Road Trip from Florence to Arezzo
By Car or Motorcycle, you will love the scenery
The via Setteponti follows the traces of what was once the Etruscan and Roman routes connecting two major points of interest: Florence and Arezzo. This itinerary makes an exciting and panoramic road trip for those looking to test the curves of the country roads and inhale a bit of fresh Tuscan air while checking out the classic views over vineyards, small towns and olive groves.
Once known as Cassia Vetus, the via Setteponti (Seven Bridges Road) is thus named because it spans the flowing streams and rivers from the Pratomagno heights at least seven times. The continuous curves expose several totally unique vistas including small towns, pieves, the Balze and the smooth grassy top of the Apennine mountains (1600 meters AMSL or above mean sea level). This is a road to take at a leisurely pace, stopping often and indulging in a bit of unplanned sightseeing especially with the numerous parish churches, lush olive groves and inviting vineyards.
Below we have highlighted at least 8 stops along the way which you will find not only characteristic of the area but a breath of fresh air, with hardly any tourists and lots of good restaurants and photo opportunities.
1 - Pieve di Cascia & the Masaccio Museum
Via Casaromolo, 25, Reggello, Florence
The Pieve of Cascia has a facade decorated with a series of arches and a majestic bell tower in the typical Tuscan sandstone. Inside you will find three naves which host the first known piece of art by Masaccio, dated 1422 it once belonged to a nearby borgo called San Giovenale.
Here you will find one of those small hidden gems of Tuscany, the Museum of Masaccio, so named for the author of the Trittico of San Giovenale. More information for the hours of the Museum
Another fascinating point of interest is the imposing Villa Mandri, which dominates the hillside with its 17th century facade (dated 1666) and two mirroring towers. Declared as a national monument by the Superintendency of Historical and Artistic Heritage, it is actually privately owned and makes a stunning setting for a wedding reception or event.
2 - Pian di Scò & the Pieve di Santa Maria
Road SP85, Pian di Scò, Arezzo
The landscape around Pian di Scò is characterized by the beech tree forests, terraced olive groves and small vineyards. The gurgling stream Resco runs near by, and gives us one of the Romanesque bridges that makes up the “via Setteponti”. Hidden within its borders is the small hamlet called Faella, home to the unique ”Le Balze” landscape. These soft dirt peaks and gullies were formed by erosion and, even today, fossil remains from the Pliocene age still emerge telling the story of a land once completely covered by water.
This fascinating little town harbors the unique Pieve of Santa Maria, which “officially” dates back to 1008 but the facts show it most probably goes back further than the year 960. The exterior, though restructured, has maintained its Romanesque architectural features, only the essentials and extremely austere. The interior has three Romanesque naves with capitals showing plant protection decorations, zoo- and anthropomorphic, referring to the same cultural context of those in the nearby church of San Pietro in Gropina.
3 - Castelfranco & Badia di Soffena
Via di Soffena, 2, - Castelfranco Piandiscò, Arezzo
This area was once inhabited by the Etruscans and later the Romans along the Cassia Vetus, but was later completely destroyed by the Lombards who took possession of the area, and eventually left the foundations for many of the parish churches in the valley. The town Castelfranco was founded in 1299 by the Republic of Florence in an area known as the “Terre Nuove” or new lands. It’s role was to serve as a military outpost against the threat from Arezzo.
The bell tower, built before the church, served as a watch tower along the route of the Cassia Vetus the original road that connected north to south. If you were to look out the mullioned window of the tower you would see the Pieve of Pian di Scò and a clear day you may even recognize the peaks of the white tipped Apuan Alps. The church was built on the ruins of a castle from the Ubertini family who in the 11th century once owned vast estates in the Upper Valdarno. Times and dates to visit the Badia di Soffena
Severely transformed over the years, the building changed from a church to a convent to a glorified barn for agricultural equipment. It was bought by the state in 1962 and has recently been restored to much of its original beauty. It is open for the public to visit. We find the church first in 1090 in a Bull from Pope Urban II, which awards the church to the monks of Vallombrosa, just on the other side of the peaks of Pratomagno. However, during the restoration many artifacts came to life that have shifted the founding date to perhaps in the years around 850’s.
4 - Montemarciano & the oratory of Santa Maria
Crossroads between SP1 & SP6, Arezzo
If you go too fast, you will definitely miss this little jewel which still preserves the medieval door called “Porta Campana”. You can drive through the door and visit the streets inside, or park the car and walk around this small hamlet - and if you have enough time look into one of the many trails that will take you just a little closer to the phenomenon of Le Balze.
You will know you’re at the crossroads because you will see the Oratory for Santa Maria, on the one side. This small chapel was built in 1532 by the locals to house the tabernacle and painting which is said to have been the font of several miracles of the proceeding years to passing pilgrims on their way to Rome.
Fun Fact: The church is built on the border of two local governments - the front end belongs to Terranuova Bracciolini and the altar and the miraculous painting is located in Loro Ciuffenna.
5 - Loro Ciuffenna & Pieve di Gropina
Piazza Giacomo Matteotti, 5, Loro Ciuffenna Arezzo
Set just off the via Setteponti, this town towers above the scenery, parts of it carved out of stone around the river Ciuffenna. Park at the base of the town and make your way around the winding city streets - maybe even stop for lunch at one of the many local restaurants.
After lunch head over to the Pieve di Gropina, a beautiful monument to the architecture which characterizes the area and the symbolizes the religious beliefs for the last 1000 years. Or you could consider packing a picnic and eating it in the grassy areas that surround the church and the small hamlet of Gropina.
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6 - San Giustino Valdarno
The town itself is rather small and boasts of a Pieve from the XII century with two very interesting capitals close to the altar. You can park your car and take a short walk around just to get the kinks out of your legs, however, you might enjoy our suggestion of going to the small round about and taking a bit of a detour down the road SP 3 . . .
(Via Casanuova, 108/1, 52020, Laterina, Arezzo)
This is a true farm, not just a vineyard; they produce olive oil, fodder cereals and feed to keep approximately 500 sheep from which they gather milk to make pecorino cheese. The vineyards of Tenuta Vitereta occupy 50 hectares of land and produce a variety of red and white wines.
(Località Il Borro 1, 52024, San Giustino V.no. Arezzo)
This small hamlet mysterious origins dating more than a thousand years ago, some think that perhaps it was found by the Etruscans. It’s strategic position made it an ideal lookout point on the Roman road Cassia which later grew to be a real castle and today a place of contemporary art and delicious wines.
7 - Castiglion Fibocchi
The SP1 runs right down the middle, dividing the town in the “old” & “new”
The name of this town derives from "Castrum Leonis de Filiis Bocchi", later shortened to "Castrum de Filiis Bocchi" or Castiglion Fibocchi. Around the year 1000, it became property of the counts Guidi who wanted a strategic point on the road that linked the Valdarno valley to that of Casentino. A stop here, should include a stroll around the city streets and maybe even a drink at one of the outdoor cafes, where you can enjoy the local urban scenery. The more curious might want to search out the small corner of Gello Biscardo which boasts antique origins, and some even suggest that this could have been one of the first nucleus in area.
Of particular note in this section of the via Setteponti are the remain examples of the typical rural farmhouses called Casa Leopoldine. You will note these two story, square framed houses by the “dovecote” or pigeon home on the top and the characteristic “loggia” and porch.
During the months of carnival in Tuscany you can find quite the show in Castiglion Fibocchi, which is considered "a small Venice Carnival in the land of Arezzo“. Tradition tells us that the townspeople would taketo the streets during carnival and honor the town’s name sake with masks and dancing. The colors and festivities make it a must if you are in the area during carnival! But if you aren’t here on these dates then be sure to make a stop for some award winning wines. Offical Website for the Carnival
Tenuta Sette Ponti
(71, Via Provinciale dei Sette Ponti, 52029, Castiglion Fibocchi, Arezzo)
Tenuta Sette Ponti covers 330 hectares, 50 to vineyard - in Valdarno, in an area that whispers reminders of both the Etruscans and the Romans. The name is a reminder of its position along the via Setteponti. The most famous of these bridges is that of Buriano, close to the estate, built between 1240 and 1277. Learn more about the vineyards
8 - Ponte a Buriano
The evocative stone bridge with seven arches, was built in 1277 and many believe is the iconic structure in the scenery immortalized by Leonardo da Vinci behind the right shoulder of Mona Lisa. This area of the Arno River is home to the Regional Natural Reserve of Ponte a Buriano and Penna. The landscape is mainly characterized by the gentle hills surrounding the basin, the occasional presence of cliffs and vertical walls as well as a large marshy area in the eastern part of the Nature Reserve.
Recently, there has arisen a bit of a dispute that this bridge is not the actually one depicted in Leonardo’s famous painting. Just a short distance away in Laterina, the Ponte Romito seems to have many of the characteristics plus it has been documented that Leonardo stayed in this area. The only way to decide is to check them out personally!
This is by no means the end of the road, from here you can proceed to visit the town of Arezzo, or if you like the idea of more castles, churches and national parks, then head towards Casentino.