Tonia Parronchi


Discover this beautiful Tuscan valley by visiting the places described in Tonia Parronchi’s novel The Song of the Cypress. The author, who has lived in the Valdarno for almost 20 years, says “From my first sight of the Valdarno valley I fell in love with the towering cypresses, ancient olive groves and family vineyards that dotted the hills, under the watchful gaze of the Apennine Mountains. It is a place that still moves to the ancient rhythms of nature, where magic stirs among the cypress fronds if you take the time to look. The hills near my home are so beautiful throughout every season of the year that I wrote The Song of the Cypress about them where the protagonist, Annie, discovers her true nature through a magical connection with the ancient cypress of the title.”

Mention Tuscany and most people think immediately of the Chianti region or the marvellous art cities such as Florence and Siena. The Valdarno is not the most popular tourist destination and at first impact the area seems quite built up and industrialised around the various towns that border the Arno River. However, as soon as you leave the main roads you find yourselves immersed in a countryside that is beautiful in a uniquely timeless way, still wild and relatively untamed by man. This is an itinerary for all those who want to discover the real and genuine character of this part of Italy. Fly into Pisa or Florence and maybe spend a day or two discovering these cities but then hire a car and begin your unique journey into the world of the cypress. There are many exquisite places to stay in this area, depending on your budget and personal taste but here are three different options to give you an idea of what is available.

Castello di Montozzi, a magnificent manor house on a hill that bridges two small valleys. There are incredible views from there and if you follow a tiny country lane that wends its way between olive groves and old stone walls, you can rent a house similar to the one Annie lived in.

If self-catering is not your thing and you prefer a hotel, the elegant but welcoming Villa Belpoggio is set back from one of the most beautifully scenic roads in the Valdarno and is an oasis of charm, where the warm welcome you are given by friendly and well-informed staff is constant. There is a small private chapel, lovely gardens, a swimming pool and amazing views across the valley. Breakfast is included and meals can also be provided on request.

Or, you could try the traditional type of farm holiday known as “agriturismo” in Italian. Podere San Lorenzo is very close to the town of Montevarchi yet hidden away in a beautiful setting. The agriturismo has 8 self-catering apartments, a wonderful restaurant, swimming pool and tennis courts. Plus, there are animals such as Napoleano the donkey and Freddy the dog to delight the children. The wine and olive oil produced at San Lorenzo are the perfect gifts to take home for your friends and your selves!

Using one of these as a base you are free to explore the area and retrace Annie’s journey of discovery.

Savour an ice-cream as you explore the stunning medieval hill town of Loro Ciuffenna. Wander along by the spectacular river as it plunges down the gorge and under the Roman Bridge. Then stop off at the nearby Pieve di Gropina, a church that dates back to Roman times and which often hosts wonderful concerts in the summer months.

Explore the spectacular Balze, characteristic outcrops of rock and sand that you can see in the background of the Mona Lisa. There are several scenic drives that take you through this unusual landscape that Leonardo da Vinci found so fascinating.

Or take a drive to the top of the Apennine Mountains, passing through cool forests of chestnut and beech trees. Stop in the tiny village of Chiassaia, where the stone houses that nestle in the hillside seem as if they grew naturally from the rock, and buy a picnic in the small bottega there. The schiacciata bread baked on the premises is made from an antique recipe and is delicious eaten with the local prosciuto and cheese. You can eat in the shady village piazza or drive further up to the plains of Monte di Loro or to Pratomagno at the very top of the mountains, whose cross is visible from afar.

Arezzo is a wonderful walled town, famous for its jousting tournament (every year in Piazza Grande on the last but one Saturday of June at night and on the first Sunday of September in the afternoon) as well as the stunning frescos by Piero della Francesco in the Basilica of San Francesco. It was also the setting for certain scenes from the film Life is Beautiful by Roberto Benigni. Annie went clothes shopping there at Christmas and you will not be disappointed by the range of boutiques you find. There are numerous good restaurants and more simple trattoria to chose from. Try the Lancia D’oro in the piazza where the Saracino is held for a elegant culinary experience. On the first Sunday of the month there is a fascinating antiques fair which extends through all the streets in the old centre.

In the summer months there are many village fairs to choose from and if it is shopping that interests you there is the Prada Outlet in Montevarchi and designer village at Incisa, as well as the lovely boutiques and delicatessen shops in Arezzo and in the smaller towns along the Arno River. The nearby thermal spas at Rapolano will make you feel wonderful and the Maremma coast is only a couple of hours away, with its elegant ports and sandy beaches.

The best way to find out exactly what is on at the time you want to visit is to look at the INDO’ Valdarno website.

By following in Annie’s footsteps, entering into her story of love and magic within the setting of this exquisite valley, you will have a unique holiday experience. Once you have visited the Valdarno and discovered its hidden gems, heritage and natural beauty you will go home feeling that you have discovered an extraordinary place and the magic of those cypress hills will stay with you, tempting you back again and again.

Castello di Montozzi –

Villa Belpoggio –

Podere San Lorenzo -

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