Volterra is a short drive to the town of Colle di Val d’Elsa — a beautiful and low-key town in Western Tuscany-the province of Siena. There is an upper part, that is older and more historical, with a castle (and a moat), a museum and several beautiful palazzos. An elevator takes you to the lower part of town with more locals populating the pleasant piazzas, doing their shopping, working and stopping for lunch in tasty restaurants.
We chose a Monday for our visit, so almost all sites are closed in the old Centro Storico. except the friendly TI office. The upper, old town was very quiet and almost deserted. It was a great place to walk around and admire the medieval stone buildings without any traffic or tour groups to spoil your photos. It almost felt as if we were trespassing.
We found the staff quite helpful at the TI office in the old town. They all seemed very friendly and spoke several languages, including English, of course. On the shelves full of free tourist information, we found a small map of a local trail that follows the Elsa river.
The Parco Fluviale AltaValedelsa is the official name for this easy day hike that runs along the river for miles. We decided to go down to the lower town and try the trail.
After enjoying an espresso in the sunny main square, Piazza Arnolfo di Cambio, we headed for the river. We started the trail near the Ponte Spugna, a bridge located just a few blocks away. The path goes down below the bridge past several large and colorful vegetable gardens, surrounded by fences with secure gates.
The path winds along the river with several crossings. At each crossing, there were a pair of ropes to help guide us across the rocks. Although we didn’t see a lot of wildlife, we enjoyed the songs of birds as we ambled along. Apparently, at the end of the trail, there is an area where more hawks hang out, but we didn’t get that far.
We only ran into a couple of kids and one other hiker, a French woman who is walking part of the Via Francigena to connect to El Camino de Santiago, the trail that leads to Santiago de Campostela, in Spain. She’s giving herself three months to travel through Italy, France and the western coast of Spain to get there. We had a fun time hearing about her travels, so far. What an adventurous woman!
The walking trails in Italy are not always easy to find. Even the famous St. Francis Trail can be elusive. Sometimes we get good information from the local Tourist Information Office, as we did in Colle di Val d’Elsa and on the Amalfi Coast. Other times, we’ve found better maps and information in a bookstore. The internet is also a great resource for more detailed information about certain popular trails. We learned about some great walks in Italy from the Walks of Italy blog. The Italian Alpine Club also has good information & maps you can purchase.
Once you start your trek, there’s usually some signage to keep you on track. It can be a bit of an adventure finding the trails in Italy, but the scenery on our walks has always been worth the effort.