Walking in the hills around Florence is always a delight, but if a guide goes with you the experience becomes one of learning and insight. Many of The Florentine’s readers are already familiar with Jennifer Deckert, the bubbly and organized walking guide who leads our ongoing TF Walks series. Let’s get to know the Hamburg-born hiker more.
How did you come to Florence?
The first time I came to Italy was in 1993. After working as an au pair, I came back to Florence and started working as a waitress for Lungarno Collection, the hospitality company owned by the Ferragamo family, before eventually becoming events manager, a position I held for many years. Then my partner suggested that I start a blog because people were always asking me where they could go walking with their dogs and for dog-friendly accommodation. So I did, it went well, and I decided to become a walking guide. At first I did both: working my usual job in the morning and studying to obtain the walking guide permit in the afternoons. At a certain point, I had to decide whether to do things half and half or to dive completely into the walking. My hospitality job had become really stressful, so I handed in my resignation on January 6, 2020, and then we went into lockdown on March 11. It was destiny. These days, I still do some event management at La Ménagère, where I organize wedding receptions, corporate dinners and engagement parties.
Where do you like to go walking?
I love walking in the Chianti area, places like Montefioralle and Greve. The scenery of the Crete Senesi is fantastic for hiking. Oddly, I don’t really like forest walks, although I’ve done the via di San Francesco [St. Francis Way] in the Casentino and it was enjoyable. Perhaps it’s because I’m from Hamburg, where we have wide-ranging views. If I go on my own, I like to do simpler, longer routes with gentle ascents and descents. For me, hiking is a relaxing activity as opposed to a sport.
Do you need a permit to be a walking guide in Tuscany?
In Tuscany, you need a licence, but it’s not regulated in every region. For example, in Lazio, you don’t need a permit. Here the course usually consists of evening classes and the entire process takes about 18 months. At the weekend, you do the group walking courses out in the field. The course covers things like geology, history, marketing, how to manage a group and first aid.
Do different nationalities like to do certain routes?
Germans usually don’t like to have a guide, but they will contact me for certain details. Just to be clear, I’m not qualified to be a tour guide in the city centre. I can’t guide tourists around the Uffizi or the churches in Fiesole, even if we’re doing the St. Francis Way together. Americans, however, love having a guide. They enjoy having the security and reassurance of a guide. Having a guide on country routes brings added value because it means that walkers will see interesting places that they might not have known about otherwise and they receive plenty of information about the route. In my experience, Americans don’t like to stand around for hours looking at stuff, but they like to ask questions and be informed.
What does Tuscany offer walking-wise in the low season?
As long as the weather allows it, walking in the winter season is relaxing because of the more manageable temperatures. You get to see the same sights, such as the views of San Gimignano, but without the crowds. Tuscany is cozy when the fireplaces are lit, meat is sizzling on the grill and the local wine warms us up.
Tell us about the walks you’ve got planned for The Florentine.
This February, we’ll be climbing the hills of Bagno a Ripoli, just outside Florence, stopping for lunch at an old inn for pilgrims, which is now a hostel. In late March, we’ll head out to the beautiful Medici villas and gardens at Castello and in April, as the weather improves, we’ll be enjoying a visit to a privately owned garden with stunning views over Florence.
TF Walks: winter and spring 2023
The hills of Bagno a Ripoli + lunch at the medieval Antico Spedale di Bigallo
Sunday February 19, 9.30am-3pm
The hike begins at the Croce a Varliano bus stop, having taken bus #23 from Florence. Expect beautiful views of the Duomo from the trails and streets of Bagno a Ripoli, surrounded by hills, vineyards and olive groves. An ancient Roman road leads us to the 13th-century inn Antico Spedale di Bigallo, where we will enjoy a vegan lunch while sitting next to the fireplace like pilgrims did hundreds of years ago. Bring good walking shoes and a bottle of water.
Distance 10km / Climb 400m / Cost 35 euro, lunch included
The Medici villas: Petraia + Villa Castello gardens
Sunday March 26, 10am-4.30pm
Meeting point: in front of the Villa Medici di Castello, having taken the T1 tram from Florence Santa Maria Novella to Rifredi or the bus #28 to Castello. Our walk begins with a tour of the stunning Villa Medici di Castello gardens before continuing up the hill for a picnic lunch (bring your own panino!) with views over the Florentine countryside. We’ll visit some Etruscan tombs dating to the 7th century BCE, admiring several beautiful villas before arriving at Villa Medici Petraia, the residence that King Vittorio Emanuele’s wife, Rosa Vercellana, fell in love with. We will walk around the secret garden and visit the inside of the villa with an Italian-speaking guide. Bring good walking shoes, something for lunch and a bottle of water.
Distance 7km / Climb 350m / Cost 25 euro, villa tours included
Piazzale Michelangelo, Porte Sante cemetery + EdV Garden with a view
Saturday April 1, 2-6.30pm
Meeting point: in the middle of the Ponte Vecchio. Along narrow old roads, we will climb up to piazzale Michelangelo, peering into the rose garden and visiting the monumental Porte Sante cemetery at the Basilica of San Miniato before reaching the private EDV Garden with a view. Alice Esclapon de Villeneuve, the garden’s owner, will reveal all about the flowers, plants and her mesmerizing art installations. We will have some time to sit and chat together before walking back to the city center.
Distance 5km / Climb 200m / Cost 30 euro, garden visit included