The province of Pistoia in Tuscany is surrounded by mountains and is home to some of the most charming mountain hamlets renowned for both summer and winter tourism. Pistoia's mountains are a mix of nature, history and culture worth exploring on foot, by bike or on horseback. Today we're going to discover a circular route open year-round, which can be covered on foot or by mountain bike (in the winter you might be lucky enough to come across some snow) and which takes visitors to the picturesque villages of Popiglio and Piteglio, Castruccio bridge (Ponte di Castruccio), the suspended bridge (Ponte Sospeso) and the Botanical Gardens “Il bosco ritrovato”.
The starting point for this 8 kilometre walk (or 15 if you also visit Piteglio) is in Popiglio, which can be reached from Pistoia by taking the western ring road following the signs for Abetone-SR66 Modena. After 28 kilometres, at La Lima leave the SP66 and turn left into Via Nazionale SS12 towards Popiglio-Bagni di Lucca-Lucca and drive 2.5 kilometres as far as Popiglio. This is an easy path suitable for all, almost completely paved—just take care on the way down to Castruccio Bridge, because the ground is sometimes slippery. The Romanesque church of Santa Maria Assunta is the starting point of this path. The square is home to the Museum of Sacred Art, which is part of the Ecomuseum of the Pistoia Mountains, a partly open-air museum. Follow the paved path into Via delle Corti, go beyond the Mascagni Theatre, pass an 18th-century tabernacle and an arch, and you’ll reach the beginning of a mule track and the stream Lima in the vicinity of the Castruccio bridge.
The Ponte di Castruccio is a 10-meter-high single-arched medieval bridge, also called Ponte delle Campanelle. This bridge was built by Castruccio Castracani (1281-1328), leader and lord of Lucca, over the Lima River, which at his time marked the border between Lucca and Pistoia. The bridge is barrel vaulted in masonry with river pebbles. On the left bank of the river there are two buildings called “le due dogane”, which, at the time of the construction, controlled the movement of goods and people between Lucca and Pistoia. Having crossed the river you can see Popiglio on the opposite side and a beautiful view of the Lima Valley. After 2.8 kilometres of sun and shade you reach the main road. From here you can reach both the picturesque village of Piteglio and visit the “Bosco Ritrovato”, a natural, cultural, educational and tourist centre. The visit is divided into seven thematic areas, including plants of past traditions; ferns and horsetails; herbs and medicinal plants; poisonous plants; plants that attract birds and small rodents as well as those that attract butterflies and other insects. After the visit, continue downhill, cross the bridge over the river Limestre and, once you reach the road sign for Mammiano continue left towards the suspended bridge. The Ponte Sospeso over the river Lima was opened in 1922. It is 220 meters long and its highest point is 40 meters. It is one of the longest pedestrian bridges in the world. It is made with steel cables anchored to rocks by heavy chains, with side tie rods that make it more secure and it is just less than a meter wide. It was built as a shortcut for workers who had to cross the valley. Crossing the bridge (take care because it moves), you can admire the valley and the Lima stream.
When you return to the village of Popiglio, an ancient feud of the Guidi counts, why not visit the castle? Due to its strategic position guarding the border with Lucca, it was often the scene of conflicts between Lucca and Pistoia in the early fourteenth century. Twice besieged and destroyed, the castle of Popiglio now preserves vestiges of the ancient hamlet, which you can observe by the position of the ancient gates and several buildings of great architectural value.