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STRADA DELL'OLIO E DEL VINO DEL MONTALBANO - LE COLLINE DI LEONARDO

"Discovering nature" -


When considered in the literal topographic sense, Montalbano is a mountainous chain that separates the Pistoia Plain from the Fucecchio lowlands, from Northwest to Southeast. Its highest summits are Poggio Ciliegio (627 metres above sea level), Pietramarina (583 metres above sea level) and Montefiore (536 metres above sea level). In other words, Montalbano, being "detached" from the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines at the Serravalle pass, divides the Pistoia-Florentine plain from the Val di Nievole. But Montalbano is not only to be considered as hills. The flatlands at the foot hills vary in terms of its single geological formation and conformation towards the Padule area. This variety is, in itself, a strong attraction which, together with the area's historic and artistic heritage, makes Montalbano a place to be visited, travelled and known. In terms of vegetation linked to the productive activities, the vineyards and olive groves stand out, while spontaneous vegetation is well represented in the Lecceta di Pietramarina (Carmignano), composed of Holm oak, turkey oak, downy oak, holly, cedar and a rich underwood of ivy, brambles, knotty geranium, ferns and ruscus. In the area to the south of Montalbano, we also find the so-called ?wooded maquis? between Camaioni and Artimino. In this area we find national pine, cypress, Holm oak, broom, strawberry tree, heather and wild asparagus. The fascinating Gonfolina Pass, is to the southeast of Montalbano, a true outlet for the Arno river basin. Opposite the confluence of the Ombrone torrent into the Arno river, at Carmignano, we find the Masso delle Fate, a large sandstone layer which according to tradition favours the outflow of the waters thus preventing floods. Not far from Carmignano, in Quarrata, it is possible to visit the Area della Querciola which includes the Zela and Bigiana lakes where stork, heron, dwarf heron, stilt-plover, red heron and marsh harrier nest. Also interesting in terms of flora and fauna is the area which corresponds to the Barca Reale, instituted in 1626 by the Medici family as a hunting reserve bounded by a 50 kilometre ring-wall (today about 30 remain). The Barca Reale was ?opened? in the 1760s. Originally the reserve was populated by pheasant, grey partridge, Greek partridge, hare and wild boar. The flora included oak, turkey oak, chestnut, mulberry, Holm oak, pine, elm, walnut, cypress and fir, as well as various types of shrubs. Over time, the flora and fauna of the Barca Reale have undergone significant modifications tied to the historical and managerial evolution of the place, however many of the animal and plant species still populate the ancient ?hunting reserve". A visit to the Padule di Fucecchio is a must, which offers a landscape which is unique in all of Italy. Over 150 species of birds live in the Padule area, including heron, plover, widgeon, peewit, pullet, coot, mallard, crane and black stork. The flora is that typical of swamps or marshlands and also includes a small, but rare carnivorous plant, bladderwort. The Padule is a plain bounded by the right bank of the Arno river and the Apennine mountains. Its historic transformation into a marshland is tied to the floods of the Arno river and, over time, forced man to take measures for protecting it. The oldest of these measures dates to 1279 and corresponds to an order to demolish mills, weirs and dikes blocking the run-off. Not to be missed is a visit to Monsummano Terme, with its hot springs ? one of nature?s masterpieces ? and its trails through the Monsumanno hills. In fact, Monsummano is a mirror of the geomorphological transformations in the territory. On this basis, a real "geological" route has been marked through the trails that cross the territory. The Monsumanno Spa developes around the Grotta Giusti, a place of rare beauty for the presence of numerous stalactites and stalagmites, around a small lake of hot spring water. The grotto covers about 200 metres and is divided into three zones (called Paradise, Purgatory and Hell). The internal temperature varies between 31? C and 34? C, with a humidity level close to 100%. Natural mechanisms, which still have to be understood, guarantee a continuous air exchange. A knowledge of the nature of Montalbano cannot exclude a visit to the many farms scattered throughout the countryside. The agrarian landscape, arranged in terraces, tells the story of rural construction and man's hand in the orderly, systematic plantations which attractive for both the history of their production and the panorama. A perfect example is the so-called ?S. Lucia? road which connects San Baronato and Larciano, passing through the hills in the midst of oak forests and olive groves, high over the Padule area. The drywall enclosures, the terracing and the grassy embankments are characteristic of the Tuscan agrarian countryside. The residential system is composed of small centres where the older houses are frequently built on top of each other; there are numerous houses scattered over the countryside. The residential centres are "little worlds? and, even in their appearance, communicate their historical role as the response to their citizens' needs (alimentary, administrative, defence). The agrarian landscape of Montalbano, as results from the XIX century maps, was a territory of mostly chestnut forests, charcoal kilns, mulberry bushes, fruit trees, olive groves and vineyards. Today, following decades of partial abandon of the forest areas and an increasingly logical use of the arable lands, the forest has begun to reclaim space (especially the chestnut groves), in harmony with the cultivated fields.

PADULE DI FUCECCHIO: A LONG HISTORY IN NATURE, A CONSORTIUM TO SAFEGUARD IT, A RESEARCH CENTRE TO PROMOTE IT

The area of the Padule di Fucecchio, geologically formed about 60 million years ago, derives from the emergence of today's Val di Nievole from the sea. The original basin was gradually filled with the sediment from the waterways. The many rivers and torrents that flow through the valley (the Pescia di Pescia, the Pescia di Collodi, the Pescia Nuova, the Borra, the Nievole and the Vincio), had no outlets and caused the formation of the marshlands still evident today despite massive reclamation work over the centuries. In fact, the Padule area is the largest wetlands and marshy area of Italy, a real environmental heritage where flora and fauna unique in all of the peninsula thrive. The vegetation includes carex elata (commonly known as tufted sedge) and nymphoides, salvinia, giant ferns and even a rare carnivorous plant (bladderwort). The fauna includes 4 different types of species of heron, numerous types of other marsh birds and harvest mice, to mention only a few of the animals that give the Padule its identity as a space where nature is still sovereign. The Centro di Ricerca, Documentazione e Promozione Padule di Fucecchio (Centre for Research, Documentation and promotion of the Padule di Fucecchio) was founded in Castelmartini to promote learning about the Padule di Fucecchio. Inaugurated in 1990 by the Province of Pistoia and with a contribution form the Tuscany Region, this centre promotes initiatives for the improvement and conservation of the Padule. The Centre avails itself of the scientific aid from various experts in the natural, historic, social and didactic sciences. Each year, many schools use the Centre to learn about the characteristics of the Padule through an environmental education laboratory which offers two accurate programs, one naturalistic and the other historical-environmental. The Centre also serves as the base for guided excursions in the Padule and on Montalbano. (Information: Tel. 0573.84540). From among the itineraries suggested by the Research Centre, we note the ?Le Morette? naturalistic walking trail, and the historical-environmental trail which may also be followed by car or mountain bike. The first trail is recommended to bird-watching and nature enthusiasts. Along its route, the itinerary includes the Porto delle Morette, the Casotto del Criachi, the Casotto del Biagiotti, a blind for observing the fauna. The historical-environmental route leads from the Ponte di Cappiano to Fucecchio, Massarella, Anchione and Ponte Buggianese. (Details and more in depth information can be found at www.zoneumidetoscane.it) The regulation and management of the area is supervised by the Consorzio di Bonifica del Padule di Fucecchio (Consortium for the Reclamation of the Padule di Fucecchio), which is based in Ponte Buggianese. Its authority covers a hydrographic basin of 56,980 hectares which fall under the administration of several provinces: Pistoia (31,060 hectares), Prato (49 hectares), Florence (17,000 hectares) Lucca (4,620 hectares) and Pisa (4,200 hectares). The primary scopes of the Consortium are the maintenance of the hydraulic works and the hydraulic-environmental safeguarding of the Padule. In addition to the Padule, the Consortium also supervises the control of the Sibolla Lakelet. The Padule itself covers 1,800 hectares; it has a maximum depth of 3 metres. The Consortium has an Archive and a Museum which are testimony to the consortium acts and corresponding interventions from the end of the XVIII century to today. Its headquarters are located in Vione (info: + 39 (0)572 93221)..


THE BIRD POPULATION OF THE PADULE

Little grebe, bittern, squacco, dwarf heron, glossy ibis, laughing goose, Sheldrake, gadwall, garganey, red-crested pochard, black-headed gull, black tern, woodpigeon, barn owl, swift, swallow, hoopoe, crested lark, pied wagtail, starling, smew, marsh harrier, orange-legged hobby, spotted crake, moorhen, Avocet, curlew, woodcock, jacksnipe, redshank, blackbird, robin redbreast, Savi?s warbler, Nightingale, spotted flycatcher, tit, long-tailed tit, siskin, reed bunting, great crested grebe, little bittern, grey heron, flamingo, white stork, been goose, mallard, widgeon, shoveler duck, dun-bird, green sandpiper, little gull, whiskered tern, cuckoo, owl, sand martin, bee-eater, green woodpecker, meadow pipit, yellow wagtail, shrike, brown kite, buzzard, crane, crake, coot, golden lover, godwit, common snipe, greenshank, fighting cock, stonechat, blackcap, reed warbler, great reed-warbler, fire crest, dunnock, goldfinch, chaffinch, hooded crow, cormoran, night heron, purple heron, spoonbill, black stork, wild goose, teal, pintail duck, mormorate duck, ferruginous pochard, herring gull, marsh tern, turtle-dove, tawny owl, scops owl, martin, kingfisher, skylark, tree pipit, wag-tail, goosander, harrier, kestrel, water rail, Baillon?s crake, stilt, green plover, black-tailed godwit, snipe, spotted redshank, wood sandpiper, whinchat, moustached warbler, river nightingale, chiffchaff, reedling, blue tit, serin finch, rock bunting, jay.


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