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Cycling the Pratomagno, Part 4

Circumnavigating the massif 72 miles / 6,400 feet / 5.5 hours

The Casentino valley early morning in summer
Shortly after dawn on the descent from Consuma to Poppi

Cycling the Pratomagno Part 4 is an entire circumnavigation of the Pratomagno massif, designed by me to avoid heavy traffic and keep the amount of climbing reasonable while enjoying a very scenic route.

Consuma - Poppi - Rassina - Talla - San Giustino Valdarno - Loro Ciuffenna - Castelfranca di Sopra - Pian di Scò - Reggello - Pietrapiana - San Donato in Fronzano - Donnini - Tosi - Vallombrosa - Consuma

relief map of the Pratomagno in Tuscany
The route follows a tight clockwise circle around the Pratomagno massif in the center of the map

The highest point of this loop, or anello as the Italians call it, is the small town of Consuma (top center on map above) on the main road from Florence to the Casentino valley. The Passo della Consuma sits at 3,480 feet and this is the start of the ride for me because this is where we stay for six or seven weekends every summer to escape the stifling Tuscan heat which can wear you down in the absence of air conditioning.

Consuma, Tuscany
Consuma, the proverbial one horse town with 1 main street and 1 coffee shop that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner

This loop is best done clockwise to avoid ending with a long slow climb up the main valley road (SR 70) coming from Arezzo, which the anti-clockwise direction would entail. If you're here in the middle of summer it’s advisable to get an early start to avoid the heat in the lower elevations.

Leaving Consuma there are a few short uphill sections totaling no more than 500 feet before the serious descent starts near Omomorto. From there to Poppi it’s very fast and completely traffic free even on weekdays, assuming a start time of 7.00 a.m, because anyone out and about that early is generally headed towards Florence in the opposite direction.

The early morning view of Poppi and its castle
The early morning view of Poppi

The steeper part of the descent is over by the time you pass through Poppi but you’re now following the river Arno downstream so the general disposition of the road is either flat or gently downhill.

After no more than one hour with about 20 miles on the clock since leaving Consuma you reach Rassina (center right on map above) and turn right following signs for Salutio and Talla. After crossing over the river Arno you'll enjoy quiet roads and beautiful Tuscan countryside for the rest of the entire circumnavigation. And if you do this ride on a Sunday morning you’ll see plenty of other cyclists - Sunday is the one day of the week when cyclists often dominate secondary roads in Italy and when cars seem to have more patience and respect for those of us on two wheels.

Talla is a good place for a coffee and refueling stop and there’s a nice coffee shop just off to the right hand side as you go through the village.

There are only two real climbs on this entire loop and the first starts at Talla with a left turn out of town following signs to San Giustino Valdarno. It’s a gentle ascent of 1,100 feet on a completely deserted road finishing at the pizza restaurant at La Crocina (photo above left). Turning left on the SP 59 the next two destinations are signposted here: a fast 4 mile downhill to San Giustino Valdarno followed by a mostly flat section of 5 miles to Loro Ciuffenna.

Tuscan landscape near Loro Ciuffenna
Classic Tuscan views on the south side of the Pratomagno looking towards the Chianti hills

You’re now firmly on the southern flank of the Pratomagno following the Arno towards Florence. This is a beautiful road with classic Tuscan landscapes and is one of the highest quality olive oil regions in Italy thanks to its south facing orientation and the steep Pratomagno massif behind it offering protection from the cold northerly winds.

Along the 12 miles from San Giustino through Loro Ciuffenna to Castelfranco di Sopra the road is mainly flat, or at least as flat as any road can be that skirts along the side of a mountain.

Tuscan landscape near Pian di Scò
Olive trees and vines dominate the landscape here

There are enough short uphill and downhill sections to keep it interesting as the route takes you through Pian di Scò, Reggello, Pietrapiana, San Donato in Fronzano to Donnini. There is a general upward bias however as you approach Donnini which is the start of the second climb on this route and a much different proposition to the gentle first climb out of Talla.

the panorama view point at the entrance to Saltino
A place to relax and enjoy the views at the entrance to Saltino

For anyone interested in chopping off some of the distance it’s worth knowing that there are two routes up to Vallombrosa which is the penultimate destination before returning to Consuma to complete the loop. The shorter alternative is to take the road up from Pietrapiana but I prefer to continue on to Donnini and ascend to Vallombrosa from there, mainly because the climb itself is shorter and has more shade but either way there is still a full 2,200 feet of elevation change.

Saltino, Tuscany
The charming old resort town of Saltino at 3,200 feet

The profile of the Donnini to Vallombrosa climb is shown below. It’s very gentle until Tosi and then there is a tough stretch of no more than 1.5 miles where the gradient is around 8-12%. (This is the same climb I described in Cycling the Pratomagno Part 2).

Vallombrosa, Tuscany
As the name suggests, there's plenty of shade in Vallombrosa

However, after more than 4 hours of cycling to this point there is, at least for me, a general fatigue that has set in that always makes this climb harder than it looks on paper. I always make a final stop at the coffee shop right on the main road in Pietrapiana to refuel for this climb. The 6% gradients at the end certainly feel more like 8% right up until you emerge on the Saltino / Vallombrosa road, at which point you turn left and once past the Abbey it’s an easy 5 miles back to Consuma.

Vallombrosa forest
Vallombrosa forest

One could make the case that a more complete and more elegant circumnavigation of the Pratomagno would entail going all the way to Pelago and then joining the SR 70 at Diacceto but that would involve spending an hour in heavy traffic with either big trucks squeezing past you on weekdays or suffering the constant roar of groups of motorbikes at weekends. I have experienced both so now I never take the SR 70 from Pontassieve to Consuma preferring instead the climbs from Donnini through Tosi or from Pietrapiana.

Profile of the Donnini to Vallombrosa climb

And when I'm on the eastern flank of the Pratomagno returning to Consuma from Passo dei Mandrioli or Passo della Calla I use the Strada in Casentino / Caiano route back instead of the SR 70. Likewise on the northern side when completing the loop from Londa it's better to climb through Pomino to Borselli to minimize the amount of time on the SR 70.


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