We have had a hot summer in Tuscany this year, and though the temperature has dropped considerably in the past weeks, this has generally been a great year for tourism in the region.A long dry autumn has provided a substantially cheaper and more exclusive trip for those tourists that gambled against the regions notoriously unpredictable weather in September/October and paid as much as 50% less for accommodation and flights.[caption id="attachment_3251" align="aligncenter" width="700" caption="Autumn in Tuscany"]
[/caption]The weather right now is perfect for enjoying the countryside either on foot, bicycle or horseback. Truffle and mushroom hunters are everywhere, and the region is alive with winter preparations; hay is being covered, firewood stacked, and stock are brought down to winter fields.Tuscany has a wide network of public trails that provide access to some of the most beautiful and historic points of interest. The trails are are marked with red/white/red stripes signaling that they are part of over 600km of marked public access through the CAI (Club Alpino Italiano) network. Though these trails should be maintained by the Alpino Club, many of the trails are notoriously overgrown - this does however make for some adventurous walking, and the discovery of castles, abandoned medieval hamlet's and monasteries that are so off the beaten track, that they have remained exactly how they were 60 years ago.[caption id="attachment_3252" align="aligncenter" width="543" caption="Tuscan White Road"]
[/caption]Owning horses and dogs (both of which require substantial exercise) I have been lucky enough to explore large parts of Tuscany either on foot, or in the saddle.Some of my favorite spots for a walk/ride on a sunny November day are:Castelvecchio: This abandoned medieval village resurfaced in the 70's, and has since begun slow restoration. To date only 5,000 mt of the town's 20,000 mt have been cleared of the forest overgrowth which had almost claimed the entire fortressed hamlet. This interesting spot is not yet popular with tourists - but it should be. The town was finally abandoned after the plague decimated its population hundreds of years ago, and was left in isolation. There is a pretty forest trail that leads up to the castle, and its handy location (between Volterra and San Gimignano) make it an idea spot to take a picnic in between sightseeing visits, especially if you have kids with you!Borgo Vignale: My personal favorite is located between Montaione and Volterra. A pretty medieval hamlet and castle, Vignale was abandoned in World War II after it was bombed. There is a CAI trail (marked with the red and white stripes from the main road between San Vivaldo and Iano at the turnoff for Soiano winery. The trail leads to the ancient castle (completely overgrown and exciting to explore) and the hamlet itself, which has an old church with a spire still standing, and a fresco covered ceiling that is sadly falling apart. The walk itself is beautiful - soft tufo trails, chestnut woods, streams and spectacular views out to Castelfalfi and beyond. From the Soiano turnoff, the walk finishes up at San Vivaldo, a small hamlet famous for its ancient Monastery which was part of the old pilgrimage route 'the via Francigena'. At San Vivaldo you can choose between two popular Tuscan style restaurants for a good regional meal.Monte Giovi National Park:This beautiful network of trails, is located less than 40 minutes drive from Florence. Monte Giovi was an important meeting point for partisans and allied forces during WW2, and there is a large monument remembering their part in the liberation of Florence.At the Monte Giovi lookout on a clear day you can see the Duomo of Florence in the distance. The remains of an old church in the middle of the forest, have historic significance, for it was here that the allied forces organized secret meetings with the Partisans, and shot flares to alert the allied parachuters where to land. For hungry hikers or cyclists, there is an excellent restaurant called 'The Bottega di Monte Giovi' located in an old butter factory on the mountain top. This lovely restaurant is also popular on weekends with Florentines who arrive by the busload, and is known for its excellent local cuisine, reasonable prices and pretty views.[caption id="attachment_3253" align="aligncenter" width="604" caption="Monte Giovi Florence"]
[/caption]Madonna Del Sasso is also part of the wider Monte Giovi National park, though is near Fiesole.A suggestive Sanctuary with an amazing view. Constructed in the 11th Century on the site of a rock near to which it is said that the Virgin Mary appeared several times to a shepherdess, there is a beautiful trail leading up to the sanctuary from the main road. This path then goes behind the sanctuary and down old steps through the forest eventually reaching Santa Brigida - a pretty medieval town that was built on top of the cave that the famous saint used for meditation.Passo Del Muraglione/ AquachetaOut towards the mountains that border Tuscany and Emilia Romagna is the Casentino national park; the largest national park in Italy.Walking along these trails, that have been well maintained for all sorts of outdoor pursuits its is possible to see rare european fauna that have been re-released into the wild (Wolves, Golden eagles etc). The Passo del Muraglione is a nice drive, and is the meeting point between Emilia Romagna and Tuscany. Popular with motorcyclists, horse riders and cyclists - the restaurant and bar is always busy.I recommend taking a hike up to Acquacheta, the crystal clear waterfall that inspired Dante (who stayed for a period in San Godenzo the local village). The falls were his muse for the infernal falls of the river Plegeton in his great work the Divine Comedy.There is a goats cheese farm at the Chiesa dell Eremo. We stayed in this very old church with our horses a few years back. The old hamlet was brought by an interesting young couple from Bologna looking for an alternative lifestyle. They set up a thriving cheese farm in what was once an abandoned set of buildings. The low electric fences, and huge Maremmano sheepdogs on guard in the fields, are evidence that wolves are up here and pose a constant danger to stock. There is a feeling that from the surrounding woods, you are always been watched.[caption id="attachment_3254" align="aligncenter" width="604" caption="Casentino National Park Horse Riding"]
[/caption]This is where city goers can get in touch with the wild, and the CAI 00 trail from Eremo to Giotto's home town of Vicchio (in the Mugello) is a tough walk that requires a fit and brave hiker, or in the case of horse riding - an extremely sure footed horse.A few links to help get you off the beaten track in Tuscany:http://mugellotoscana.it/en/natura/hiking/altri-itinerari/nel-parco-culturale-di-monte-giovi.htmlhttp://www.sangimignano.com/sgcasti.htmhttp://www.visitmontaione.com/en/sightseeing/castle-of-vignale.htmlhttp://www.cai.it
/For horse riding excursions,or hiking info you can also contact us directly at Le Baccanti.