The Pratomagno mountains near Florence are full of wonderful moderate hiking trails. Many of them are anelli (rings) that are relatively easy half-day treks, perfect for a cool early-morning start that finishes before the summer day heats-up. The trails wander through the dense wooded hills, crossing small villages with charming farm houses, ruins, villas, country churches and castles. Everything is picturesque so there are photo-ops at every turn.
One especially interesting circular hike is called the Borselli-Ferranoanello, where you will find the beautiful Castello di Ferrano and Chiesa di Santa Maria (1574), along with interesting country farmhouses and knock-your-socks-off panoramas that are sure to slow you down for a prolonged gander. Following are some photos we took that will give you a feel for the historic buildings, terrain and scenery.
We have written two other related stories about similar hikes, in the same area that you might want to check out: the ruins of Lavacchio and the Nippozzano castle. Both hikes, guarantee a delightful morning in nature, with significant Tuscan scenery in which to contemplate. We’re definitely not in Kansas anymore!
The ancient proverb “Seeing is believing” has been around since 1639, and means that only tangible evidence is truly convincing. However, living in Italy has shown us that just the opposite can also be true—”believing is seeing.” Thus begins a short tale about a window.
We live in an old Italian farmhouse in the hills north of Florence. The Italians take tradition and culture very seriously, so the look of the buildings and the landscape are guarded like gold. Construction formulas have been around seemingly forever, so details can rarely change—if ever. In a farmhouse, for example, there’s a formula for natural light-to-interior space. But there is also a formula limiting openings in exterior walls. It was not unusual to have a large blank wall, punctuated with only a single small window and a door. So if you want a second window, for more light or to balance the facade—well, that’s just too bad. There’s no way the formula can be altered. But in our case, the aesthetic sensibilities outweigh the formula. We are bothered by a large bleak, blank wall. Okay, we know that the formula was derived long ago when too many windows meant heat loss. But central heating is all the rage now, right? So what to do?
We decided that we could hang an old metal grille on the outside wall. Of course, we’d paint a soft gray border around it to suggest a typical Tuscan window, traditionally framed with pietra serena (stone). So that’s what we did. No wall was pierced in the placement of the “art” as we call it, and everything we’ve done is “temporary,” which means “removable” to the authorities. We could simply paint over our faux window one day, as if nothing ever changed. Our first try was to use wood shutters, but they didn’t weather well. So we moved on to an iron solution which would last a lifetime. Our eventual imaginary window solution was pretty doggone convincing, but we weren’t quite finished yet. No. We realized that we needed a corresponding window on the inside as well. So, we went to the nearby town of Sieci, to a Mercato di Usato (the market for old, used things), where we found a sweet little wood window with beveled glass. After cleaning and refinishing, up it went, behind the mosquito net over the bed in the guest room. Voilà!
As you can see, our collective imaginations took a slight detour when the real window was vietato (forbidden). Now, we have the window that we thought the blank wall yearned for, some 18 years later, with one little missing caveat—you can’t actually see through it. But that doesn’t really matter. We turned a “No!” into a definite “Yes!” and nobody got hurt or did anything too drastic in the process. Seeing the window is almost believing it. But for us, the notion of believing it first provided the possibility, which ultimately made artistic expression possible. We may not have an actual opening onto the nearby moody valley, but sometimes a vision is better than a view!
May 20th, 2012. In the early morning hours, the small Italian town of Finale Emilia became the epicenter of a 6.0 magnitude earthquake—shaking the heart and soul of the beautiful historic town center. (more…)
There’s nothing like a Tuscan scavenger hunt. Saturday’s goal was to unearth some of the relics of the ancient Florentine past, buried in the middle of the bustling 21st century life. We headed northwest from Florence into the challenging sea of modern development. Calenzano was our destination, and we were in search of her historic heart. We found it! (more…)
China isn’t the only country that built walls. Italy certainly crafted a few of their own over the centuries. However, there is one very special wall around the old center of Lucca in Tuscany, that might even win first place if we held a “cool walls” or a “most excellent” competition. (more…)
So here’s the situation: In our Italian neck of the woods, there is a law that permits only a certain number of windows per room. Yes, that’s right. Apparently, the practice started years ago when farmers didn’t want so many windows due to their inefficiency—you know, drafty winters, vulnerability, etc. So, over the centuries, they just made the practice into an architectural common law of sorts. Why not? You can do that kind of thing here . . . it’s Italy! (more…)
Imagine a hiking trail 100 miles long with no particular destination. Sound strange? What if you could actually see the focus of your wanderings, yet never arrive there? What if the trail encircled the most magnificent symbol of the Italian Renaissance—the Duomo, Cattedrale Santa Maria del Fiore—the main cathedral in the heart of Florence? Now, this is really getting interesting. Well, there is such a trail—where the real destination is a deepening of the magic and mystery of that special place known as Firenze—the heart of Tuscany—an experience like no other! (more…)
“If you get pure beauty, you get about the best thing God has to give.”
The quote is attributed to an anonymous artist long ago, cited by the British writer, Charles Latham in his 1905 book, The Gardens of Italy. The sentiment sums up the intention of the Italian villa—pure beauty! And Villa Gamberaia, set in the peaceful hills overlooking Florence is certainly no exception. This incredible garden in the Tuscan landscape has been studied and celebrated by architectural historians and garden designers throughout the centuries. In fact, the painter may have been standing in Gamberaia’s garden when he first spoke those words that captured Latham’s imagination. (more…)
A few months ago, we came across a program called “Workaway.” It’s an online organization that allows people who need help to find those people who want to help. Or conversely, people who want to help, can find someone with an engaging project. The idea is simple. If you want to spend time in Norway, then find a project and volunteer. How about New Zealand? South Africa? Peru? Just send them a message and see what happens. You might be surprised. We were. (more…)
Cheryl & Emerson
Quality time is great—but quantity time is what relationships are built on! Take time to partner.