One of the best things about Florence is that you’re never far from nature. I’ve been guiding hiking and biking tours throughout Europe for over 20 years; when I’m at my home base in Florence, I always stay active and in contact with nature (recent times excluded!), which has allowed me to get to know the quieter parts of this great city. Here are some of my favourite walks near Florence to help you regain fitness and relieve stress.
1/ City center: San Niccolò – Forte Belvedere – San Miniato al Monte
If you live in the city center it’s easy to escape the crowds by disappearing into one of many hidden alleyways that snake their way up the hill from San Niccolò to viale Galileo, which leads from the Piazzale Michelangelo overlook southwards. If you’re by the San Niccolò bridge, look for the tiny via San Miniato al Monte and climb your way up to that beautiful 11th-century church. You can continue behind the church on via Giramonte and go up to Pian dei Giullari, which houses many lavish villas (including one where Galileo spent his last years), then drop back down to the viale. If you’re over towards the Ponte Vecchio you can go up the Costa San Giorgio to the Forte Belvedere, which was built in the late 16th century to protect the city (and the Medici family who were living below it in the Pitti Palace). From the Porta San Giorgio you continue on via San Leonardo, passing more villas, and eventually reach viale Galileo. You can also start at the Porta San Miniato (just beyond the bar Il Rifrullo) and walk up along the commanding flanks of the fort’s defensive walls, on via Belvedere. Finally, there are two charming and almost secret ways to return to San Niccolò from the viale, both of which are called via dell’Erta Canina. One of them begins as a narrow, cobbled lane that descends quietly between stately façades and eventually turns to grass and moss, as if you’ve just traveled back in time and half expect to see horses and carriages at the bottom. The other, just a few hundred metres away, heads down what looks like a private driveway but a sign “Passaggio Pedonale” allows you to pass through the gate. Descend on this quiet road between fields of green and wonder how such an oasis of tranquility has been kept a secret in the heart of the city. This walk offers endless variety as you re-combine the various legs, and keeps you in close contact with the city’s history.
2/ East: Ponte San Niccolò to Girone along the Arno
If you live on the east side of town, walk along the path that follows the north side of the Arno for as much as six kilometres from the San Niccolò bridge all the way to the town of Girone. The path is occasionally interrupted, so you have to return to the sidewalk or skirt behind some houses before picking it up again, but it’s all flat and is mostly gravel, so it’s an easy walk or can even be done by city bike. There are lots of benches along the way, plus a few water taps. It’s a great place to see waterfowl like herons, cormorants and families of ducks, as well as plenty of excited dogs running around off-leash.
3 / Northwest: Parco del Mensola
A new park has just been built as part of flood prevention measures around the Mensola “river” (more like a stream and dry for half the year) by the village of Ponte a Mensola, a few kilometres beyond the soccer stadium. The park has two sections that straddle via della Torre and there are a variety of wide gravel paths you can walk along. The opening of the park has allowed access to the spectacular grounds around the Residenza Strozzi, with its long alleyway of cypress trees. If you continue to the right of the villas along via Madonna delle Grazie, then turn left up the (very steep) via della Capponcina, you arrive in Settignano, which offers a number of hiking possibilities.
If you’re lucky enough to start your hikes from Settignano, here are a few ideas. You can take the small “Sentiero dei Scalpellini” just past the Villa Morghen, which was supposedly used by Michelangelo and his fellow sculptors who came here to quarry marble. It spans a little gully to reach the paved road on the other side by the small Oratorio di San Romano. From here you can descend down a very steep, narrow road down to Ponte a Mensola, or enter the woods and cut over to the road that goes to the castle of Vincigliata. There are actually three trails that link via Vincigliata with Settignano at various points, so you can mix and match depending on how much you want to walk. Keep in mind that this is a popular area for mountain bikers and archery buffs, so keep your ears open and don’t stray from the path, and don’t be scared if you come across animals in the woods—they’re wooden sculptures used as targets! From Settignano you can also head east to the Villa Gamberaia and eventually go as far as Compiobbi (this is marked with red and white CAI markers). Or head north from the Villa Gamberaia and follow the road around to the west before dropping down again (or cutting over to Vincigliata through the woods).
5/ Maiano + Fiesole from Ponte a Mensola
From Ponte a Mensola you can head up the fairly steep via Poggio Gherardo to the church of San Martino a Mensola. Turn left and continue uphill for 10 to 15 minutes before turning right at the T with via Benedetto da Maiano. In another 15 minutes you reach the villa of Maiano. Here you have three options: turn right and five minutes later enter the woods. This passes an archery center and ten minutes later to via Vincigliata. Turn right to return to Ponte a Mensola past the Villa “I Tatti”, or cross over into the woods and continue another 15 minutes to Settignano (you exit at the Oratorio di San Romano, mentioned above). From Maiano you can also turn left onto the road heading up to Fiesole, but after 50 metres turn left down a driveway and follow this past a number of villas back to town at via Lungo l’Affrico. Or to go to Fiesole: continue straight and walk through the hamlet of Maiano. Keep walking about 15 minutes more on a dirt track, then turn left at a wooden CAI trail sign indicating Fiesole and the “Via degli Dei”. From here it’s a steep 30-minute climb to the top of Monte Ceceri. You’ll pass a number of quarries that were in use during the Renaissance period and eventually have sweeping views out over the city below. From there you begin heading west and you’ll hit the asphalt road into Fiesole. The total walk takes between 1.5 and 2 hours, depending on your pace.
6/ Piazza della Libertà or Le Cure up to Fiesole
If you live in the northern part of town you can get a great workout by walking all the way up to Fiesole. It’s only about five kilometres but you’ll gain 250 metres in elevation. Unfortunately, there aren’t any nice dirt paths, but there are quite a few options to take the narrow roads that most cars avoid. From piazza della Libertà head to via Boccaccio along the banks of the Mugnone river. This begins flat and then eventually climbs between narrow walls up to the village of San Domenico. As the main road curves to the right you turn left up onto the narrow via Vecchia Fiesolana. In a few hundred metres, make a sharp curve to the right and follow this all the way to the centre of Fiesole.
If you live out by Rifredi or Statuto you don’t have much access to wooded paths, but you can still get the blood pumping by heading out on one of the many small roads in that area: via Stibbert goes past the Stibbert Museum and becomes via di Montughi. Turn left on via Santa Marta or via della Pietra, both of which seem so narrow you could almost touch both sides with your arms outstretched! Return on via di Santa Marta, which becomes via dei Cappuccini or on via Massaia. And if you’re seriously ambitious and are out by Firenze Castello, head up to Monte Morello, the highest mountain around, at 1,000 metres with tons of trails.
Remember to carry ID with you at all times (you can print out the Covid-19 self-certification form here or, if you are stopped by the police, they will provide it). Outdoor exercise is allowed, just not in groups and as long as you maintain social distancing of one metre while walking and two metres for running and cycling. Face protection is only required outdoors where social distancing cannot be maintained (carry a mask with you, just in case). Check www.theflorentine.net for updates in legislation. Please note that the city council can close parks and gardens at any time.