With the sunny season come more reasons than ever to enjoy life all’aperto (outdoors). But when the crowds and heat start to feel stifling, consider it your cue to take a break from dancing the urban shuffle and instead go for a hike. You’d be surprised by all of the parks and nature paths in the vicinity of Florence – but there’s plenty of outdoor wonders worth exploring if you know where to look.
A good place to start, for both beginning and experienced hikers or mountain bikers, is the Via degli Dei, or the “Way of the Gods,” the 130-km route which famously connects the historic center of Florence to Bologna, passing through the Tuscan-Emilian Apennine.
Filled with biodiversity and echoes of its Etruscan and Roman past, the route isn’t just for fitness fiends or outdoor adventurers – history buffs and landscape lovers will feel at home here, too. Legs of the historic road – a manageable mix of trails, asphalt stretches and dirt roads – can be conquered individually, or if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can traverse the whole thing. Typically full-route hikers take about five to six days to finish, depending on experience and fitness level.
But don’t worry: you need not be superhuman to reach the end of the road, which is helpfully lined with CAI (Club Alpino Italiano) signs and maps so you don’t lose your way. Hospitality centers, restaurants and tourist attractions also abound for those moments when you need a breather or just a hint of something beyond the hike.
The “Way of the Gods” name does not stem from requiring divine strength or knowledge to finish, but likely from the deity-inspired names of the mountains the route crosses: Monte Venere (Mount Venus), Monte Adone (Mount Adonis), and Monzuno (Mount Juno), to name a few.
Traditionally the route is divided into five stretches which vary in length but average about 23.4km. If you want to stay in close proximity to the Tuscan capital, you can stick to just the fifth and longest leg from the Mugello town of San Piero a Sieve, reaching Florence via Bivigliano and Fiesole (about 33km).
If you have some time to dedicate to the trek, however, checking the full route off your list is something to be proud of. The official starting point (or finish line, if you begin in Florence) is piazza Maggiore in Bologna; crossing under a Baroque arcade and through the Parco Talon in Casalecchio di Reno, the Reno river and a host of other sights and stimulants, you’ll end up in Badolo. The second leg (about 28km) moves from Badolo to Madonna dei Fornelli; a highlight is the top of the aforementioned Monte Adone (“Mount Adonis”). The third stretch, from Madonna dei Fornelli to Monte di Fo’, is where the Tuscan portion of the walk technically begins, halfway between Madonna dei Fornelli and the Passo della Futa. A memorable part of this portion is undoubtedly the German war memorial cemetery in Firenzuola, which stretches out over 12 hectares and is home to 30,683 German soldiers lost during World War II. On the midpoint of the Gothic Line, the cemetery offers a solemn experience aimed at highlighting the horrors of war.
Shortly after this you will reach Monte di Fo’ and enter the fourth stretch of the Via degli Dei, which takes you to San Piero a Sieve over the span of about 21km. On this portion of the route, you can leave a token of your journey behind: at the 1125m peak of Monte Gazzaro, home to a cross, you’ll find a steel box with a notebook inside where travelers have long documented their paths for posterity.
The final stretch from San Piero a Sieve to Florence takes you through the green olive groves of the Tuscan countryside and ultimately rewards you with a jaw-droppingly beautiful view of Florence and Brunelleschi’s dome: who needs a trophy or certificate when you have panoramas like this one?