Last night: in the rain storm, dark and lightings. Mom wild board just strolled past me with five cubs! It wasn't the case to joke so I remained completely still, my lamp off. She smelled me though, suddenly stopped and looked back. The cubs quickly hid behind her. I held my breath. They rushed toward the forest they had come from. Sadly wild animals learnt what a human can mean and they wont make an exception for me. Still this encounter was lovely and I'm going to remember the graceful big figure of the board, just a large shadow in the dark, her bristly hair, her disregard of the pourring rain, her care for the worried little cubs.
It was a sunny morning but fresh because of the recent rain. The weather was supposed to worsen in the afternoon and the excursion was 15 km, 3 hours more or less, considering a fast pace and a few stops. I started from Faeto (San Donato in Collina), where I had slept: a beautiful hill not far from Florence but pretty secluded, covered on chestnut trees once cultivated for their fruits.
The village of San Donato in Collina is just 370 m but Faeto, at the end of a steep dirty road, it's almost 600 m, on the north side of the hill. This land isn't good for farming and poor of water. Untill the 60ies the paesans used to make coal in the forest, burning wood in holes covered with dirt that you can still see hiking around. At that time there were only two ancient houses here: il Fico and il Faeto. The others have been built in 1970 as summer houses, including mine.
In Faeto the dirty road becomes a path, gets in the forest, runs by a stream and go down to Santa Margherita a Bisticci, then to the village of Cellai as a dirty road again. But my itinerary go up to Casa al Monte by a smaller path and reaches the crest.
I was on the 00 path now and off to the top of Poggio degli Etruschi climbing a series of steep sheer rock faces. The hill mostly consists of sandstone's layers sloping toward the south, and that's where the most of the water goes.
Poggio degli Etruschi is now occupied by some tv and phone repeaters but it was the site of an ancient human settlement, prehistoric and then Etruscan as testified by the discovery of pieces of terracotta and burned stones, probably the rest of an ancient owen. A big fire destroyed the forest about 30 years ago and you can see here some new planted pines.
The crest path descends a little to climb again to Poggio Firenze, also called 'Cupolino'. Some more repeaters here but also an interesting stone with a series of perfectly round holes of decreasing sizes. There are many legends about it: some say it's the natural weird consequence of erosion, others tell the story of a famous brigand who used the holes for his gun powder and a more truculent interpretation links it to human sacrifices in the preihistorical age, that's why this stone – like many others in the Tuscany's hills - is also called 'Sasso del diavolo' (devil's stone).
The main path is now a dirty road descending the hill through a recent pines forest to the road for San Donato, but after some airpins a CAI signal on your left hand side leads to the 00 track again, on a very steep descent. The rain has deeply dug the ground and made big sandstone sheeds emerge. I was trying to keep a speedy pace but some backberry bushes tempted me! As far as drinking... Fonte Santa was round the corner.
The name ('Holy Spring') indicate the only water source on this side of the hill, a precious place for the paesans who used to walk all the way and back with heavy water bags, and also for the partisans who freed Florence in 1944.
Indead by the spring there is a refuge used by hunters and hiker where the partisans gathered to prepare the attack to the city still occupied by the Nazist German Army. Florence didn't wait for the US Army but freed itself by an eroic fight street by street, house by house. Every year the 'battle of Florence' is celebrated here: people come sleeping in the refuge or in tents, partisans' songs are sung and a wreath is hung on the commemorative plaque. I passed by the refuge thinking of those brave guys and girls, the best youths of their generations, who had the courage to dare the dictature and often payed wth their own lives. They used to say: "No peace without justice" and yep their fight still is our fight.
On the spring the public administration put a signal: "Undrinkable water". It isn't true. It's just because they don't have it tested. This water is good and way better than the water we drink in Florence. I filled my bottle and carried on.
The area around Fonte Santa is a public park: hunting is forbiden as well as off-roading and motocross. There are a few pik-nik tables and a barbecue. Not far from here there is also a small artificial lake, aim of another easier excursion, where we use to bath in spite it isn't exactly clean...
The main path is large and somewhere paved: it's the ancient 'via Maremmana' used by the shepherds for the 'transumanza'. Herds of sheeps and goats, more rarely cows, slowly traveled twice a year pushed and led by shepherds and dogs: during the summer they used to stay in the high pastures of the Appennino but during the winter had to go by the seaside, in the south of Tuscany, where the climate was milder. That area is called Maremma so I was walking on the 'way to Maremma'. It was a long, hard travel at that time! The shepherds used to sleep on the road, looking for a shelter in abandoned buildings or barns.
There are many ancient roads or mule tracks in these forests, with stone bridges and banks. Some have been built by the ancient Romans on path that was even more antique. I'm walking in the history of humans!
On the crest it was hot but here, in the chestnuts forest, it's pretty fresh in spite of the modest altitude. The path turns around the hill and gradually emerges in the more anthropised south side. The landscape is stunning as I can see the beautiful hills of Chianti and the city of Florence with its huge Cupola del Duomo. On the left hand side, a little hidden by the vegetation, the 'Sasso Scritto' rises, baffling and arcane. That's a big natural stone where a written is engraved, in Etruscan characters. The Etruscan language has still to be decoded because there isn't any 'Rosetta Stone' for it, but Etruscan characters are typical and well known. As I said these hills have been inhabited since the bronze age at least and Etruscan rests have been found but the 'Sasso Scritto' could also be a fake or an erudite joke, that were quite popular in the XIX century. There is no definitive answer as far as I know.
There are several houses by this side of the hills, with large lawns, including the one of an artist whose sculptures are scattered in the grass. The main path ends up to the dirty road coming from the village of San Polo and climbing to Casa al Monte. There is also a steeper shortcut on the left hand side. From the road the view is open on Monasteraccio, an ancient monastery once ruined and now restored, on the top of a small steep isolated hill.
The road ends by Casa al Monte's gate and I'm back on the crest path. The weather was worsening and I must hurry up, I already felt some big rain drops and the sky was dark toward Poggio alla Croce, the next woody hill, aim of another longer excursion. I plonged into the deep of the forest, a little hungry. Home was close and I was looking forward a good mint omelette with a meat saussage! Just in time to avoid a new rain storm.
- Lenght 15 km
- Time 3 hours (including stops)
- Where: hills around Florence, Italy.
- Start: Faeto (3 km over San Donato in Collina on dirty road)
- End: Faeto
- Signals: CAI 00 (red and white).
- Things to see: sheer rock faces, Poggio degli Etruschi, Poggio Firenze and 'Sasso del diavolo', park of Fonte Santa, Fonte Santa Spring and partisans' refuge, via Maremmana, view of Chianti and Florence, 'Sasso Scritto', view of Monasteraccio.
- Directions: by bus from Florence to San Donato in Collina, then on foot to Faeto. It's also possible to start from Fonte Santa as the itinerary is a circuit. It's possible to reach Fonte Santa by mbk from Florence (by the road) or from Antella (by track).