Looking to get away from the crowds of sightseers during your travels in Tuscany? Then head east to Valtiberina, an area often unnoticed, yet extremely beautiful and rich in art and history.
After Florence, the classic traveller’s routes in Tuscany are either west to Pisa, Lucca and the coast, or south through Chianti, Siena and San Gimignano. But what about the east? If you make it till the border with Umbria, you’ll find an untouched corner of Tuscany, where locals far outnumber tourists and sleepy villages preserve many artistic treasures. This is Valtiberina, an area that takes its name from the River Tiber flowing through the region, and is characterized by a fascinating landscape of forested hillsides and charming medieval hamlets. Here you can admire the masterpieces of Piero della Francesca, explore the birthplace of Michelangelo and follow in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi, who lived in this area for part of his life, .
Curious? Here’s what you can see and do.
Sansepolcro is the biggest village of Valtiberina and the birthplace of Italian Renaissance painter Piero della Francesca. Some of his greatest works can be admired at the Civic Museum and Gallery, housed in an elegant palazzo that was once the seat of the local municipality. The historic center still retains its artistic charm, with a multitude of fine buildings, interesting museums and fascinating churches. One of the best times to visit Sansepolcro is during the Palio della Balestra, a medieval crossbow competition between Sansepolcro and the town of Gubbio that takes place every year in September.
Anghiari is a charming medieval village with a perfectly-preserved historic center made of ancient palazzos and atmospheric passageways lined with artisan studios and antique shops. The view you get while approaching the town is equally beautiful, with the fortified walls rising up from a rocky spur above the Tiber. It’s no surprise that it’s been declared one of the most beautiful villages of Italy. Anghiari was the site of the famous battle fought between Florence and Milan in 1440 that inspired Leonardo da Vinci’s lost fresco and today this historical event is celebrated during the Palio della Vittoria on 29 June. Antique lovers shouldn’t miss the huge Mostra Mercato dell’Artigianato della Valtiberina that takes place in April every year.
As the name suggests, Caprese Michelangelo is the birthplace of the great Italian artist Michelangelo. Everything here is connected to the Renaissance maestro: from his childhood home to the XIII-century church of St. John the Baptist, where Michelangelo was baptized, and the museum within the walls of the old castle. Caprese Michelangelo is surrounded by a breathtaking scenery of vineyards, sunflowers fields and forests of chestnut trees. The Chestnut Festival that takes place in October attracts thousands of visitors that make their way to this corner of Tuscany to sample all sorts of chestnut-based delicacies. There are also some interesting religious buildings linked to the passage of St. Francis of Assisi, such as, the chapel of Zenzano and the Casella monastery.
Monterchi is a quaint medieval hamlet of 2,000 souls perched on top of a hill considered sacred by the Romans, due to a connection with the mythological figure of Hercules. The key attraction here is a tiny museum located just outside the village walls where you can admire Piero della Francesca’s most celebrated work of art, the XV-century fresco of Madonna del Parto. The village is also home to a bizarre collection of weights and measures on display at the Scale Museum. Monterchi hosts a series of interesting events throughout the year, such as the annual Monterchi Festival with 50 days of celebrations between June and August, and the polenta food festival in September.
Pieve Santo Stefano
This is one of Tuscany’s best kept secrets. A village much loved by Lorenzo de’ Medici, Pieve Santo Stefano is often referred to as the “town of the diary” because of its Little Museum of Diary, an incredible place that celebrates the historic value of the diaries and letters written by ordinary people. Pieve Santo Stefano was almost completely destroyed during World War II and this archive was created to keep alive the memory of local history and today the thousands of diaries, memoirs and letters kept here are an amazing recollection of our local history. Other interesting things to see in the area are the XIII-century Cerbaiolo monastery that was donated to Saint Francis and the Temple of Santa Maria del Colledestro with its intriguing octagonal shape. Also not to miss is the Calcio in costume battle in September, a competition that celebrates the early form of football that originated in Italy in the XVI century.
- Valtiberina is about an hour and a half drive from Florence and is best explored by car. There are points where the road winds up the hills but all in all it’s a pleasant drive. Alternatively, you could reach Arezzo by train from Florence (about 1 hour) and then travel around Valtiberina by bus (check out timetables and connections at www.etruriamobilita.it)
- I visited Valtiberina during my 10-day road trip in Tuscany last year, with an overnight stay at Sansepolcro to enjoy the Palio della Balestra. I suggest to spend one night in the area to thoroughly enjoy everything it has to offer without rushing from place to the other