It was 754AD and an important Longobard warrior, after one of the countless raids against the Byzantines, stopped in the vicinity of an ancient Roman villa, laid down his arms and founded a monastery with his children, devoting himself to prayer in the final years of his life. His name was Wilfrido – we know him as Saint Walfredo and as one of the survivors of the Della Gherardesca family. The monastery was named after San Pietro in Palazzolo and stands on the slopes of what would become the castle of Monteverdi Marittimo. The pilgrimage that in the centuries to come would pass through these parts, seeking shelter from the risks of the nearby – and at that time unwholesome – Maremma coast, before heading toward what was considered a “Devil’s land” due to the fumaroles that puffed large columns of steam out of the ground. (In the Middle Ages even the memory of Etruscan skills was forgotten: how they used the area’s minerals to make jewellery.)
Monteverdi Marittimo, midway between the Cornia and Cecina valleys, has been a fundamental place of passage down the centuries for transhumance, traders and pilgrims. Standing guard over these valleys was Canneto Castle, whose walls and defensive system over the Cecina Valley we can still see today, as well as the town centre with its fan-shaped layout around the Benedictine convent. From the residential area the “rughe” fan out, tiny streets like rays that begin at the church of S. Andrea, home to the relics of Saint Walfredo. We have always liked to think about two main towns in our municipality as two ancient guardians, defended a territory that extends from the sea to the hot hinterland of the Devil’s Valley.
The beauty of our territory can be found in the Caselli-Monterufoli forest, a vast protected area brimming with biodiversity. The wood is extraordinarily lovely, especially in Spring and Autumn, when you stumble across animals admiring the flowering wild orchids that dot the greenery of the broom. Don’t miss the waterfalls and the “Golazze Aperte” lake, where you can look out over most of the Tuscan archipelago, Castiglioncello di Bolgheri – the cradle of Sassicaia wine – and the town with its long, long avenue of cypress trees.
The area vaunts an array of routes and places to stop, and one of the best ways to visit it is by mountain bike. One of the “classic” trails, about 12 km long, goes from the centre of Monteverdi Marittimo to the Abbazia di San Pietro in Palazzolo, one of the loveliest monuments in the Cecina Valley. Don’t forget to ride through the town of Canneto, from gate to gate: it feels like you’ve travelled back in time.