Given the length and difficulty of this tour, it requires excellent training and physical condition. We could, alternatively, divide the excursion into two or three stages and stay overnight in one of the numerous hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, residences, or camp-sites in the area. This would give us a chance to visit the sights and appreciate the natural beauty that surrounds us. We suggest this alternative solution for cyclists who are not used to long extenuating climbs and excursions that are over 80 kilometres long.
The entire route is a total of 139.3 kilometres. Consequently, the best bike to use is the “specialissima” (vintage lightweight bike) which, though there are certainly enough bike-part and bike-repair shops in the area, must be equipped with gear for any necessary repairs. This excursion is also perfect when training for amateur Gran Fondo races.
There are six climbs that add up to a total of 2,500 metres in height. The excursion is a difficult one, but more so for the length of the climbs – 4 of which are more than 9 kilometres long – and the number of climbs than the average gradient, which is never greater than 6%. 39/23inch gears may be sufficient to make it over the more difficult passages, but we suggest mounting 39/26-28 inch gears to keep our legs from falling “to pieces”.
Since the setting is typically mountainous, the best season for the excursion is summer (the winter season is to be avoided entirely), but even then a water-proof jacket is advisable.
And finally, for those who wish to cycle the route in one day, we highly suggest frequent rest stops, abundant water (a double water-bottle would be handy), and light snacks to be eaten at regular intervals.
Alternative route 1: Firenzuola –Valico del Paretaio – Palazzuolo sul Senio – Passo della Sambuca – Prato all’Albero - Borgo San Lorenzo – Scarperia – Passo del Giogo – Firenzuola. Distance run: km 95; climb: 1,920 metres; time: 7 hours (expert cyclists) 4 ¾ hours (amateur cyclists).
Alternative route 2: Marradi – Passo dell’Eremo - Passo Peschiena - San Benedetto in Alpe – Passo del Muraglione – San Godenzo – Dicomano – Borgo San Lorenzo – Passo della Colla – Marradi. Distance run: 100 km; climb: 1.810 metres, time required: 7 hours (excursionists), 4 hours 45 minutes (amateur cyclists).
The suggestions for these alternative routes, though shorter, are the same as those put forward for the entire excursion given the length, which is nevertheless in the area of 100 km, and the difficulty, which includes crossing four mountain passes and climbing a total of almost 2000 metres in height.
Alto Mugello is not easy to discover by bicycle. It takes training and excellent physical condition. The tour that we have prepared and suggest, taking for granted the fact that we intend to run it in a single day, calls for, as the protagonist of the book by Enrico Brizzi, "Jack Frusciante è uscito dal gruppo", says: “legs of steel and Nietzschean will”.
We depart from the town of Firenzuola, famous for the production and working of “pietra serena” (grey sandstone), and make our way through the splendid Santerno River valley towards Imola. The road is adequately wide and only slightly rolling. The slow descent, though winding, gives us a chance to enjoy the view, which is especially unique in this part of the territory. On the steep rock walls that line the road we can count the layers that time and the Santerno River have cut into the rock. We find ourselves travelling through a sort of small, green canyon.
Once in San Pellegrino (5.2 km), we cross the Alta Velocità (high speed) train tracks as they emerge from the mountain. The traffic begins to become scarce and, looking down at the river below, we catch a glimpse of delightful strips of river-bank were bathers flock in summer. At 11 kilometres from our starting point, once past Pieve di Cà Maggiore, in the town of Coniale, we turn right towards Tirli and start the first gruelling climb of the day, the Valico del Paretaio.
On the left, at 11.7 km, there is a water fountain where we can refill our water-bottles. The climb is 10.2 kilometres long and though it is not impossibly steep we must proceed using low gears, and without overdoing it. It is, in fact, only the first climb of a long demanding day of climbs. 21.2 kilometres later, at 880 metres above sea level, we reach the Paretaio Valley. The road dips and the descent is narrow and twisting. Though the road surface is in good condition, great care must be taken on the ride down, especially in the first part where the descent is rather steep.
We cycle through the Upper Mugello forest and reach Palazzuolo sul Senio, some 8 kilometres later.
We next cross the Senio River and the town centre. The road starts to ascend toward Marradi.
This shady climb is about 6 km long with gradients of no more than 6-7% , and in the last kilometre it levels off (Carnevale Pass). It’s best to use up as little energy as possible for the tough kilometres to come by using low gears that keep our legs moving. At 35.5 km, we start another descent, similar to the last, that takes us to Marradi, birthplace of the poet Dino Campana. Here we find water fountains to refill our water-bottles, but the ride doesn’t become any easier and after a hundred metres or so of flat road, we move towards San Benedetto in Alpe, which leads us to the third and longest climb of the day Passo dell’Eremo (921 metres above sea level, 10.7 km ). The climbs are frequent and difficult; fortunately the road is in good condition, some sections are shaded and the traffic is almost non-existent. At 52 kilometres from the start of our tour, we reach the Eremo Pass.
Just past the road sign for the hermitage, which gives its name to the valley, we descend for about 2 kilometres until we reach the foot of the ascent, which leads to the Peschiena Pass. The eighty or so metre high climb that must be tackled on this one kilometre stretch of road, is not exceeding difficult, but it is, nevertheless, rather challenging given the long climb we’ve already had to face.
Once across the pass (55.2 km), at 930 metres above sea level – the highest point of this excursion – the landscape that lies before us compensates for any difficulties we may have had reaching it. We enter Romagna, but mostly we enter the Parco Nazionale delle Foreste Casentinesi. The descent - narrow, uneven, steep, and with no guardrails – reminds us of some the Alpine passes that have made cycling history, for example the Galibier or the Izoard.
The first stretch runs through the forest and on the left (58.1 km) we find a fresh water fountain. Next the road moves into the open and “darts” precipitously downhill towards the valley. It coasts the Park. Mountains covered with exceptionally dense vegetation stand majestically before and to the right of us. This is one of the few remaining Italian forests to be so thick that the sun is able to penetrate it only on rare occasions.
At 63.5 kilometres, we reach the bottom of the valley and San Benedetto in Alpe, which is one of the park’s entrance points. Unfortunately we don’t have time to catch our breath because the road starts to climb again towards the Muraglione Pass: the second last climb of the day. We’re in the park again, though this time on the road and therefore in a less enchanting environment.
The road, which once provided the traditional link between Florence and Romagna, is in good condition and the traffic is acceptable. The climb is not exceedingly steep – never more than 6-7% (the steeper side of the mountain is, in fact, the other side) – but at this point our legs are heavy with fatigue and the 500 metre stretch of flat road just beyond the Osteria Nuova (66.3 km), where we enter Tuscany, is a welcome sight. After the 70 kilometre mark, the road gets tougher. We cycle through 2 kilometres of winding road, but finally, at 72.2km, the road levels for 800 metres or so until we reach the Muraglione Pass (907 metres above sea level). The view of the valley that opens up before us is breathtaking and we can stop to admire it at the rest stop found on the top.
Back on our saddles, the next part of our excursion is downhill. Long and winding in some points, the road is, however, wide and in good condition. It leads to San Godenzo (81.1 km), a small village dominated by an ancient church from which numerous interesting nature trails depart.
After an additional 10 kilometre descent, down which we must however pedal, we reach Dicomano (91.6 km). Here we enter the Sieve River valley, which we coast, on a gentle climb, until we reach Borgo San Lorenzo. Had we departed from Marradi for our tour– alternative route 2 – we could, at this point, return there in 36 kilometres by taking the road to the Colla di Casaglia Pass, making the distance a total of 102 kilometres.
Instead, we move from Borgo San Lorenzo to San Piero a Sieve (113 km) and then Scarperia (117.4 km) through heavy traffic, and prepare for the last climb of the day: the Giogo di Scarperia Pass.
This is maybe the most difficult climb of all. The 10.2 kilometres in length and the average gradient of 5.8%, make it essential to use the lowest possible gears to safeguard our already tired limbs.
The pass is at 127.6 kilometres from the start of our excursion, at 882 metres above sea level, among vast meadows that open onto a beautiful view of Upper Mugello. At this point, we start our descent and after 12 kilometres reach, without doubt exhausted, Firenzuola, starting point for this long but remarkable excursion in the heart of Upper Mugello.
THINGS TO SEE!
The town of Firenzuola, which is renowned for its production of PIETRA SERENA (grey sandstone), maintains the original 14th century layout of the once “new lands” of the Florentine Republic.
Parts of the medieval walls, which were transformed into fortifications in the 15th century by Sangallo the Elder, still stand. Along the main road that runs through the town, we find the PORTA FIORENTINA (Florentine Gates) with its small bell-tower and the PORTA BOLOGNESE (Bolognese Gate).
The ROCCA (fortress), which houses the MUSEUM OF PIETRA SERENA, and SS. ANNUNZIATA CHURCH are particularly interesting to visit.
In the surrounding area, in Moscheta, we also find S. PIETRO in VINCOLI ABBEY, which dates back to 1034 and is one of the first Vallombrosian settlements in the area. Moscheta is an excellent starting point for excursions on foot or on horseback into the surrounding nature reserves.
Firenzuola City Hall
Tel. 055 819941
Fax 055 819366
PALAZZUOLO SUL SENIO
Palazzuolo was first established as a “market place” by the Ubaldini family, Lords of the land. In 1362, it was consigned to the Florentine Republic.
In the main square we find the 14th century CAPITANI PALACE, which houses the MUSEUM OF THE MOUNTAIN FOLK and a permanent display of PREHISTORIC and PROTOHISTORIC FINDS.
The 17th century CHURCHES of S. ANTONIO and S. STEFANO are also extremely interesting.
In the surrounding area we find the 15th century MADONNA DELLA NEVE DI QUADALTO SANCTUARY, and the SUSINANA ABBEY and its ancient newly restored church.
Palazzuolo Sul Senio City Hall
Tel. 055 8046008
Fax 055 8046461
Once under the domain of the Counts of Guidi, Marradi later became part of the Florentine Republic. The historic centre of the town with its striking main square, PIAZZA DELLE SCALELLE, overlooked by the loggia adorned CITY HALL, the 17th century FABBRONI PALACE, the PALAZZO DEI CANNONI (Palace of the Cannons), and the CHIESA DEL SUFRAGIO, are worthy of mention.
On the square below, just past Fabbroni Palace, we can admire Vicolo della Torre and Palazzo Torriani. Just beyond this we find the DOMINICAN MONASTERY, the elegant late 18th century TEATRO DEGLI ANIMOSI, San Lorenzo CHURCH OF THE ARCHPRIEST, which holds paintings by the Maestro di Marradi, and the home of the poet DINO CAMPANA.
The BADIA DEL BORGO (the 11th century abbey of S. Reparata in Salto) can be found in the surrounding area.
Marradi City Hall
Tel. 055 8045005
Fax 055 8045803