Chapter #1

A crucial intersection along the Via Francigena

As soon as you leave Gambassi behind, the road peters out into poppy-dotted fields. The pathway contains centuries’ worth of footprints: it’s a route that’s been beaten for millennia in what was once a “passageway land” for Etruscans (moving toward Volterra), Romans (the junction between Siena and Lucca), and even for Sigeric the Serious, the archbishop of Canterbury who rested here while on his w ay home from Rome (not everyone knows that the pit stops along the via Romea, as it was called then, were taken down in his notes on the return journey). Even today, the network of hidden roads amid the hills of Gambassi daily renews the area’s vocation as a stop along a journey. Directing your gaze up you’ll see pilgrims on horseback, others who rent bicycles from the tourist center and get lost in the vines and olive groves, only to find themselves again, discovering, among the many secrets of the high Valdera, the wonder of a Romanesque parish church.

Chapter #2

Of parish churches and castles

The ochre of sandstone lights up the scene-setting pines stretched along the roadside. The façade’s elegance is enhanced by the embellishment of the double order of arcades. The first recorded mention of this parish church’s existence is dated 988, just a few years after Sigeric the Serious registered Sancte Maria Glan as the XX submansio, the twentieth stop where he stayed as a guest in a different church: the one we see today dates from the 12th century and rises up from the ruins of an even older basilica. Two quick turns up toward the town, the huge entrance to the Chiesa di Cristo Re welcomes new arrivals to Gambassi. It is rooted (and has been renovated many a time) next to one of the many castles in this age-old feudal countryside. The countryside shops still make use of it, although not in an explicit way: every shop has a window next to its entrance and this opening has helped, since 1400, to illuminate the interiors, better displaying the merchandise.  Once you get down here, it’s time to refresh yourself and take a break: your legs, worn out from wandering, will finally get a time-out.

Chapter #3

Finishing up amid spas and gardens

Of all the stops, Gambassi is among the few blessed to hold restorative thermal baths. Discovered in 1745, the source of the Pillo waters is situated at the center of the public gardens, and for centuries has offered travelers a healthy way to rest. Particularly beneficial for the high mineral quality of the waters and the abundance of sodium ions, it’s ideal to treat respiratory and gastrointestinal issues, but the finish to an infinite walk is even more priceless. What better place than here against the backdrop of dark pines, chestnuts, holm oaks, cypresses and the majestic red of the Gambassi gardens, can you better conclude a spiritual journey through the Tuscan hills?

Photo by: Martin Holland