The journey should be part of the joy of travelling from the Lucchesia to Florence. How many of us going by car just head for the Autostrada del Mare, Italy’s second oldest motorway dating back to the 1920’s, and speed along until we reach the city of the Lily?
Of course, if one is in a hurry that’s the best route to use. But there are luscious alternatives – and plenty of them. One of my favourite routes to get to Florence from Bagni di Lucca is to follow the Val di Lima to the Lima junction. From thence you either take the main route to Le Piastre which goes through San Marcello Pistoiese and over the Monte Oppio pass, or via Cecafumo and Prunetta. From Le Piastre it’s a pleasant descent into the Arno Valley and if you really want to take the Autostrada you can do so at the Pistoia toll-gate. Pistoia, with its gorgeous sights, merits at least a few hours to visit, especially as it’s this year’s city of culture. Otherwise, you could take strada regionale 66 (evocative number…) with a welcome break at Poggio a Caiano to visit the wonderful Medici villa there.
To return there’s nothing better than taking the FI-PI-LI, strada di grande comunicazione, from Florence but exiting at Lastra a Signa. Here you could stop and visit Caruso’s Villa (see my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2017/03/30/the-greatest-of-all-singers-his-villa/)
and thence travel along one of the Arno’s most picturesque stretches. This is where the river cuts through a gorge known as ‘La Gonfolina’. The road shares this part of the river course with the main Pisa to Florence railway.
Why is this area known as the Gonfolina? It’s perhaps because the word ‘Gonfio’ means swollen and it was this part of the Tuscan landscape that divides the Arno into two stretches. In ancient times the river would swell up in the upper stretch until it formed a lake which would overflow and cascade down to form a second lake.
There is still a part of the huge boulder which once damned this part of the Arno in Cainozoic times.
It’s this stone which appears in an engraving by Giuseppe Zocchi in 1744.
It’s also this stone which has inspired many folk tales.
On the stone there’s a plaque with an inscription by the great and curious mind of Leonardo da Vinci:
“La Gonfolina, Sasso per antico unito co’ Monte Albano in forma d’altissimo argine il quale tenea ingorgato tal fiume in modo che, prima che versassi nel mare era dopo a’ piedi di tal Sasso, componea due grandi laghi de’ quali el primo è là dove oggi si vede finire la città di Firenze insieme con Prato e Pistoia”
Translated this is “Gonfolina, A rock, in ancient times forming part of the Monte Albano which once divided the river into two stretches before it reaches the sea, each stretch forming a lake of which the first one reaches out to the city of Florence together with Prato and Pistoia”.
After this delightful part of the Arno the road takes one to Montelupo Fiorentino, famous for its terracottas and ceramics. From thence one could stop and have lunch at Empoli and visit the sights of this somewhat neglected but characterful town, including the Piazza degli Uberti with its fine church, the Pretorian palace the Pinacoteca and composer Busoni’s house.
Then it’s across the Arno valley, heading for Fucecchio, Bird-watcher could make a slight detour to the Padule di Fucecchio, one of Italy’s largest wetland areas and which provides some of the best bird observations in Italy. Thence it’s to Altopascio, another fascinating town with its Templar hostel and mythical bread. From Altopascio one can either head for Lucca or go to Marlia, the Serchio valley and Bagni di Lucca.
So do make the journey part of your delight in visit Florence from the Lucchesia. And there are still umpteen more routes to discover!
PS I’ve just realised we did this route more years ago than I care to remember – on our way to Empoli and San Miniato Tedesco, by bicycle from Florence. Ah those were the days!