In this tour we’re going to visit different spots in some of the many little villages in the surroundings of San Marcello Pistoiese and Piteglio, a few dozen kilometres north of Pistoia.
Our trip starts on an ancient bridge set in the valley crossed by the Lima creek, in the surroundings of Popiglio. Just to give you an idea: imagine a single arcaded medieval bridge, 10 metres high over the Lima and the photogenic white smooth stones that characterize the creek bed in that section.
The “Ponte di Castruccio” we see today was built in 1317 on an order of the Lucchese warlord Castruccio Castracani, in the place where the original bridge had been destroyed a few years earlier (by the very same Castruccio!). Back then, here you would have found yourself right on the border of the Pistoia and Lucca territories, and the area was the scene of many intense fights. Fun fact: the two buildings on the southern side of the bridge once were customs points, so that no one could cross the river too easily…
A few kilometres away from our first stop, in the area of Mammiano Basso, you’ll find the outstanding Ironworks Suspension Bridge, certainly more recent than the Castruccio bridge but just as rich in history and much-loved by the locals. The 212,4 metre long “Ponte Sospeso” was built in the years 1920-1922 to shorten the long walk that the many workers from Popiglio were forced to make every single day to reach the metallurgical plant of Mammiano Basso. Right from the outset, the innovative and resilient structure drew the interest and admiration of many: designers, engineers and, as time went by, more and more tourists. Curiously, the metallurgical plant was closed in 1931 for good, so that the bridge was only used for a few years for the original purpose.
Nowadays, the bridge can still boast of being one of the longest pedestrian suspension bridges in the world and it is absolutely a must-see: aren’t you thrilled by the idea of crossing it and being gently swayed by its swinging structure?
And now, if you’re in the mood, we’d like to take you to look at the stars! In order to do that, let’s get to Gavinana. Here, you should definitely pay a visit to the Stars Park, set next to the Pistoia Mountains Astronomical Observatory. We’re dealing with an educational and scientific park, which shows the magnitude of our solar system on a smaller scale. The sun, the planets of the solar systems and the milky way stars are represented through beautiful manufactured sculptures.
We’ll add just one other thing: the park, one of the attractions of the Ecomuseum of the Pistoia Mountains, is always open and you can enter (for free) through three different gates.
For the final part of our tour in the Pistoia mountains you’ll need proper hiking shoes and clothing suitable for the season: yes, we’re going for a hike! The trail we recommend to you all is a few hours’ walk and reaches the Rifugio del Montanaro (or Mountaineer's Hut), located at an altitude of 1567 metres in the surroundings of the Poggio dei Malandrini. The ideal departing point for such a hike is the parking lot close to the Casetta de’ Pulledrari (1227 m. a.s.l.), but you can also set off for the hut on foot from the town of Maresca. On the way up to the Mountaineer's Hut, following along the trail number 3, you will be accompanied by the thick woods of the Teso forest (mostly beeches) and, from time to time, scenic creeks.
If you really, really want to make the most of this hike, here’s a secret: when you reach the information plaque signalling the Passo dei Malandrini (1.577 m. a.s.l.), don’t go directly to the Mountaineer’s Hut (at that point, you’re pretty much there) but keep heading up: you’re a few minutes away from the ridge of the mountain (trail 00) and from enjoying a very spectacular 360° panoramic view from the area known as the Pedata del Diavolo. You should know that some sections of this hike are quite steep and thus challenging, but it’s worth it!