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Spend A Weekend In The ‘Secret’ Tuscany Near Florence

The countryside close to Barberino di Mugello.

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There are various Tuscanys, or rather regions within the region, like the Chianti, Maremma and Val D’Orcia, each offering special cultural experiences and distinct food and wine. Despite its rich history and enviable landscapes, one territory, the Mugello, right outside of Florence, is often overlooked by visitors. A choice spot for Florentine movers and shakers during the Renaissance, the Mugello is where the Medicis, the city’s ultimate power dynasty, came from, and where they built their first country retreats—mighty and strategically located villa-castles that served as testimony to their clout and wealth.

“It’s rather similar to the Chianti region in terms of landscape,” says Olivia Nash, founder and owner of Nash Travel Management, a member of Virtuoso, the luxury travel network. There has been an increase in the number of people from Florence moving to the Mugello in recent years, explains Nash, “because there are fewer tourists and fewer people in general, so you really get a sense of place.” Nash says there are also fewer wineries, resorts and luxury infrastructre than in the Chianti, but she likes to recommend the region for walking and hiking day trips and for immersion in small-town life. (If you plan to travel to the area in late May/early June, Nash says the MotoGP™, the motorcycle Grand Prix, “is fun and clients love to do this.”)

The Mugello is a prime spot to visit in the fall, when the wooded countryside gets decked out in autumnal colors and the local delicacies, like the Mugello marrone (IGP), a prized sweet chestnut, is harvested and celebrated, and restaurants offer up a bounty of seasonal dishes. Here’s what to know if you’re planning to go.

A rural landscape near Borgo San Lorenzo.

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The medieval Monte Senario monastery in Vaglia, near Florence.

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Where it is: The countryside north of Florence reaching toward the Apennines and the Emilia-Romagna border. Mugello towns close to Florence include Vaglia (10 kilometers) and Borgo San Lorenzo (33 kilometers). Firenzuola in the region’s north is about 55 kilometers away.

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The Villa del Trebbio, once a Medici stronghold. (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)

De Agostini via Getty Images

Not to Miss: The historic villages. Scarperia e San Piero has been cited as one of Italy’s most beautiful villages (I Borghi piu belli d’Italia). Here you’ll find the Palazzo dei Vicari, a longtime administrative center for the Medici, dating from the 1300s. This turreted structure is adorned with Medici coats of arms and showcases a Ghirlandaio-school fresco and Brunelleschi clock, among other treasures.

The medieval town of Palazzuolo sul Senio is known for its autumn chestnut festival (each Sunday in October), where you can sample everything from pasta to sweets made with chestnuts. Around Vicchio, close to where the seminal artist Giotto was born, there are the Sentieri dei Pittori, or painter’s routes, where you can take in the idyllic vistas that inspired not only Giotto, but Fra Angelico and the sculptor Cellini.

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The Bosco ai Frati Convent. (Photo by Marka/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Universal Images Group via Getty Images

While several Medici landmarks are closed for removation, you can take in their dramatic settings in various Mugello towns. Cosimo de’ Medici retreated to Villa del Trebbio, a mighty stone complex perched on a hill close to San Piero a Sieve, where you’ll find another Medici stronghold (and undertaking by Cosimo), the San Martino Fortress, dating from the 16th century. Also in San Piero a Sieve and open to visitors is the Bosco ai Frati Convent, which Michelozzo, a favored Medici architect who designed Villa del Trebbio, redid in Renaissance style. The Villa Medicea di Cafaggiolo in Barberino di Mugello (about a twenty-minute drive away), was once home to Lorenzo de’ Medici, ruler of Florence and renowned arts benefactor. 

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Near Scarperia e San Piero.

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The Palazzi dei Vicari in Scarperia e San Piero.

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Borgo San Lorenzo. (Photo by Marka/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

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A lake setting in Vicchio.

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Villa Medicea di Cafaggiolo was once home to Lorenzo de’ Medici. (Photo by Marka/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Traveling in the Mugello: The best way to move around is by car. Dante’s Train, running from Florence, where the famed poet was born, to Ravenna, where he is buried, is a bucolic route with stops in Mugello towns like San Piero a Sieve and Borgo San Lorenzo. (The train also goes to Faenza, known worldwide for its ceramics, before heading to Ravenna in Emilia-Romagna). Mugello has many biking and trekking trails, often following centuries-old routes.(Mugello in Bike is a helpful resource.) If you take the trekking trail running from San Pietro a Sieve to Montensario (a little less than 30 kilometers), which is part of the Via degli Dei, a Roman-era route, you can swing by Medici strongholds, like the Villa del Trebbio and San Martino Fortress.

Hotels: In the Mugello Olivia Nash suggests Villa Campestri, a Renaissance-era villa and olive oil resort in Vicchio; Ville Le Maschere, a luxury resort with a wellness center and spa in Barberino di Mugello; and Monsignor della Casa in Borgo San Lorenzo, a country property with hotel accommodations and apartment and villa rentals. If you want to stay closer to Florence, Nash recommends the Belmond Villa San Michele in Fiesole, about 25 kilometers from Borgo San Lorenzo

Making tortelli. In the Mugello area tortelli often have a potato filling.

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What to Eat: This large valley territory, bordered by mountains and studded with forests, offers hearty fare, including game and pork dishes, with particularly rich offerings served in fall and winter, when chestnuts and mushrooms are bountiful. First-course specialties include stuffed pastas with potato (tortelli di patate) and chestnut fillings, and rustic soups made with sausage, cabbage and chickpeas. Also to try at this time of year: schiacciata con l’uva, sometimes described as foccacia with grapes, mushroom pizza and chestnut cakes (torta di marroni), made from the area’s sweet chestnuts. Eat the local soft cheese raviggiolo, made from cow’s milk, with crunchy Mugello bread, baked in wood-burning ovens. 

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Castello di Nipozzano, a Frescobaldi wine estate.

Courtesy of Frescobaldi Toscana

Wineries near the Mugello: The Castello del Trebbio and the the Frescobaldi properties, Castello di Nipozzano and Castello di Pomino in the Chianti Rufina area, are among the wineries that can be visited says Olivia Nash.