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Cycling the Casentino and Pratomagno Part 1

The top of the Passo della Consuma at 3,445 feet
The top of the Passo della Consuma at 3,445 feet

If there’s a better place for road biking in July and August than this mountainous region east of Florence then I have yet to discover it. (A year after writing this article I did in fact discover somewhere better - the mountains of Abruzzo). When the rest of Italy’s roads are jammed to a near standstill with disoriented tourists gazing bewildered at their malfunctioning Sat Navs and crazy risk-taking Italian drivers on their annual sprint to the seaside, this area is delightfully quiet, hiding in plain sight it would seem given it’s proximity to Florence.

Pratomagno scenery near Consuma, Tuscany
A few rolling hills across the Consuma plateau before the descent into the Casentino valley

If you don’t like long uphill sections then cycling in the Casentino and Pratomagno might not be for you (though there are always e-bikes to rent) but at least you won't find the brutally steep gradients of the Dolomites, nor does it have all the heavy traffic along the valley floors that the Italian Alpine regions suffer from and neither do you have to train hard for months beforehand to be able to enjoy the cycling here.

The season around the Casentino Valley and Pratomagno is longer than just July and August but the reason for singling out those two months is that this is the period when I have spent many weekends here over the past 7 years and the weather conditions even at the higher elevations are mostly warm and dry and I’ve never yet carried so much as a rain jacket or extra layer of clothing with me.

Relief map of the Pratomagno, Tuscany
The Pratomagno massif with Consuma towards the north, Stia, Poppi and Bibbiena in the Casentino to the east and Florence off the map to the west

You are spoiled for choice when it comes to mountain passes suitable for road bikes and I must have cycled over all of them over the years. Some of them follow ancient routes from Tuscany into Romagna taken by Dante and others like Passo della Calla and Passo dei Mandrioli. Others are more local and simply get you out of one valley and into another like Valico Croce a Mori and some just dead end into un-passable peaks like la Croce di Pratomagno or Monte Secchieta.

The Castello di Romena at Pratovecchio seen from the descent into Stia
The Castello di Romena at Pratovecchio seen from the descent into Stia

The only one that has an unacceptable level of traffic for me, but only for ascending not descending, is the main route from the Casentino valley to Florence over the Passo della Consuma. Since I have always been based close to Consuma when in this part of Tuscany I have devised lots of different ways of returning uphill to the town without needing to use more than a small fraction of the main road, but both towards Florence and towards Poppi this road makes for a fun and rapid descent without much bother from traffic given that the curves allow you to descend almost as fast as a car.

The following loop is one of the longest ones I tend to do these days, being about 4 hours in the saddle covering 42 miles and including 6,000 feet of cumulative climbing.

Consuma - Stia - Londa - Scopeti - Pomino - Borselli - Consuma:

relief map of Consuma/Londa/Stia bike route

This is a beautiful, long bike ride but I would advise against starting at the high point in Consuma at 3,445 feet as I do (only because that’s where I stay) because it’s very tough having to make the climb back to Consuma at the end of the ride when your energy levels are already depleted. When I do the ride next year I might perhaps drive to Londa with my bike and start and finish there.

The panno Casentino factory and museum in Stia
The 'panno Casentino' shop and museum in Stia and behind it the route up to Passo della Calla

The loop is best done in a clockwise direction to take advantage of the 12 mile descent into and beyond Londa that requires hardly any braking or any pedaling so you can spend over 35 minutes mostly just freewheeling and admiring the scenery. I always see many more cyclists on this route than cars because Stia to Londa is a road that is best described as going from nowhere to nowhere; in other words ideal for road biking.

Ride Details:

The classic Audrey Hepburn coat in Stia
The classic Hepburn coat at the shop. Above is a still photo from the film

The descent from Consuma to Stia is a little over 9 miles and includes some uphill sections that are not entirely welcome to legs that are not yet warmed up. Otherwise it’s a fast descent with just one left turn that is well signposted.

Stia's claim to wider fame since the iconic 1961 film 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' has been as the artisan maker of wool coats known as panno Casentino, particularly the orange one worn by Audrey Hepburn's character Holly Golightly. But these wool coats were prized by Italians like Puccini and Verdi long before this film made them internationally famous.

Once in Stia there are two left turns in quick succession that put you on the 8 mile climb to the mountain pass called Valico Croce a Mori. This is a very gentle climb of not even 1,800 feet with easy gradients and the first 4 miles seem almost flat.

Half way along you’ll see signposted on the right ‘Capo d’Arno’ where not far away at Monte Falterona the Arno river begins its long Tuscan journey that takes it through Florence and Pisa to the sea. Also on the right near here is a turning to Vallucciole, the site of a civilian massacre by German troops in April 1944 that was one of many such atrocities in the Apennines in the last year of the war.

I’ve always found it strange that after various trials many decades later Germany always refused to extradite the painstakingly identified culprits and nor would they charge them with any crime in Germany. The concept of a European Union never quite seems to survive tests that are asked of it from time to time that involve putting aside nationalities and there are other examples of this contradiction like, for example, several 1970s Italian Red Brigade terrorists still living openly in France without fear of extradition.

The small town of Londa, Tuscany
The small town of Londa, north of the Pratomagno and Casentino

But I digress; back to the ride. There are no facilities of any sort at the top of Croce a Mori but a short way after the summit there’s a large bar/restaurant on the left hand side. I always carry straight on and enjoy the descent before stopping in Londa thirty minutes later for a coffee and pastry and to refill the water bottles. There’s a significant temperature difference that is quite noticeable on this downhill section, with Londa normally being at least 8 degrees (celsius) warmer in these months than the top of the pass.

The countryside above Londa, Tuscany
Looking back at the descent into Londa

Leaving Londa and continuing west there’s a couple more miles of downhill and then it's flat with just one left turn to head south in the direction of Rufina. Before reaching Rufina, just after you exit the small village of Scopeti, there’s sign on the left hand side of the main road for Pomino. You turn here and immediately the last big climb begins.

The climb up to the village of Pomino through classic Tuscany countryside
The climb up to the village of Pomino through classic Tuscan countryside

11.5 miles and 3,400 feet of climbing awaits, most of it on an extremely quiet and beautiful road through the Pomino wine country before it joins the main Pontassieve to Consuma road at Borselli. There’s a little more climbing involved than the map would otherwise suggest only because of a short downhill section after the small village of Pomino.

At almost 2,000 feet of elevation Pomino lies at the half way point of the climb up to Consuma and as the sign above boasts, it's now into its fourth century producing fine red wines after first being recognized and given protection by Cosimo III de' Medici in 1796. It has its own DOC, separate and distinct from the nearby Chianti Rufina DOC, and the wine must include Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in the blend. Pomino is also one of the highest wine areas in Tuscany which should serve it well as summers get increasingly hotter. The middle sign 'Bardiccio' refers to a very local type of sausage which is very strongly flavored and meaty, more of a winter thing than a summer barbecue food.

At the small town of Borselli you turn left with about 3.5 miles remaining along the main road to Consuma, mostly uphill of course.

Passo della Consuma road sign

The full profile of the ride from Scopeti to Consuma is as follows:


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