Frescheggiare [fre-scheg-già-re] intransitive verb, tuscan: to take in the fresh air / coolness.

A classic Tuscan Sunday excursion is to go “frescheggiare” in the Vallombrosa, but we’d never been. Somehow it came to mind today so we went for the first time for a real “gita fuori porta” – a trip outside the city gates. This is a FREE thing to do and the weather’s great up there!

The state reserve of Vallombrosa is 1000 meters up and 1270 hectares large. It is located on one side of the “tosco romagnolo” Appenine mountains in the comune of Reggello. It is the biggest and most un-tuscan looking woods I’ve ever seen.

Natural reserves might fall into various categories, so that you have a “stazione sciistica” for skiing… “termica” for thermal baths…. Well this place is just in the woods, so that’s good for hiking, but hard to categorize. So a bunch of guys in the 19th century must have gotten together and said “what should we call it?”, and they came up with “impianto turistico climatico” – climate. Weather. Yup. Vallombrosa has the weather going for it. My husband suggested that I pack a sweater, but as the weather has been a steady 35-42 degrees in Florence all month (by joel), I laughed and packed a sun hat and mosquito spray, neither of which I needed – but a sweatshirt would have been useful after all. It was probably about 20 degrees celcius.


Church facade and courtyard

The artistic highlight of the park is the Vallombrosian Abbey founded in the 11th century and greatly amplified in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. The Church can be visited (it has a Baroque ceiling and a Renaissance sacristy). There’s a museum (open in the summertime, but closed for lunch 12-15) that houses an important Madonna and Child with saints by Ghirlandaio (Pala di Vallombrosa). One of the saints pictured is Giovanni Gualberto, founder of the Vallombrosian order. There are a few small “museums”, one with park information, and the other with strange dendrological samples.



The main activity here, other than walking around and taking in the very fresh, cool air, is picnicking. This aspect is taken very seriously, and it became apparent as soon as we parked and unloaded our miniature soft cooler that we were sadly underequipped. Vallombrian picnickers, be they in the woods along the road or on the large lawn area, come with at least a blanket and folding camp chairs. The most common family group also brings a folding table, numerous chairs, hard sided coolers, real dishes, soccer balls, wine, an umbrella or tent, playing cards, and a portable radio. The crowd ranges from lip-locking young people on blankets to pensioners with pasta al forno and bridge cards. I was unable to discreetly photograph many examples but here’s a photo of an elderly group in the woods.

This is a pleasant excursion and the best thing is that it’s free, other than the gas in your car. I also noticed that the SITA bus goes there (pdf timetable) so you can even go if you don’t have a car.


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