East of the A1, between Florence and Arezzo. The name means Great Meadow and is the watershed between two courses of the Arno, north of the river’s U-bend. Terraced and wooded below, bare on top, its undulating hummocks remind you of a procession of tonsured monks. For some years the green forest was a wilderness and a paradise for huntsmen and mushroom-gatherers. New roads have opened access from foothill villages but the ridge still provides a splendid lonely walk of 22 km with views across southern Tuscany. Approach the north end via Montemignaio or Vallombrosa, where the poet Milton played the organ and found a line for Paradise Lost: ‘Thick as autumnal leaves that strow the brooks / In Vallombrosa’.
The only man-made object in your path from the rifugio (refuge hut supplying drinks and snacks to hunters) above Montemignaio to the minor road down to the Valdarno at the southern end is the lattice pylon of the Croce di Pratomagno (1,593 m) and beside it a memorial stone, commemorating Bert Hinkler. The Australian aviator crashed his single-engined Puss Moth there in January 1933 on the first leg of an attempt to lower his own record for a solo England-Australia flight. His body, dragged away and half-eaten by foxes, was found three months later when the snows melted.
Detour – Poppi
50 km east of Pratomagno. Most complete and authentic of the Casentino towns. On peaceful streets of flagged pavements citizens move with a smooth drowsy motion, like fish in an aquarium. Poppi has the best-kept stronghold in Tuscany, a fort of the Guidi warlords. Citizens have a strong family likeness to the frescoed saints, peasants and soldiers of the Gothic painters in this most Renaissance of towns. Etruscan figurines and ear-rings have been turned up by the ploughmen in the vineyards.