The “Alta Valle del torrente Carfalo” Nature Reserve

The “Alta Valle del torrente Carfalo” Nature Reserve is one of a kind. In an area of land with outstanding natural beauty between San Vivaldo, Sughera and Castelfalfi, in a predominantly woodland environment, the natural habitats and plant and animal species that are considered of priority interest by the European Union are protected, and the nature reserve contains a level of biological diversity that is rarely found elsewhere.

The valley descends from 300 to 160 metres above sea level, creating a deep and winding gorge along the riverbed. Thanks to the low temperatures due to the topographic exposure of the area, a high-mountain microclimate has been preserved since the last Ice Age (up to 20,000 years ago).

This relict ecosystem has therefore given rise to flora and fauna that is typical of high-altitude environments. Here, in the abyssal depths of the valley, a relict forest of beech and yew still exists, a witness of a prehistoric era when Tuscany, and all of Europe, was in the grips of glaciation. Here, giant yew trees, which are hundreds of years old, can be found alongside the biotope of the columbine. Here, between the clear waters of the mountain stream and the fresh leaf litter of the beech forest, the brown and red outline of the spectacled salamander, an amphibian endemic to the Italian peninsula, suddenly appears, while it takes care of its eggs or silently scurries away to take shelter in the mossy undergrowth.

Standing in the middle of the park, the light from the sky filters through the canopy of the vast oak forest, creating a world of austere quietness, in a landscape that doesn’t seem to belong to the present-day, but could be from any time. Here, as the seasons pass, nature reveals ever-changing vistas and colours to visitors, depending on where you look. Whatever the season, allowing yourself to be swallowed up by the depths of the valley and re-emerging after passed through its areas of light and shade, is like going on a journey into the depths of the human soul – a voyage filled with knowledge, nature and self-discovery.

The nature reserve is open to the public and can be visited independently all year round. There are 13 clearly-marked entrances with information panels, distributed along the road that leads from San Vivaldo to Castelfalfi and the one running from San Vivaldo to Sughera. You can enter the nature reserve from any of these points, and follow the well-signed network of paths that wind through the valley for about 18 km. Those who are adventurous enough to follow the path all the way to the bottom will have the sublime privilege of quenching their thirst at the spring, filled with naturally sparkling water. An other-worldly experience, and an idyllic place to refresh yourself before you continue your journey of discovery.

The regular network of paths have been integrated with four thematic trail routes, which feature notice boards and educational panels along the way, allowing visitors to discover the main points of botanical and geomorphological interest. The meanders and sparkling water trail : a scenic loop trail, which takes you deep into the heart of the park, where the Carfalo river has carved steep walls of yellow sand into the landscape, and its labyrinthine meandering waters will eventually lead you to the natural spring. The charming woodland trail : this trail follows gentle slopes and branches off onto secondary paths several times. It passes through a particularly high and shady part of the forest. The giant yew trail : a loop trail that goes all the way to the bottom of the valley, where a giant wild yew tree has been growing for over 500 years – the largest specimen of its kind in Tuscany. The educational beech forest trail: created with the help of the pupils of the Montaione secondary school, this loop trail cuts across one of the best preserved patches of beech forest, which is full of yew and holly trees, near an area where the mountain stream flows by placidly.

A guide to the Alta Valle del Torrente Carfalo Nature Reserve, with a detailed map of the trails and natural points of interest, is available at the Montaione Tourist Information Office, and can also be downloaded here.

Carfalo Nature Reserve
43.538263, 10.895702

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