In addition to skiing and other winter spots, these Tuscan mountains offer a range of activities that encourage the exploration of a very beautiful and “secret” land—even for people who generally stay away from them, having minimal experience with snowshoes, snowboards and sledding. Among the many different opportunities for experiencing a “different” side of the mountains, standout options include the nature reserves and genuine organic gardens.
Botanic garden of Abetone
Like other botanic gardens in the mountains that have recently been put in place (there are some examples in the Massa and Lucca provinces), this garden has two purposes: conserving rare plants in their place of origin, and raising awareness for visitors and adventurers. The Abetone garden stands out for its “forest” setting: it’s located in a beech and fir tree forest set along the Sestaione creek and also conserves and provides for study of local tree species, with a dedicated herbarium and xiloteca dedicated to forest species, preservation of the woodcutting tradition (through a museum with antique and traditional tools), and to the spread of forest ecosystems via a route through the forests that takes you all the way to the town of Abetone. Among the many tree types you can admire along the route are laburnum, mountain ashes, birch trees and red firs.
Within the garden, many of the mountain’s natural components have been reconstructed: a rock garden with calcareous and sandstone rocks, featuring the various types of rocks that are typical of the area’s environment. On silica we’ll find gentians, blueberries, the rare rhododendrons, mountain lillies and more; and then there are the evergreens, the globularia, in addition to bluebells and gorse. One of the large rocks showcases various types of mosses and lichens. Finally, a small lake-bog is home to mountain flowers like marigolds, white veratrum, cotton grass and even rarities like purple marsh and small insectivorious plants like butterworts.
[When you can visit: from 15/6 to 30/9; opening hours vary, but always in the morning and afternoon
Information: State Forestry Corps, Fontana Vaccaia, Abetone, tel. 0573.60363. Access, from Abetone (fraz. Fontana Vaccaia) for Sestaione-Campolino ski lifts]
Nature reserves of Abetone, Campolino and Pian degli Ontani
The nature reserve of Campolino and the biogenetic ones in Abetone and Pian degli Ontani form a single system of protected areas that extend from Abetone to Monte Caligi, above Cutigliano.
The Campolino reserve (which you can only visit if accompanied by the Corpo Forestale di Fontana Vaccaia, tel. 0573.60363) protects one of the last remaining groupings of red firs in the Appenines: this tree is actually very widespread through the Alps, but very rare in the Appenines, after its growth was redirected northward following glaciations and because many were cut down to obtain a particularly fine wood. The area also touches peak areas, with grasslands and heathlands full of flowers in springtime, including gentian and violets. In glacial cirques carved by ancient glaciers you can still find ponds and bogs filled with spagnum species typical of mountain marshland, like cotton grass, marigolds and white veratrum.
The Abetone reserve, which is freely accessible, protects beech (Fagus sylvatica) and silver fir tree (Abies alba) forests, with additional man-made groupings of Norway spruces (Picea excelsa); rounding out the flora of these forests are sycamores and Norway maples (Acer pseudoplatanus, Acer platanoides), golden chains (Laburnum anagyroides), mountain-ashes (Sorbus aucuparia) and other species.
The Pian degli Ontani reserve, which meets fewer quotas compared to the others, is known for its dense concentration of beech trees that were once better described as “copses” and are now better described as “high forest.” There are numerous towering trees in the area: among them are European silver firs (Abies alba) in the forest of Crocina in Abetone, sycamores (Acer pseudoplatanus) in the church square in Cutigliano, the chestnut tree (Castanea sativa) and the European beech tree (Fagus sylvatica) of Roncacce (fractions of Cutigliano, on the opposite side of the reserves).
An extensive trail network passes through the area, connecting the residential areas of the valley floor through the forest slopes and ridges.
[When you can visit: freely for Abetone and Pian degli Ontani; only accompanied by a guide for Campolino (Corpo Forestale dello Stato, Fontana Vaccaia, Abetone, tel. 0573.60363). Access from Abetone (fraz. Fontana Vaccaia, Le Regine, Pian di Novello) and from Cutigliano (fraz. Pian degli Ontani), along state highway12 of Abetone and Brennero and adjacent streets. Large network of trails from the surrounding valleys].