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Biking in Terre di Siena

Sentiero della bonifica


The Canale Maestro of the Chiana area

The bicycle ride along the Canale Maestro della Chiana is a journey through time and nature: you can pedal right through the heart of the Etruscan world, across a myriad of waterways, in a land that has been shaped by the strength of nature and by the hands of man.
The famous drainage works to reclaim the land, begun in the 16th century, completely turned the Val di Chiana into an important agricultural centre; and even today, its local economy is intimately tied to local produce, which you can observe by cycling through the roads of cheese and fruit, oil and wine. Between Arezzo and Chiusi, there are multiple ways of entering into the heart of an area that has to be thoroughly appreciated, to be lived in, recalling its history and its art, along the century-old waterways, letting yourself be tempted by the wonders of these lands which, apart from how they are usually considered, have a certain smell in the air, a perfume of their own true authenticity.
The Canale Maestro della Chiana’s cycle and pedestrian path which joins Arezzo to Chiusi is about 62 km long, and is equipped and protected for those who wish to travel slowly, either by bike or on foot. The ancient road used for both canal and lock maintenance is, in fact, a natural track without any height or level differences which makes it suitable for a family sporting tourism.

The Sentiero della Bonifica

To travel slowly along the Canale Maestro della Chiana [Master Canal of the Chiana area] between Siena and Arezzo signifies discovering the quality of a land which man’s genius has recuperated from out of the water. But not only. Etruscan civilization’s magical roots lie in the midst of this broad valley.
The Val di Chiana is an area in perpetual movement and the century-old land reclamation is a symbol of its continuous transformation.
Engineers, mathematicians, hydraulic experts, cartographers, agronomists and architects all collaborated in the land reclamation of this territory: from Leonardo da Vinci to the Arezzo born Vittorio Fossombroni, a brilliant technician who worked on the project for over 50 years, right up till his death in 1844. The Canale Maestro della Chiana is an historical hydraulic engineering achievement which even nowadays, plays an important role in this area. In ancient times, the “Clanis” river flowed, through the Paglia river, towards the Tevere, thus flowing southwards. Around the 11th century, the valley begun to turn into marshland due to the land around Chiusi slowly rising because of tectonic movements and erosive materials deposited there. Therefore, the “Clanis” river was unable to flow smoothly towards the Tevere River and instead, flooded the valley for the next five centuries. The first attempt to resolve this situation was carried out by the Medici, and was then continued by the Asburgo - Lorena family, the  Grand Dukes of Tuscany, so thus began the transformation of this valley. The land reclamation and the realization of the ‘Canale Maestro’, across reclaimed areas, canal bridges, tunnels, drains and locks, changed the direction of the water which now flows northwards to eventually flow into the Arno. The result of this, after this area being marshland for centuries, is nowadays one of the most fertile Italian valleys: it spreads over 185 sq. km, 80 of which have been reclaimed and drained out of the marshes, and are protected by embankments, extending for 630 km.
As a consequence, you can cycle along a truly ‘noble’ pathway, shaped by man and by mother nature, working together in total harmony. A different concept of time is this cycle path’s essential factor, in the sense that the joy of going slowly is rediscovered and in the sense of travelling back through time to the distant and enigmatic past of the Etruscan civilization. But the present is, too, to be discovered, on the footsteps of this fascinating past history, along a route which starts from Chiusi in the labyrinth of Porsenna, the Etruscan king who dared to challenge Rome and actually conquered it, right up to Arezzo’s Chimera, a famous bronze statue dating back to the 4th century B.C. (now in the Archeological Museum of Florence). This Etruscan journey takes you through legends and mysteries, thousand-year-old Walls and necropolises at Cortona and Castiglion Fiorentino: places where it is easy to lose oneself in intriguing questions which come to mind about a population which, many centuries before Christ, already knew how to express themselves as a modern people, going beyond the limits of time. “Live” traces of the ancient Etruscan Curtun [Cortona]  are visible in the 3rd-2nd century B.C.  ‘Tabula Cortonensis’ [the Cortona Tablet]; this Tablet is one of the most important documents of Etruscan civilization. It is, in fact, a contract that certifies the sale of lands between Cortona families, proving the intense agricultural and commercial activity of the times. Impressive sandstone blocks can still be seen in the Walls of Castiglion Fiorentino, another Etruscan capital and an important place on our journey.
Thus, history but also nature makes up this border area of Tuscany where the mirror-like waters of the lakes of Chiusi and Montepulciano, rich in flora and in fauna, registered in the C.N.R [National Research Council] as important biotopes, represent an extremely interesting natural oasis for touring cyclists who are also bird watching enthusiasts.

Services for the tourist cyclist

1) To reach the Val di Chiana (The Chiana Valley)
The Val di Chiana is easily reached by car or train as it is on one of Italy’s major roads connecting Rome to Milan. The Val di Chiana is, in fact, a sort of natural corridor for the motorway and the railway line. The motorway toll gates and the train stations of Chiusi and Arezzo, as well as ten in-between stations, are thus important reference points for anyone wishing to reach the Sentiero della Bonifica.

2) Is it better to bring your own bicycle or to rent one? What types of bicycles are suitable for this ‘journey’?
Both solutions are feasible. To use your own bicycle means having to bring it with you and then having, perhaps, to load it on to a train for the return journey. Instead, direct rental means that you can arrive “empty handed” and, even more important, you can leave it wherever you are when you have finished your journey.
Of course, if you decide to rent, you are advised to organize everything well beforehand and to book with specialized tour operators who are your point of reference also for the collecting of the bicycle at the end of the trip.
The cycle and pedestrian path mainly follows a white track road; therefore, it is advisable to use on this journey or trip a touring bike (city bike or a hybrid both are fine), with special tyres for mixed surfaces or a mountain bike. A road bike is not advisable because, even though the route is often quite smooth, its special tyres or narrow tubular ones, typical of this kind of bicycle, do not allow for the right fluidity of movement or for enough road holding grip.

3) Along the way, can you rely on finding tourist facilities or the supply of special services for those who travel by bike?
The Canale Maestro della Chiana flows through a countryside inhabited by few. It does not cross town centres; instead, it goes close to but barely touches, easily reached hamlets and villages. As for offers of hospitality, there are various tourist accommodation structures along the route who warmly welcome ‘slow’ travellers who ride along the Canale Maestro della Chiana: hotels, farm hotels, private holiday homes, B&B’s have all undersigned a commitment regarding the welcome and the services offered for those who travel by bike. There are 11 services for the tourist cyclist: bicycle storage, equipment and workshop supplies, bike wash, suitable refreshments, laundry service, bike rentals, tour leaders and guides, excursionist’s corner, internet point, information, emergency service. The accommodation structures that adhere to this circuit must be able to supply the first 4, while the other services can be used according to the availability of each structure.
As for the logistics of the route, there are two tour operators who guarantee services along the way, with special attention paid to families, from bike rentals, little trolleys and children’s seats to the transport of luggage between the various stages, to the picking up of the bike and of possible travellers along the path or at the end of the journey. Besides, a booking service at the various stages or stopovers is available. As for the area’s services such as mechanic assistance points or health structures (chemists and hospitals), a complete list of these can be found on the tourist cycling map of the Canale Maestro della Chiana.

Instructions for use

The cycle and pedestrian Path of the Reclaimed Land is only for those who wish to travel slowly. As no motorized traffic is permitted, it guarantees total peace even for the youngest travellers. However, it is important to follow some safety rules which must never be forgotten along the way.

  1. Always keep your helmet on as it is an essential protection all the time.
  2. Every now and then, the cycle and pedestrian path crosses over asphalted secondary roads. The road signs are adequate but it is advisable to be careful and, at or near crossings, it is a sensible idea for adults to go before children.
  1. The route does not go through town centers, and during the journey, it is advisable to pay attention to the map which marks out the possible detours from the main path which  play an important role as “escape routes” to more sheltered areas in case of bad weather.
  2. The cycle and pedestrian Path is mainly in the open with very few shady stretches. So it is important in summer to remember to take with you a protective sun cream, sunglasses, hats and caps to put under your helmet or to wear when you take a break.
  3. Never forget: two full water flasks with saline supplements, energy-giving snacks, fresh fruit. Drink and eat at regular intervals before you are actually hungry or thirsty . Dehydration and extreme hunger can cause energy ‘black outs’ that may signify that you will begin feel so bad that you will have to end your journey then and there.
  4. The path cannot be used in the case of flooding or at night.
  5. As the route is not asphalted, although it is stable, it does require careful cycling without making any sharp movements or turns. When meeting other cyclists or pedestrians who are going the other way, always stay on the right. Slow down and take care when you are approaching or overtaking other excursionists, making sure that they are aware of your presence beforehand.
  6. Travel along the mapped out route so as not to harm the vegetation and to limit soil erosion, avoiding to cross over soft ground.
  7. Do not leave litter. Take it with you and, if possible, pick up that of others.
  8. Take with you a small rucksack with a change of t-shirt, a padded jacket, a kit for mending flat tyres and a First Aid kit with a disinfectant, some gauze and plasters, and some useful emergency numbers.
  9. Before setting out, it is advisable to inform the owner or manager of where you are staying about your daily program.
  10. Respect the philosophy of the excursionist cyclist to do as little harm as possible to nature. Limit yourself just to taking photos and to leaving almost invisible footmarks and take away with you only wonderful memories.

The flavours of the Val di Chiana

The Val di Chiana land reclamation has totally transformed the marsh land into a fertile area, with enormous advantages for local produce that contribute to creating a strong feeling of identity in a land which, socially, economically and culturally, expresses itself by means of highly interesting specificities. Extra virgin olive oil and DOC (Registered Designation of Origin) wines are products of a daily life which has ancient and deep roots. The Roads of Wine “Terre di Arezzo” and “Vino Nobile di Montepulciano” offer a way to understand this area through its important wine productions, such as Valdichiana, Cortona, Vin Santo del Chianti Colli Aretini Occhio di Pernice, Vin Santo di Montefollonico but most of all, through its two D.O.C.G. (Registered and Certified Designation of Origin) wines, the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and the Chianti Colli Aretini.
Fruit growing - peaches, plums, pears and apples - is also important. And in particular, the mela rugginosa (rust-coloured apple) coming from the Val di Chiana and cultivated in the area around Arezzo (Civitella, Monte San Savino, Castiglion Fiorentino, Foiano), characterized by a special tastiness all of its own, by a particular firmness and by a long storability (more than two months outside the fridge). The Val di Chiana honey, instead, is characterized by the great variety of its different types, such as millefiori honey, acacia, chestnut, strawberry tree, medical herbs, sainfoin and sunflower. The chianina is extremely important in the field of meats, as it is undoubtedly one of the most valuable livestock  breeds, and which gives us the famous and legendary “fiorentine” (local T-bone steaks).The food of the “Quìnto Quarto” (the Fifth Fourth) makes extremely tasty dishes, like ‘Tripe with sauce’ or ‘Stewed grifi’ (hardened pieces of the animal’s muzzle); these dishes “speak the ancient language of the markets” still present in the Val di Chiana’s squares.
The “bove” (bue = ox) from the Chiana area was already known to the Etruscans and to the Romans who used it in triumphant parades or for sacrifices to the gods, thanks to its grandeur and elegance. It is, in fact, the largest bovine in the world, “the white chianina giant”, and its name gets its origins right from this ancient land. Constant genetic selection has in the long run produced the highest quality beef and nowadays the Chianina has the IGP stamp recognized by the European Union (Protected Geographical Indication of White Young Beef of the Central Apennines – Chianina). To obtain this certification, an essential condition is that the meat comes from bovines of the pure Chianina breed, of an age between 12 and 24 months and that have been fed with a natural and controlled fodder. At the butcher’s, the meat’s ‘identity card’ must be shown with details of where the breeding took place as well as its slaughter date. At a time when there are many indiscriminate meat products on the market to satisfy the global market, the quality and reliability of the ‘chianina’ meat of local breeding is an important point of reference. The ‘porchetta di Monte San Savino’ (roast sucking pig), is also specially delicious, and while staying in the field of meats, the cinta senese (particular breed of pig from near Siena) salamis are excellent, too. Oci and nane are the dialectic terms used for the male goose and for ducks. With their eggs (and also hens’ eggs), homemade pasta is produced, like ravioli, pappardelle, tagliatelle and “maccheroni” (slightly larger than tagliatelle). But the truly traditional pasta of the Val di Chiana (especially towards Siena) is made only out of flour and water: the pici, in fact, are handmade spaghetti usually  served with game sauces. The Val di Chiana has also vast plantations of cereals, such as spelt and barley, wheat and maize, mostly used for industrially made pasta. Amongst the cheeses, it is particularly worth mentioning the excellent abbucciato aretino, a sheep’s cheese (locally called ‘cacio’) made from raw milk (i.e. that has not been boiled), which has a balanced taste, suitable for maturing or to be eaten ‘fresh’. And finally, one of the most characteristic and typical foods of this area, ever since the Etruscans, is the traditional  “Brustico” from Chiusi: in other words, a sort of barbecue of fish caught in the lake. Generally, bass and rudd are used, roasted on the lake’s reeds, seasoned with aromatic herbs, oil, garlic and lemon.


For historical, technical and touristic infos, visit www.sentierodellabonifica.it


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