Abetone and Pistoia Mountains

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Why climb all the way to Abetone, venturing among the Tusco Emilian Apennines mountains, through the forests and villages of the Pistoia mountains? And most importantly, when is the best time to go? Whenever! During the winter the Abetone ski resort offers ski slopes for all levels and fun activities for the little ones offered by Abetone for Children through the ski school Val di Luce and the holiday camp where children can ski in complete safety! And what is available during the summer? Enjoy the fresh air, just like the inhabitants of Florence and Pistoia.

For sports lovers, the Abetone Pistoia mountains will not disappoint you: trekking near Scaffaiolo lake, mountain biking at the Abetone Gravity Park in Campolino, rafting down the Lima brook... do you feel tired just thinking about it? Don’t worry, you can also take the Cutigliano cable car and reach Doganaccia, perhaps after a delicious ice cream made of succulent blueberries from the local area. And then? The thrill of the suspension bridge of lake Mammiano, the peace that the writer in Orsigna Tiziano Terzani discovered by chance, the leap into the past through the medieval villages and the itineraries of the Ecomuseum of the Pistoias mountains!

 

WHERE EAGLES DARE! The Abetone Italy mountain is located at 1388 m of altitude, in the northern part of the Tusco-Emilian Appennines, and is surrounded by the peaks of Corno alle Scale, Alpe delle Tre Potenze (1940 m), Monte Gomito (1892 m) and Libro Aperto (1937 m). During trekking in Abetone you may happen to see the majestic golden eagle vaulting across the sky above the mountain tops. There are also several lakes of glacial origin in the area: the Black Lake Abetone, which takes its name from the dark rocks which form its basin and which is home to the friendly newts (small amphibians that delightfully cross the water surface), Lago Piatto and Scaffaiolo Lake, like a dream at sunrise! Sleeping in a sleeping bag is certainly not the most comfortable option... but the breath-taking view that will open before your eyes will compensate!
The whole area is crossed by numerous rivers such as the Lima, which crosses the valley between the Abetone and the Alpe delle Tre Potenze, the Reno and the Orsigna. Many forests cover the entire area, such as Teso, Aquerino, Abetone and Orsigna, comprising beeches, hornbeam, chestnut oaks and firs. This is the natural habitat of marmots, foxes, wild boars and roe deer. Fortunately, in recent years, wolves have been sighted again!

 

THE HISTORY of the people of the villages in Pistoia mountains is sculpted by their relationship with this evocative landscape, though not an easy one. The Etruscans know something about it, since they used the area mainly for their trade or as a battle ground but, for their larger settlements, they chose more practical areas. The area later became a Roman province, and legend has it that Hannibal, the great Carthaginian leader, crossed this land headed for Pistoia. Were there elephants in this case too, like there were in the Alps? We love the idea that elephants were once in Abetone! However, there are only conjectures on the passage... In doubt, whether elephants crossed it or not, the leader gave his name to the pass: Hannibal Pass. Later, the area passed into the hands of the Ostrogoths and the Lombards and, during the Middle Ages, many of the villages still scattered in the valleys of the area in the present day sprang up: Cutigliano, Piteglio, Gavinana. Being a strategic boundary point, the area became part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. But it is especially during the Second World War that the Pistoia Mountains obtained a crucial role: the Gothic Line passed across this area, the fortification that was intended to stem the advance of the allied troops towards the north of Italy. The Pistoia mountains also housed many brigades of partisans, whose memory is preserved by several monuments such as the one on the mountain top called “Pedata del Diavolo”, in memory of two partisans killed by the Nazis, and the Gavinana monument, in memory of Francesco Ferrucci, heroic leader and key figure in the liberation of the country.

 

ICE, IRON AND FIRE! If you cannot defeat the enemy ... just befriend him! The wisdom of the mountain people helped them take advantage of the features of their territory. How? It was extremely cold, especially in the Reno Valley. Well, so let's get some benefit from this cold! And that is how the ice making plants in the Reno valley started: people attempted to freeze the river water in special tanks, and then broke these ice sheets into smaller pieces and transported them on wagons and carts to be sold in Pistoia.
But the area was full of trees ... what could they use them for? Coal! And so people burned wood across the whole mountain in special dome-shaped piles to produce valuable coal. Tuscan charcoal kilns were so esteemed that many of the coal makers were employed as far as Sardinia, Corsica and Maremma.
The hydraulic energy of rivers was used for the mills of the ironworks. All these testimonies are found in the Ecomuseum of the Pistoia mountains, a unique project of its kind. Although its headquarters are in Gavinana, it is a collection of six locations both outdoors and in other museums: ice, iron, sacred art, daily life, nature and stone. Really interesting!

Now that we know a bit of history and geography.... let’s move on to the fun part! Where can you start visiting the area? Unless you parachute directly to the top of the Abetone in Tuscany you will probably set off from the nearest towns of Lucca and Pistoia. In both cases, car and bus are the most convenient means of transport. From Pistoia the train only goes as far as Pracchia and from Lucca it instead reaches Bagni di Lucca, from where you can then continue by bus. Can you do it in a day? Sure, it may be an option to escape from the summer heat or, alternately, in winter if you want to ski in Abetone after visiting the beautiful city of Florence! It takes two hours from Lucca and Florence by car and one from Pistoia. But in the mountains you cannot race things ... you must take it easy! Let yourself be amazed by peacefully following the country roads and paths, stop to eat the typical dishes at local festivals and discover the true essence of Tuscany!

Let's start from Abetone. What is there to see and do? The town developed as a transit point first, and later became today’s Abetone ski resort. The first historical buildings to be found around the end of the 1700s were in the locality of Boscolungo, these being the Customs, the Mail Station and an inn ... a bit like in the Far West villages! Of these simple and spartan buildings there only remains the Mail Station, which has now been converted into a hotel. Moving on, the Church of St. Leopold is in Brennero street – commissioned by the Bishop Scipione da Ricci – and owes its sober appearance to the Jansenist influence. Continuing, you come to the Pyramids, the symbol of Abetone: do not expect anything lavishing, they are just two stone buildings, a few meters high, with marble decorations. They were built when the pass that marked the border between the Grand Duchy of Tuscany on one side and the Duchy of Modena on the other was opened. They were then respectively dedicated to Peter Leopold and to Francis III. So is that all? Absolutely not! Abetone and ski are an indissoluble union and then, where to ski in Abetone? You'll be spoiled for choice! The ski slopes in Abetone reach a total of 50 km and there is something for all tastes: spreading over three sides - Tuscany, Emilia and Val di Luce – the ski resort of Abetone provides different levels. Zeno Colo', a ski champion in 1950s, designed three unmissable ones with drops in height up to 600 m! Purchase the appropriate Abetone skipass and just go! The Abetone ski lift system encompasses a total of 12 lifts, divided between ski lifts, gondolas and cable cars.
There are also two Abetone snow parks: one in Pulicchio and the other in Val di Luce. For the less daring the Abetone ski resort in Italy encompasses a cross-country trail of 18 km. If you are looking for an Abetone ski school, you will find two and so kids in Abetone will also be able to enjoy some great skiing too!

Once the snow has melted, Abetone trekking is the main pursuit. If you are not keen walkers you can visit the Abetone’s Botanical Garden at Sestaione, a kind of 'summary' of the longest and most challenging hikes: here you will find lakes, rocky landscapes, wetlands and, of course, samples of all the plants in the area ... in 90 minutes you will be done!

Do you instead prefer trekking in the Pistoia mountains? Boots strapped, backpacks on and away you go on one of the C.A.I or G.E.A trails! In two and a half hours you can reach the Libro Aperto mountain group. The first part is easier, the second is a bit steeper. Here you can admire rhododendrons: in the summer, during blossoming, their fuchsia colours will make you feel like you are inside an impressionist painting.
Another excursion lasting 2/3 hour is the River Campolino Outlet where you can admire another typical wood species: spruce. Lago Nero can be reached starting from the Abetone’s Botanical Garden, after a cool and shady fir forest, you can stop at a shepherds hut where you will find a fresh water spring. When approaching the more challenging and steeper section, you will find the hut run by the C.A.I volunteers. Enchanting is also the route of the Val di Luce Lakes: Lago Piatto, Lago Turchino and Lago Torbido.
Talking about Val di Luce ... Until years 30 ago this valley was called Valle delle Pozze precisely because of the small lakes that dotted its peaks. Then engineer Lapo Farinati, the first mayor of the municipality, bought the area with the intention of turning it into a vast tourist centre. Because of the war, however, he only managed to finish the hotel and the majestic tower that was intended to shine like a beacon across the valley was never completed!

 

CUTIGLIANO AND THE APPLE TREE BEARING BLUEBERRIES IN ABETONE! Besides the Abetone district, another great location that should be visited in the Pistoia mountains in every season is Cutigliano! The Doganaccia ski resort is also great. Here you can ski without even putting chains on your car tyres as you can reach the Ski resort of Doganaccia with the convenient cable car from Cutigliano.
The ski resort of Doganaccia is definitely more suitable for families with children and is also slightly cheaper. It offers 14 km of downhill skiing, a snow park, ski lifts and a snow-tubing track (rafts to slide down the snow slopes) with attached treadmill to get back to the top. There is also a refuge where you can have some refreshments after your skiing efforts!
Like Abetone, Cutigliano also offers in the hot season a number of interesting itineraries. Lake Scaffaiolo cannot be missed: it is accessible from Doganaccia, continuing towards Croce Arcana and can be reached in about an hour's walk. The walk towards Melo, the holiday resort famous for its blueberries, is easier! Anyway, it's worth wandering through the town that still retains its medieval charm in any season: from Piazza Catilina - dedicated to the Roman commander - continuing along Via Roma you arrive at the Palace of the Captains of the Mountain, decorated with numerous heraldic signs that constitute its peculiarity. Further on is the Church of Madonna della Piazza and almost on the edge of the oldest part, the Church of St. Bartholomew.
Other interesting medieval villages to visit are Piteglio, with streets that climb toward the back of the mountain, Popiglio with its Towers, the only evidence of what was presumably an ancient fortress, Gavinana built in honour of the Florence leader who defeated the troops of Charles V and died in battle, and finally San Marcello Pistoiese.
For a bit of adventure you can go to the suspension bridge which is located a few kilometres away in Mammiano: 227 meters of thrill! It was built to connect the two sides of Val di Lima and shorten the path for the workers of SMI (the Italian Metallurgical Company), a strategic centre for the production of ammunition during the Second World War. Closed in 2006, some of the buildings in nearby Limestre have come back to life and become home to the Dynamo Camp, a recreational therapy centre for children suffering from serious or chronic illnesses. On clear summer nights make sure you pay a visit to the Astronomical Observatory of Pian dei Termini ... you will enjoy a romantic starry sky!

 

NATURE, SPORT AND FOLK TALES. Have I forgotten anything? That’s all for now! I'm sure that with small restaurants, the Abetone mountain sheds and the many fetes and festivals of the Pistoia mountains you would discover the delights of the area by yourselves. But I'll be good and I will help you by giving you some clues: blueberries and wood berries, fresh or preserved in succulent home-made jams, best enjoyed on a slice of fresh bread or a freshly baked tart. Chestnuts: boiled, here called 'ballotti' or roasted, known as 'frugiate'. And last but not least, the fragrant mushrooms of the Pistoia mountains, cooked in all conceivable ways. Well, I just have to wish you ... bon appétit!