocky gully in the Valle dell'Inferno. The water flows quietly here today, as the amount of water is controlled by the Levane Dam. In the past, however, this was not the case and the sound of the crashing white water on the rocks terrified passers by and the courageous 'foderai'. Foderai were men who guided tree trunks down the river from the Casentino area to Florence and the shipyards in Pisa. This landscape is one of breathtaking beauty and is as varied as it is lovely. In the heart of the Nature Reserve the rocky gully softens into a more gentle river bank and, where it joins the river Ascione, the landscape opens out into the Bandella marshland.
The Nature Reserve is a birdspotter's paradise with species like herons and egrets lurking amongst the colourful water lillies and reeds. There are also moorhens which are some of the easiest birds to spot. There are birdwatching stations in the Nature Reserve from which you might be able to identify small, colourful kingfishers, mallards or one of the many other species which spend the winter here or which stop off here during spring and autumn migration.
Just a few kilometres away, beyond Penna Lake and the Imbuto Pass, is the large Ponte Buriano marshland. The landscape is dominated by marshland reeds and surrounded by willows and poplar trees. The area is home to mallards and moorhen who can often be seen paddling across the glass-like surface of the water with their chicks. Many herons also live here in the Nature Reserve. There are many more bird species here in the winter, including colonies of cormorants which gather to rest on the river banks in huge groups. Other species include gulls and great crested grebes which are known for their spectacular mating dance. During the migration periods in spring and autumn, it's also possible to see (with a little bit of luck) ospreys and the solitary western marsh harrier flying silently above the reeds.
This river has always been incredibly important to the people of this area, both as a form of transport and a source of energy and life. There are many ancient constructions along the river which bear witness to its importance and use throughout history. They include the bridge with its elegant arches; the centuries old fortifications of Castellare (the old Castiglione degli Ubertini), Penna and Rondine and the ruins of many old watermills.
As well as the well organised hikes and excursions managed by the Monticello Visitors' Centre and the Ponte a Buriano Visitors' Centre, we also suggest trying at least one part of the 'Grande Escursione delle Riserve dell'Arno' (the Great River Arno Nature Reserve Hike). This hiking trail sets off from Acqua Borra, passes through Bandella, Ponte Romito and the ancient fortifications of Rondine and Penna, before finishing at Ponte a Buriano. The trail is truely beautiful and many parts of it are footpaths cut into the steep rocky slopes on either side of the river. Other parts of the trail pass through woodland, although still within sight of the river and the many waterways which eventually all join the Arno in a series of streams and small waterfalls.
Disabled access: yes
Qualified welcome staff: no
Other staff available: yes
Public transport: no
Specific footpaths: no
Other accessible footpaths: no
Typical altitude: flat
Visitors' Centre: yes