While Florence may be famed for its beautiful and historic walks, circling Medici palaces, meandering through small alleys and stumbling across all sorts of curiosities, it is often easy to forget that outside the Renaissance city lies another wonder: the Tuscan landscape. Bringing to mind rolling hills studded with cypress trees and enchanting villas, sometimes it’s nice to escape the city for the serenity of the countryside.
I first went to Fiesole on a school exchange to Florence. Unfortunately, being a teenager at the time and having partaken in the local nightlife hours before, I spent the trip to the hilltop town drifting in and out of sleep. Returning five years later, I set out a list of places to explore and Fiesole, being so near Florence, sits close to the top.
Ph. Kate Karpinski
Founts of local knowledge, I generally bow to my Italian housemates. But after deciding that the best way to get to Fiesole was on foot, I was met with distinctly blank stares and declarations of “sei pazza”. Hence, it was agreed that taking the bus was the only method of transportation bound for Fiesole. On a beautiful Sunday afternoon, however, it seemed a waste to sit cramped on an old ATAF bus. So off I set, determined to reach my destination by walking (before caving and catching the bus on the way back).
I walked north out of the city, through a graffitied underpass to the other side of the train tracks. Here, it is easy to forget Florence’s busyness, with houses standing silently, trees lining the streets and shutters closed for the afternoon. Quickly, the ascent began: not necessarily strenuous, rising at a steady incline and the views becoming more pronounced with every step. I had to place limits on turning around; rationing the panorama to reaching lookouts enhanced it further. Very few people passed me, but those who did nodded and greeted me with a casual ciao and buona giornata. The route was simple and signposted, following a northern bearing. As I ascended, the road narrowed, but with vehicles at a bare minimum, wandering in the middle of the road was a possibility. Olive trees lined the landscape with glossy black beads growing from the stems; I forced myself not to partake, as past experience has taught me not to eat unripe olives, but the allure was still intact.
The higher I climbed, the more the houses spread out, owing to their grandeur. One captured my attention; the beautifully named Villa Ombrellino (“little umbrella”), which sported a shrub-covered lookout that sat above the walls of the house. Then, the walk became tougher, so I stopped outside a church by a fork in the road. The door was closed so I was faced with a quick decision: left or right? Opting for the right, I was led onto a rougher track of stones and mud with views that looked down the valley to farming land. With hindsight, choosing left may have reduced the number of stairs, but up I scaled, driven by the prospect of what might lie at the top.
Ph. Kate Karpinski
The decision proved rewarding. The last step taken, I was stopped in my tracks, captivated by a vision. The sky stretched out, punctuated by clouds as the sun desperately strove to shine. The purple-pigmented hills in the distance contrasted the terracotta orange of Florence. The cathedral stood strong, defining the skyline; even a cypress tree resolutely swayed into view. The minutes passed before I took photos that barely captured the essence of what I was seeing. On meeting the main road, the bus I should have caught amusingly careered by, oblivious to the beauty affording by walking.
A hike out of the city was far more valuable than the time saved on the bus.