Valley of the Parishes

La vallata delle pievi

Ancient parochial churches highlight the “Valleriana”, orderly and verdant ‘Little Switzerland’.

Once upon a time there was a nobleman from Ginevra who, fleeing from the Jacobins, finds himself happily exiled cultivating Tuscan land. He loved plants, nature and a corner of the city of Pescia, in particular. Jean Charles Leonard Simonde de Sismonde — this is his full name — rediscovered his roots in the Valdinievole and fell so in love with the woods of the Valleriana – so similar, he said, of his native land – that he wanted to re-baptize this area, with Swiss nostalgia, “Little Switzerland of Pescia.”

Still today one falls in love at first sight with these valleys that climb towards the Apennines from Pescia. Man added an artist’s brush stroke to the generous nature: there are ten cities that make up the so-called dieci castella, treasure chests of art, history and intrigues. Found here are the towns of Vellano, Pietrabuona, Medicina, Aramo, Fibialla, Sorana, San Quirico, Castelvecchio, Stiappa and Pontito.

Our itinerary departs from Pietrabuona, the entrance door to the Svizzera pesciatina. In its name is richness of the quarries of the pietra serena stone, used in the parishes of the surrounding villages. In the town the fortress and the Paper museum (Museo della carta) are important attractions to see.

Continuing on with Medicina, a true terrace on the valley, one finds Fibialla with its vineyards and chestnut trees, then Aramo with its ancient walls, underground tunnels for escape in case of attack, the Parish of San Frediano, and the Oratory of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary.


Through one winding road after the other, one reaches San Quirico, the walled village with the parish dedicated to Saints Andrea and Lucia. Noteworthy here are the baptismal fountain and the pulpit in pietra serena. From San Quirico we move on to Castelvecchio, which requires a long break; the parish, from the 10th century, in fact, is a national monument. The building rises up through the village and is dedicated to Saints Ansano and Tommaso.

Expert eyes will recognize the Lombard Romanesque style; however, it is important to note that the destruction it underwent in the 1800’s destroyed part of the original structure. On the external surface, bas-reliefs – possibly by the Longobards – demonstrate monstrous animals and a mysterious figure, maybe Christ or an Orante: for some, it is a sign of the presence of the Templars and of Godfroy de Boillon. In the empty but suggestive interior, the crypt is preserved under the presbytery, while outside the isolated bell tower stands out. In town, a visit to the oratory of the Santissimo Rosario is worth a visit, with frescos dedicated to the Virgin and to Christ. Before departing, take a break and sit at one of the tables on the terrace of the bar next to the grocery store and enjoy the vertiginous view of the valley.

Returning to our itinerary, we come across Stiappa, with its houses curiously erect like fortresses and inhabited by beautiful women – as Sismondi recalled. Pontito, hometown of Lazzaro Papi, historian and man of letters, is seen from afar thanks to its rare fan-like form. It is the most unique village in the Valieriana: high and faraway from Pescia. Among the sloped streets, ancient arches and defensive city doors, one has a sense of being in the Middle Ages. Once fortified, today only a few traces of the ancient city walls are conserved, while the Romanic parish dedicated to Saints Andrea and Lucia is still recognizable.

The second to last stop is Sorana, noted for its beans and numerous fountains. Finally, the last village of this unique land is Vellano, on the way road to Abetone at the top of the Pistoian mountains. Vellano is the county seat of the Pesciatine Mountains, and has a parish from the 10th century, welcoming tourist accommodations, and first appears to the traveler along the road, with its semicircular defense form and unmistakable bell tower. Aligned with the Ghibellines, Vellano was attacked in the 13th century by Lucca. In response to the attack they subdued, the village adhered to the “League of the cities of the Valdinievole,” an important historical detail in light of our itinerary.

In this treasure chest of attractions in the Valleriana are the medieval parishes, for which we hope that they return to being constantly open to the public. Among all of them, the most impressive is the Parish of Castelvecchio, declared a national monument, although closed for years due to restoration; however, the volunteer group, Gruppo parrocchiale di Castelvecchio, organizes guided tours. For reservations reserve in advance with Roberto Flori (tel. 3355615543) and Lario Rosellini (tel. 0572400115), or write to

The Sorana Bean
Only a little more than ten hectares to cultivate a small pearl of goodness: The Sorana Bean. On slopes stolen from the woods by the determination of man (promoters of the Medici and Leopold families), extremely tall beanstalks shoot up among the intense green, caressed by the Sirocco winds that create a perfect microclimate for them.
The pearly, milky white seed, or in the ancient cultivar, red with dark streaks, has a thin skin that if cooked properly it dissolves with the tender pulp. To say it is valuable would be an underestimate; indeed it is highly digestible and tasty, of the Slow Food Presidium, and pampered by its proud and loving producers. It is destined, however, to a limited number of consumers because no more than 60 quintals a year is produced.

Leah Maltese
Giuseppe Mosconi
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