Who would expect to find Jerusalem in the heart of Tuscany? And yet, sheltered in the woods of Camporena, you really can find a little Jerusalem. There was a time when pilgrimages to Palestine were prevented by Ottoman occupation. That’s why, 500 years ago, the Francescan brotherhood built a citadel of chapels and temples, so that people from near and far could visit the Holy Land, albeit symbolically, in this beguiling place called San Vivaldo. It is said that this place is unique since it recreates the city plan of Jerusalem at that time. It’s also unique because of the figures found in the scenes of Christ’s life told in every chapel. Modelled in terracotta by master Florentine artists, with their carved faces and emphatic movements, these figures look at us questioningly; they ask us who we are and where we come from.
What extraordinary mysteries nature gives us! In the vicinity of the woods of Camporena there’s a remote valley, less than 200 metres above sea level, that has kept the same high-mountain microclimate as in the Ice Age, which explains why it teems with fabulous creatures. This is Valle del torrente Carfalo, which flows in winding meanders and carving out walls of yellow sand. As you follow the course of the river and tread maze-like trails, you encounter awe-inspiring oak and gigantic yew trees. And above all, the spectacled salamander, a little amphibian with a brown back and a bright vermilion red belly, the same red that rings the creature’s alert eyes. He who dares head deeper into the valley will have the sublime pleasure of drinking at the sparkling water spring, quenching his thirst for the next leg of the adventurous walk.
The woodland is generous with those who feel the call of mystery and the unknown. There’s a place as high up as it is invisible until you get there called La Pietrina. Alongside ruined towers of a centuries-old castle, here stands a chapel that has long since been home to a painting, a Virgin Mary with Child dating to the Middle Ages. The story is that, one day, the painting was stolen and then suddenly it reappeared again. Since then locals have renewed their devotion to the Madonna della Pietrina every year. A legend? No, it’s a true story. It’s not the easiest of places to get to, but – if you make it – you’ll have reached a whole new world, motionless and timeless, on the edge of infinity: breathe in the boundless views over the Valdera, with Volterra standing majestic, hills and towers in the distance and, perhaps, on a clear day and through sheer willpower, even the sea in the blue beyond.
There’s another star that lives hidden in these woods. It’s so tucked away that an uncommon sense of smell is needed to unveil it. But find it we will, especially in the autumn when the humid smell of the ground impegnated with leaves permeates the forest habitat. We’re talking about white truffle, the rarest and most precious of its kind. It’s pointless trying to resist its aroma – let the scent take over your senses and you’ll understand what real seduction is. Very few places boast this number of truffles and, fortunately, here the locals know how to make the most of its unique qualities. Especially in late October when Montaione throws a truffle party with Tartufesta.