When summer heatwaves seem interminable and conversation turns exclusively to creative ways of keeping cool, you’ll find yourself doing things you’d normally not do. Once we’ve implemented all the usual techniques to cope with the heat like becoming nocturnal, my husband and I found ourselves thinking of at least 4 different ways to imitate air conditioning that would result in headlines: “Engineer and blogger found dead after he tries to keep them cool by…”. While nothing can be done to make working or sleeping any more pleasant, if you have some time to get in a car and get out of town, head to Rio Buti, a cold water swimming hole in Tuscany, just outside the center of Prato, where you can finally feel cold, if just for a moment.
I found out about this treasure when Pratosfera shared an article about places to swim near Prato (article in italian). I know of some swimming holes with waterfalls in Maremma and Garfagnana, but I had no idea that there were any so close by. This one is just steps from the city, up a bit of a winding road and a short hike on a marked path. If it weren’t so hot, you could even walk from Prato train station (if you were a big walker, which I am not) and you can very easily bike here from the city (Prato does have a bike sharing program with bikes at the station, but you have to be registered for it).
Rio Buti is the name of the CAI marked hiking path number 40, which is reached by driving along via del Canneto until the end and parking along the side of the road, and then walking for a bit along the wide bike path that skirts the Bisenzio river. When you reach a bridge and the bike path goes left, you’ll find signs for the hiking trails.
Here, follow trail 40, which starts with a challenging uphill bit. The path is marked as expert and I wouldn’t want to do it if it’s at all wet, but there are people who seem just fine walking along in flipflops. That said, running or hiking shoes are IMO necessary, and you’ll want to keep your wits about you for the very narrow parts where you could easily slip down to the riverbed. I would not suggest bringing small children far up this path, though they can enjoy the lower areas and wading pools of the river there.
As you wind your way along the path, you’ll see various spots to your left where you can descend to the river bed. The higher you go, the larger the swimming holes are. At the top, there’s a large and beautiful one with a waterfall, though we only made it to the second highest because the path became totally overgrown. Turns out here it’s best to follow the riverbed itself, not the upper path. My acquaintance Luca Tempestini made it all the way up and was rewarded…
The hole we chose fits 2-3 swimmers at a time and the access is pretty much jump-in only. Water is cold, though in a heatwave it heats up too (about 20 degrees celcius). It’s easy enough to get out, if you don’t mind a slimy ledge and a lot of tadpoles. There aren’t a lot of people there, mainly a community of stoners who camp out on the riverbed and a few adventurous hikers.
We brought a light lunch (for after swimming!) and enjoyed the shade provided by the forest and the flat rocks of the riverbed. There’s even good cell reception, so I posted photos on Instagram of the hiking path signage and of the swimming hole, and the signs were chosen by Instagramers Prato as the photo of the week, earning me this interview in Italian on Pratosfera about the photo and why I use and love Instagram.
We also found this handy map of the hiking trail and its features – this is a longer loop to be done off season, but helps you find your way when you’re there. If you make it to the super waterfall, send me a picture!