When you think of Tuscany, you think of rolling green hills, cypress-lined dirt roads, art cities like Florence and Pisa, Chianti wine, and stunning coastlines, and you are absolutely correct. But did you know that Tuscany also boasts another type of natural beauty to be enjoyed in the summertime? Freshwater streams, rivers, and lakes make up yet another option for a unique, Tuscan experience. Today, we’ll introduce you to the Parco Fluviale Alta Val d’Elsa near Siena.
The Upper Val d’Elsa River Park
Located just 25 km north of Siena in Tuscany’s desirable Val d’Elsa (Elsa Valley), the Upper Val d’Elsa River Park has been a protected area since 1997. Numerous species of fish, amphibians, and birds thrive here just as they have since Etruscan times. The river Elsa is a major waterway that flows from Sovicille (Siena) until it eventually empties into the Arno some 60 km north.
Luckily for its visitors, a 4 km trail has been added and is well-maintained by volunteers and local park authorities. There is also lots of signage as well as picnic tables.
The Sentierelsa begins in Gracciano at the San Marziale Bridge and continues to the Spugna Bridge. Along the way, you will feel as if you’re in an enchanted fairy tale land with tall trees and turquoise water. Waterfalls have been created thanks to the complex system of bridges and dams that were created for irrigation and for water mills for local industries such as paper making. Some date to the 10th century!
The Callone pools are the first stop along the trail from the San Marziano entrance and are also the place where you may find the most people. A favorite among the locals, these natural thermal pools are high in sulfur and are known for their healing properties.
Just ahead, you’ll see a retaining wall with a Medici plaque dating to 1606. The Diborrato Falls and pool and the Grotta dell’Orso are next along the trail and even if you’re not planning to walk the entire 4 km trail, you should at least get to this point. The Diborrato pool is 10 meters deep and the falls are 15 meters high. Swimming is not recommended here, but you can enjoy the intense sound of the cascading water and the deep turquoise tones of the pool itself.
Other points of interest further along the trail include the Terrazza di Poppea (also popular with the locals), the Tonfo dei Preti (where the priests used to swim), and the Masso Bianco rock (a favorite diving spot).
LigaDue, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Tips before you go: For convenient parking, start at the Gracciano end and leave your car in the campo sportivo parking lot. The 4 km trail will take you approximately 3 hours to walk. Although it may seem quite remote, weekends (especially in August) can be very crowded.
Wear tennis shoes or hiking shoes, and bring water shoes, a change of clothes, towels, sunscreen, and of course food and drink. To keep the river beautiful, make sure to pick up all your trash and take it with you until you come across a bin.
The trail is not recommended for small dogs (unless you plan to carry them), young children in strollers, or persons with limited mobility.
Download this detailed map of the trail in English!
For your overnight stay, we recommend…