Around Florence

General Comments

(05/2014) As to Cavolo Nero Trattoria (Florence), which had been excellent in 2004 and 2009, it has now moved to the other side of the Arno and is universally panned, including by the concierge at our hotel, who strongly urged us not to go there.

-Andy Lelling and Dana Gershengorn

[note: this excerpt is part of a longer update in the South Tuscany section.]

(06/10) – We did enjoy those walks near to Florence, and yes, the CAI 1 path was exceptionally well signposted. Your husband did sum it up very well at one point, I think just after we had left the Piazza Prato al Pini, where he said something along the lines of “you could be a million miles from Florence” (is your husband ever given to exaggeration, as well as being directionally challenged?), but nevertheless he was almost right. A hundred miles might be better! The hill behind Fiesole shielded the city, whilst all around was countryside.
I love travelling, and enjoy sharing my experiences, as you quite obviously did so well with your book
—Jeffrey Temple, UK

(05/2009)—My wife and I used your original edition to explore the Chianti region (we were based in Radda) in 2000, and just came back this month from using your revised edition to explore southern Tuscany (we were based in Pienza).

We belatedly realized that your restaurant recommendations are also first rate.  Cavolo Nero Trattoria (Florence) is still excellent.  It may have gone a bit more upscale since your revised edition (prices still reasonable, food outstanding – our hotel was very curious as to how we knew about it).

Your book vastly improved our trips to Tuscany.  Nothing compares with being able to “access” all that beautiful scenery, instead of just staring at it from a hilltop town or the autostrada.
—Andy Lelling and Dana Gershengorn

(02/08)—The Sita bus line website is now and not www.sita-on-line.
—Ralph Domino

—Fiesole to Ponte a Mensola

(07/11) – This is such an enjoyable and readable book, unlike anything else I can think of, and we were keen to take up both walking and eating suggestions. But I have to say that ‘fully revised and updated’ it is not. We had little time, in Florence, and a five year old along with two teenagers. So we could only manage trying to combine the Fiesole-Maiano walk with eating at Le Cave de Maiano. The walk is really not feasible, it seems. Once you enter the cypress woods outside Fiesole, there is no way of getting to the Monte Ceceri summit. What seems to have happened is that the hillside has been turned into a much more organised park with three or so trails and three specific entry/exit points, none of them linking to a path to Maiano. All other paths and possibilities are strictly vietato. We had a perfectly nice walk but had to do a circle (the first part of the Fiesole-Ponte a Mensola walk, more or less) back to Fiesole and then drive to Maiano. I don’t really think it’s responsible to include walks you haven’t done or checked for years in a book selling as fully revised and updated. It’s also interesting to reassess Le Cave de Maiano. It is a really lovely place to sit outside and eat a meal; it’s particularly nice to be the only foreigners there; the staff are friendly; but the food, though good, was not exceptional and was very pricey (as attested by a number of people on tripadviser). Would still love to do more of the walks though. And I don’t want to be critical but do think for the sake of others the website might just have a clearer note about these two walks. Just pottering in the Ceceri park itself is quite fun especially with teenagers and younger.
—Christopher Cramer

[author note, 7/11] – Thank you very much for your email, because I do agree it’s good to give readers as much info on current conditions as possible. And yes, I agree we should take the Fiesole walks out of the book at this point. But Penguin would never do that; it would be too much work for them. We did say in the revised edition that there were some walks we couldn’t re-do, the Florence section being one of them. We did update most of the book, and I wish we could’ve done the entire book. By way of further explanation, both the original book and the revised edition were labors of love on my husband’s and my part. We’re just ordinary people, not travel writers, and we did the best we could. When we did the original we had no kids (and no money), and when we did the revised edition our kids were 4 and 8, which you obviously will know is limiting. We really thought the original book was great, and we wanted it to be able to stay alive, so we updated it as best we could, but we couldn’t do everything. This website is our attempt to keep it as updated as possible. Most of the walks – especially the updated ones – still seem to be working well, and if I could go on vacation, I’d love to do some of them. If you go back, let me know and I’d be happy to try to make recommendations.

(06/10) – I think you must have been drinking too much good wine the night before you did this walk, or had eaten some magic mushrooms before you wrote down the walk from Fiesole to Ponte a Mensola, since the route we followed, and the instructions for it differed so much from what was written in the book. However, we possibly had our best walk of all, and so wonder if you could send over some of that wine or the mushrooms to us…..

Let us take the big ones first, which explain my comments:

1) For the start of the walk in Fiesole, as much as I could see, unless there had been some strange geological event, the cathedral is at the bottom end of the Piazza Mino, and looking up, Via Giuseppe Verdi, was on the right hand side (your instruction was “Take via Giuseppe Verdi A at the lower left corner of Piazza Mino“. Strange.

2) OK, we made the right road from Fiesole, but then got absolutely confused half way round, after point D. We followed the CAI 1 path as instructed, but the directions then digressed. Later on you told us to re-join CAI 1, but meanwhile I realised you never told us to leave it! We had a wonderful walk nevertheless, and CAI 1 was great, well marked out, clear, and a good path.  But where were we supposed to leave the CAI1?

Now we have got the magic mushroom moment out of the way, let me explain a few more changes and comments to the route, which are beyond your control:

a) The route followed by the initial “Via Verdi” changes its name several times as one goes along, ignoring any other tempting path off, and the walker should today follow sign posts for “Monte Ceceri”, until your correct comment on Via Mari.

b) Now we ran into problems, as signposting has obviously changed considerably since you were there. Many areas are out of bounds, with signposts “Vietato Acesso” (Access Prohibited). There was no signpost to the top of Monte Ceceri. We followed signposts to “Piazzale Leonardo”  which was along good quality paths, and which came out to a flat area below the summit where apparently Da Vinci had tried out his flying machines. We could see no other (safe) way to the top of the peak. Meanwhile the instructions from here forward for a short while matched the ones in the book! I comment that the path out from the flat area should have the wall kept to one’s left.

c) Piazza Prato al Pini has been renamed as “Piazza Ferri” but the old name is still shown on signposts for the moment.

d) After C, the path appears to have been re-routed, and first proceeds alongside the road (instead of turning off after 100 metres) for about 500 metres. This is very clearly way marked. It turns to the right, and catches up with the previous route beyond D.

d) Here we made our major detour, following the CAI path 1, which was very well way marked, and very easy to follow  This path turns off the track, and passed through pretty olive groves, pine woods, etc, and went quite a bit to the east of Vincigliate, which we got a view of later on from a distance. We enjoyed this part very much. The key instruction needed here, is “follow the well marked CAI 1”. I have not tried to describe this part, as it was so well indicated.

e) We re-joined the route somewhere between F and G, but comment that the routes 1 and 2 split at the road, and not before.

f) At Ponte a Mensola the bus stop back to Florence is reached by turning left down to the town (stream on your right hand side), then right on the bridge across the stream to the bus stop in about 80 metres, on the right hand side, with a shelter. Buses from here are quite frequent, at about every 30 minutes, even on Sundays. From reaching the bus stop, we were back at our hotel in 15 minutes.

g) Perhaps the most important comment of all, is that the Rosticceria at 21 Piazza Garibaldi is closed, and replaced by a shop selling magic mushrooms (well herbs, in any case). We looked round and saw no other similar shop, and so I am afraid that your readers will have to make do with one of the overpriced bars or restaurants, although several bars of course sell panini.

By the way, the bus timetables in Florence were very well organised on the web,  starting from the list of bus routes, you can access all the timetables (in English):

Finally, may I suggest you include in your next revision a few words on CAI way marks. I am well used to the system, but there may be people who do not understand this.
—Jeffrey Temple, UK

[author note, 6/10] – Thank you so much for your detailed response. That is incredibly generous of you. I do want to say right away: I didn’t do the Fiesole walk, my husband did that chapter (and only that chapter) on his own as I was still in school in Florence. ALSO, we didn’t update those walks when we went back to do the revised edition (as noted in the introduction), so those directions are from 1993.

We do mention CAI in the intro (p. 14-15). The local branches of the Club Alpino Italiano (CAI) do the bulk of the trail-marking in Italy. In their simplest form waymarks consist of painted red and white bands applied to walls, rocks or trees.

(03/05) – Thanks for the book!

My wife and I took the walk from Fiesole to Ponte a Mensola a week ago (March 15, 2005). The walk was wonderful! But there are a cople of minor changes.

At D by the bus stop (not STAM but ATAF) there are no longer any recycling containers – but the paths is still there.

A bigger change: In the next paragraph – “Pass through a farm with horses and olive groves…” there are no more horses. Worse still, there are a few “Proprieta Privata” signs. It was very unclear where to enter the property to keep on the downhill path. SInce we didn’t want to violate any “Private Property” signs, we walked into an olive grove just before the house (no fence) where there wasn’t a sign. We were more than a little nervous, but no one stopped us. (In fact, the house is being renovated and there were only builders there, we thought.) We picked up a very narrow foot path after a few yards. After a short distance, we found ourselves parallel to a road or driveway on the property that ran parallel to our course through the olive grove, and that had had a “Private Property” sign on it at the top (I think). We jumped down onto that, and from there we were fine. The most useful phrase in the book was, “continuing gently downhill all this time.” That kept us in the right direction. A good marker is a 25-foot high concrete transformer (? – something electrical) bunker at the bottom of this hill. Walkers can just head for that.

The castle of Vincigliata is now open to the public!!! It’s a wonder. The gate is wide open and has an Italian-only sign saying don’t park in the courtyard, and don’t mind the dogs – they bark but they don’t bite (true – they even stop barking very quickly if you say “Ciao”). We were amazed that everything was open – no one was around – and we were free to walk anywhere we wanted on the grounds. I have found a web site that suggests that it might be available as a bed and breakfast (as well as for weddings, receptions, etc.)

Last point: “Pick up red and white markings again at a farm house . . .” This is not clear (but neither is my memory). What I can remember is that the path comes to a T-junction at a paved road or driveway. If you take the right fork you come very quickly to some sort of home or shelter (“asilo” but it did not seem like an “asylum” (as in “insane”). There are no markings this way, and in fact it was the wrong way. We retraced our route and took the left fork – there are no red and white markings that are visible right away, but eventually you pick them up and everything is fine after that.

Very last item: We might be considered ‘old’ (55-60 years) – but the whole walk took us 3½ hours (not counting the stop off at Vincigliata or the bus ride at the end), and the wait for the #10 bus seemed very long (20-30 minutes), and the ride itself into Florence took quite a while (another 30 minutes?). People should leave more than 2½ hours for the total experience. Also the bus stop is not a “STAM” bus stop, just an ordinary Florence ATAF bus stop.

Once again, thanks for the book. This walk was a highlight of our 10-day stop in Fiesole/Florence!!
—Len Bick (Fiesole to Maiano)