From Florence to Arezzo along the Setteponti route
A historical path through landscapes of grest beauty, rich in vineyards, olive groves and particular geomorphological formations such as the Balze del Valdarno. This itinerary, which leaves from Porta San Gallo in Florence and arrives at Piazza Grande in Arezzo, retraces the trail of the ancient Cassia Vetus.
Before leaving, please note that we have tried, in the first stretch of this itinerary, to reach Pontassieve, avoiding as much as possible State Road 67 "Aretina," which follows the Arno valley easily, but which is inevitably very busy. For this reason, the track leads to two digressions that are not very "ergonomic" in terms of mileage and altimetry; however, the beauty of the landscapes and the decrease in traffic play in their favor. We then leave Florence starting from Piazza della Libertà and begin to climb the first hills that surround the city. When we reach Settignano, we make a right-end turn and follow the signs for Villa Gamberaia, now used for events, with a splendid garden that can be visited. Traveling along an extremely winding minor roadway of steep ups and downs (uneven tarmac in some stretches), we descend back to the banks of the Arno at Compiobbi and after a few kilometers we arrive at what was once the suburban parish church of San Giovanni Battista a Remole, where we can make a stop to visit the ancient Parish Church. At this point, the trail follows the beaten earth track along the Arno to get to the Parish Church from its best side; it is a 150-meter stretch (with a final passage pushing our bikes) that we recommend for the beauty of the landscape, but that can be avoided by continuing along the state road.
From the Pieve di Remole we move away again from traffic to tackle about 1,5 kilometer of challenging ascent, climb back up the hills and finally reach, among olive trees and panoramic views, Pontassieve, a road junction of primary importance, so much so that from a simple village it transformed, in the second half of the fourteenth century, into the 'terra sive castri Sancti Angeli', one of the military strongholds of the Florentine state.
After passing through the historic town center and the Medici bridge on the Sieve, built in 1555, we begin to climb for about 2,5 kilometers along a challenging 10% stretch to then continue the climb, more smoothly, until we reach the village of Tosi, on the first slopes of Pratomagno and the highest peak of our tour, with its 500 meters of height.
The road continues winding through the foothills of Pratomagno, characterized by a significant alignment of parish churches. The first one we encounter is San Pietro a Pitiana, shortly after Donnini, from whose churchyard you can enjoy a splendid view of the Arno valley.
After a few more kilometers we will be in Reggello, where the “Setteponti” officially starts and which we will take to visit the parish church of San Pietro a Cascia, which is a must-see visit. It houses the splendid Trittico di San Giovenale (San Giovenale Triptyc), an early work by Masaccio.
We continue as far as Piandiscò, with the road flanking the beautiful apses of the Romanesque parish church of Santa Maria, already mentioned in a document dating back to 1008.
We move forward toward Castelfranco di Sopra, where the Badia di San Salvatore a Soffena deserves a visit. It is a religious building erected in the fourteenth century on a pre-existing castle, evidence of the presence of the Vallombrosan community of monks in the Upper Valdarno. Next to the Abbey stands the monastery, where recent archaeological investigations have brought to light medieval and Renaissance graves.
With a short detour from the provincial road we cross the urban plan of the village of Castelfranco, which tradition attributes to Arnolfo di Cambio, with a regular checkerboard layout, once surrounded by walls, towers and gates, with only two of them remaining. A must-see is the Oratorio di San Filippo Neri (Oratory of St. Philip Neri) (18th century), the saint who was born here in 1515.
From Castelfranco, those cyclists who more trained can make a detour of about 4 kilometers to admire the famous Balze del Valdarno, those that appeared to Leonardo da Vinci as "deep sawdust of the rivers”.
Back on the Setteponti we continue toward Loro Ciuffenna, a medieval village of Etruscan origin. The historic town center, characterized by houses built on the edges of the gorge of the Ciuffenna stream, has various points of interest, including the church of Santa Maria Assunta, with a triptych by Lorenzo di Bicci (15th century), and the Venturino Venturi Museum, a homage to the artist who was born here in 1918.
Just outside the village, leaving the provincial road for a moment, we encounter the Romanesque Parish Church San Pietro a Gropina (12th century), one of the most ancient religious buildings of the diocese of Arezzo. Particularly striking is the interior, divided into three naves with columns and capitals, evidence of the great art of stone carving, with works of art that have been handed down through the ages. An ambo decorated with bas-reliefs portraying human and animal depictions (a lion, eagle and a deacon), supported by two knotted columns and two pillars, is the church's sculptural masterpiece. The external decorations of the apses are also splendid.
From the church square we can return to the provincial road via a steep dirt road about six hundred meters long. Those who do not have the right bike or do not feel safe can follow our route and turn back for about a kilometer, then turn left and rejoin the Setteponti.
Once we arrive in San Giustino Valdarno we can make another interesting detour (1,5 kilometer) to visit the Borro, a tiny medieval village, now renovated and converted into an albergo diffuso (a hotel with rooms located in differents parts of a village), which stands at the foot of the large manor house, once the castle of the Milanese nobleman Borro Borri.
A little further down the road we arrive in Castiglion Fibocchi, a village built as a castle guarding the road from Pratomagno to Casentino. Before reaching Arezzo, the road crosses the Arno river with the grand Buriano Bridge, an artifact that has preserved the mighty medieval structure with seven large arches and depicted by Leonardo da Vinci against the backdrop of the "Mona Lisa" and of the "Madonna dei fusi".
Arezzo is now a few kilometers away and the traffic becomes heavier and inevitable (please be careful); one last effort and we are finally in Piazza Grande for a well-deserved aperitif.