Thursday, April 30, 2015

Walking from Radda to Volpaia

Cross-country Commandoes

our goal: the hill town of Volpaia, as seen from the hill town of Radda in Chianti. Volpaia is the cluster of buildings just visible below the skyline slightly right of centre.
Our guidebook Walking and Eating in Chianti* is 10 years old, but we depart Radda confident in the knowledge that Volpaia will be visible from most of the route: we can overcome any potential problems 'navigating by sight'.

Leaving Radda is easy enough, the guide's description extremely precise. It is a perfect day for a walk, warm but with a breeze, sunny but with occasional clouds.
The way is lined with grassy olive groves dotted with wildflowers

Then we encounter the first hitch. The path we are supposed to follow has been blocked off by a fence. A deer-proof fence. The numbers of deer have been increasing enormously over the last years; many farmers have had to resort to fencing off, which is a blow for walkers.

Luckily one stretch of fencing reveals a hollow where 'gripping our knives between our teeth' as one of our party jokes, we roll, commando-like, beneath the wire. Although it has rained recently and although our shoes are already clogged with mud, since our path has taken us through open vineyards, miraculously this hollow is almost dry.

around about here we chance upon a handsome stone bench; this would be a boon for those coming up the hill in the opposite direction
Soon after the only way to our path is under another fence where a temporary wire-net barrier has been fixed with stones above a culvert. With some misgivings we shift this barrier and slide under the fence into the open culvert, duly replacing the barrier from the other side.
vineyards after rain: that earth is pure, clay-ridden mud, and we have to pass by here
Yet the challenges are far from over. The track is supposed to lead us down to the main road. The wording of the guide's description is quite ominous, admittedly:

At the end of the field, turn left through a big gap in the hedges, and drop straight down to the asphalt road on a small but well-worn single track.
The gap in the hedges exists no more (grown over?) and the 'drop straight down' turns out to be a choice between stumbling down a bramble-infested bank or sliding down a mud-covered section onto the road. Some of us hazard one, others the other, resulting in light scratches and muddied trousers and hands.
on the outside looking in
The next challenge is an extensive new vineyard: a track described ten years ago is now missing. We wander through a wood in the general direction of our goal, following what are probably animal tracks but finally reach the vineyard we are supposed to be skirting. A tall fence bars our way again but a gate is eventually found. How pleasant to draw a rusty bolt and just walk through!
This tabernacle was a welcome sight. The olive tree overshadowing it is one of the most beautiful specimens in the area. All the others having been recently pruned within an inch of their lives

This sort of thing goes on for some time, culminating in our 'dropping off' a tall stone wall we were supposed to follow. When we finally reach the crest of a hill and the 'tabernacle' described in our guide appears, we call a halt to enjoy the scene. 
About halfway there: looking back towards Radda with relief
A welcome sight is Santa Maria Novella, a delightful Romanesque church dating to the 10th century. Considering our challenges so far, we have decided to take the 'shortcut' to Volpaia which forgoes Castelvecchi and the Locanda but passes by this church.

Surrounded by hundreds of olives interspersed with fruit trees, cypresses, flowering lilac, and an ancient mulberry tree, the church deserves a proper visit.**

Beyond Santa Maria Novella a proper track (at last!) leads us down and up again through spring-green, softly-leafing woods

It also passes by a group of attractive old stone farmhouses, il Pruneto and il Pratolino.

Along this section of proper walking track stand reassuring stones with directions. Bliss.

A large yet simple tabernacle alerts us that we have almost arrived; the path is steadily upwards, but our hearts are light.

Leading up from the tabernacle is this magnificent cypress corridor.
Volpaia is famous for its rows of cypresses lining roads, paths, tracks.

the walled road leading up and in to Volpaia
Bar Ucci beckons in the centre of the village. Run by ever-cheerful Paola of the big voice and heart, it is a perfect stop for a light lunch and a glass of wine or a slice of panforte. We sit thankfully, muddy, scratched, but triumphant, our mission accomplished.

The walk from Santa Maria Novella to Volpaia has been extremely pleasant. Our suggestion is to concentrate on this section of the trip, preferably making a circuit which takes in Castelvecchi and the Locanda (which has the best views of all): this also has the virtue of avoiding the need for two cars and, more importantly, commando-style cross-country raids.

The walk took us a total of 3 hours, side-tracking and scrambles included. The longer version via the Locanda (excluding adventures) would take roughly 4 and a half hours.
*There is now a website connected with this guide book which is full of updates offered by walkers; many of the problems we encountered have already been covered here. Of course we didn't find this out until after our expedition.

**To contact the custodians Paolo and Sonia, call 0577 738755 or try seeing if they are home (their house is right next door to the church).


  1. What a satisfying springtime walk with discoveries of an intimate rural scenes.

  2. What a lovely walk inspite of various physical challenges.This whole area presents wonderful views ,one after the other.Many will wish to follow this example,especially with all Bar Ucci offers to the
    pleasantly tired out walkers.


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