Sightseeing in the Upper Valdarno m

but the less attractive valley towns do actually hide some pretty little hilltop villages. Especially on the slopes of the Pratomagno, rolling greenery, much of it belonging to locally born shoe-magnate Ferragamo, can only really be explored by ambling along the SP1 Setteponti.

A worthwhile first diversion north off the SP1 will take you to the splendid Riserva Biogenetica Naturale di Vallombrosa (Biogenetic Nature Reserve of Vallombrosa, s 055-862029) with, at its heart, the stark white monastery founded by Florentine St Giovanni Gualberto in 1036 (the present building dates from the 16th century), which gave birth to the whole Vallombrosan order. It's a winding drive up to the monastery, but you are rewarded by some stunning views through the beech, fir and chestnut-forested woods that shield it from the outside world and there are plenty of trekking trails to explore (routes depart from Saltino and the abbey itself). Just north of the reserve, the Passo della Consuma (Consuma Pass, 1,050 m/3,444 feet) will take you over toward Poppi (the lovely rustic bar, Chalet Il Valico, on the pass itself, serves some tasty homemade cakes to its mostly truck-driving clientele). The main 20-km (12-mile) itinerary, which can also be followed on cross-country skis, takes you from the Passo della Consuma through the centuries-old forests of the Riserva Biogenetica Naturale di Vallombrosa along CAI #00 (pick up the red and white signs on the right of the SS70). You can also pick up another foot trail to the abbey suitable for cross-country skiing starts at Bagno di Cetica (23 km/14 miles).

Of the Romanesque churches built alongside the Setteponti, the olive oil-producing hamlet of Reggello has some of its best: the 12th-century Pieve di San Pietro in Cascia (take a right after you pass through the town) whose Museo Masaccio d'Arte Sacra has somehow managed to keep hold of its Triptych of St. Giovenale (the first noted work by the artist Masaccio, shown at left); the 12th-century Pieve di Sant'Agata in Arfoli (with two marble angels attributed to Mino da Fiesolo), and the Chiesa di San Clemente in Sociana (with marble bas-relief, the work of Antonio Rossellino). There are also plenty of Pratomagno-bound hiking trails departing from the town, including #18 over the Poggio Mazza Nera to Vallombrosa.

Arnolfo di Cambio is credited for the town plan of Castelfranco di Sopra (the town walls and gates once formed a checkered effect around the main square). The main attraction, just out of town, is the Badia di Soffena (Via Pian di Badia 2, s 055-9149551, Mon-Sat, 9 am-1 pm), a 14th-century church, cloister and convent complex built here by Vallombrosian monks. The church, in Greek cross form, built on the cusp between the Romanesque and Gothic styles, has some fresco remains, mostly Bicci di Lorenzo and Masaccio's younger brother, Giovanni di Ser Giovanni (known as Lo Scheggia). There's a dig going on next door, with some medieval and Renaissance tombs currently being uncovered.

Loro Ciuffenna takes its unusual name from the river flowing through it, the river itself thought to have been christened by the town's original Etruscan inhabitants. In among the medieval houses stacked up parallel to the river, the Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta houses a Lorenzo di Bicci triptych (15th-century) and the Museo Venturino Venturi (Piazza Matteotti 7, s 055-9170163, Sat-Sun, 10:30 am-12:30 pm, 4:30-7:30 pm, €1.50, conc. €1), a collection of works by the artist born here in 1918. You'll also want to visit the Pieve di San Pietro in Gropina (s 055-9172103, 8 am-noon, 3-7 pm, till 5 pm in winter), one of the oldest Romanesque churches in Tuscany (originally eighth-century, the current building dates from the 11th), with a beautifully carved bas-relief showing some unusual iconography from the Old and New Testaments.

If you decide instead to venture along the SS69, what you'll find is a sleepy little backwater dotted with terre murate (fortified villages) that the Guelph Florentines built in the 13th century to guard against attacks from the Ghibelline Aretine Republic. One of the most typical is Incisa (the birthplace of Petrarch) at Figline Valdarno (there's a terracotta-covered Palazzo Pretorio of interest if you do look inside). The most important is a little farther along at San Giovanni Valdarno, a dozy little hamlet gathered around Palazzo Pretorio, right, its stately town hall - the work of Arnolfo di Cambio (although it has been altered many times). The Palazzo is still striking with its terracotta and stone coats of arms covering the façade. The town also has a nice church in the 15th-century Basilica di Santa Maria delle Grazie (Piazza Masaccio, 7 am-noon, 4-7 pm, closed Mon), the Beato Angelico Annunciation (1430-32) " " """ 1 now moved to the attached church museum (s 055-9122445, 10 am-12:30 pm, 3:30-6:30 pm, closed Wed, €2.50, conc. €1.50). It contains works by Domenico di Michelino and native son Masaccio, who is also honored with a Museo Casa (Corso Italia 83, s 055-9121471, Tues-Sat, 4-7 pm, Sun and holidays, 10 am-noon, 4-7 pm).

On the slopes of the Monti del Chianti (the Chianti Hills), just south of San Giovanni Valdarno, the town of Cavrgilia offers the region's best nature itineraries, its 1,500-acre park ( crisscrossed with footpaths (including the CAI Florence-Siena), mountain bike trails (bicycle rental Apr-Oct, s 055-967422) and horseback-riding routes (trekking and guided excursions all year, s 055-967544). It's also the site of some of the region's best campgrounds: Del Lago ^^ (Via Diga, Loc. S. Cipriano, s 335-7226845, Apr-Sept, $) and, inside the park, Piano Orlando ^^ (Loc. Cafaggiolo 170, s 055-967422, fax 055-967546,, Apr-Sept, $) and youth hostels. Among the hostels are Ostello del Campo Solare (Loc. Cafaggiolo 168, s 055-967544, fax 055-967546,, $) and Ostello del Parco (Loc. Cafaggiolo 169, s 055-967418, $). Arezzo's other nearest camping opportunity is at the Valdarno town of Bucine (La Chiocciola Via Guilio

Cesare 14, Loc. Capannole, s/fax 055-995776, Mar-Oct, $).

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