Switzerland is also in Tuscany!
There is an area of Tuscany, in Pistoia’s province, at the boundary of the provinces of Florence and Lucca, which is called Valdinievole and consists of 11 municipalities such as Buggiano, Chiesina Uzzanese, Lamporecchio (famous for “brigidini”, in other words sweets usually sold during country festivals), Pescia and the two spa towns of Montecatini Terme and Monsummano Terme. Not far there is also Collodi, home town of the author of Pinocchio.
In this area there is hilly place even more small, at the back of the Pescia River and at the slope of Apennine Tosco-Emiliano, which has been renamed the “pesciatina” Mountain, or also “The Pesciatina Switzerland”. Seems that it was an intellectual and economist of Geneva who, back in the 18th century, found these landscapes similar to his Switzerland, like the valleys, mountains, woods of this remote area of Tuscany.
Once, here, there were fortified towns, with spotting towers and villages provided with big water mills, interconnected by a thick paths network. Today part of these paths has been recovered for a touristic use, for those who love trekking. In other cases volunteer associations has been settled – such as “Montagnardi” – that take care of the historical and natural recovering of these places, and of the maintenance of the habit used in the past: sometimes they use to organize guided tours, summer camps for the young and wine and food festivals (for example the festival of the chestnut).
Itinerary by walk through the old mills
For those who love trekking there is a nice circular ring to be done by walk, in about 3 hours and half, which runs in the valley floor of Pescia River and goes across few of the old mills used to grind chestnuts and wheat for the all the surrounding areas. The starting point could be Catelvecchio (to get there you have to take the A11 highway exit of Chiesina Uzzanese, the highway also called Firenze Mare, which connects Florence to the Tuscan coast). It’s a tiny medieval village with stone made houses castled on a hill, with some stately homes. A bit outside the village, it’s very nice the pieve of Santi Ansano e Tommaso in grey stones, built before than the year 1000 (the building is mentioned in a document of the 879). The bell tower was actually a spotting tower. Coming down from Castelveccio you will get to two bridges: the second one runs above the Pescia River and is called Ponte Bello (Nice Bridge). From here you can climb back the river up to the origin of the river, passing through fields, woods and olive groves, and reach the point where the river merges with the Rimaggio. After a while you will arrive to the first water mill, Mulino di Sotto, which now looks like a ruin, but its framework still shows us its economic important role in the past. Further ahead the Mulino di Sopra, with its old milling machines and the water pits. Going ahead the third mill, called Mulino di Stiappa or del Grillo, fortunately restored. From here you can’t proceed toward Pontino, but following a old mule path, you will get at Stiappa, long time ago an important defending village, let’s say even a castle, which was marking the boundary between the Tuscan Grand Duchy and the Lucca’s Duchy, today populated by just 100 people! On the way back to the starting point you will encounter the last mill of the tour: the Mulino del Fontanone who was built back in the16th century, today reduced to ruins unfortunately.
This tour can be reduced and be made in one hour, limiting the visit to the four mills, or otherwise being extended to other localities of Pescia’s province, for a tour of about 6 hours, which runs throughout all the 10 old “castellan”: Pietrabuona, Fibbialla, Medicina, Arano, Sorana, San Quirico, Vellano, Castelvecchio, Stiappa e Pontito.