There have been human settlements in the Valdarno since the stone age, followed by populations like the Etruscans, Ligurians and the Romans. This, combined with the rich fertile lands of the valley, means there is a wide range of things to see do and taste.
Towards the Casentino area but still very much part of the Valdarno Aretino, Reggello is a small town with an extensive Masaccio Museum that showcases many of his works and relates his importance for the development of Renaissance art. This small town is also home to a charming parish church, the Pieve dei Santi Pietro e Paolo, which has been in existence since the 12th century. In a Romanesque style, it was home to some important works by Masaccio and the Ghirlandaio school that are now in the Museum Masaccio just next door.
While in the area you can try the Abbucciato Aretino, a pecorino cheese that gets its name from its characteristic rind that, with aging, leaves a dark tough undercrust.
San Giovanni Valdarno in the centre of the Valdarno Aretino is where you’ll find the Museum of the Basilica of S.Maria delle Grazie, an artistic treasure chest of the area that was founded in 1864 to showcase the priceless works from the churches of the city. Adjacent to the church S.Maria delle Grazie, the museum looks on to the central piazza Masaccio behind palazzo d’Arnolfo. Renovated in 2005, the museum’s first room houses works from the 14th century with a large amount coming from artists from the Florentine workshops of the era. The jewel in the crown of the collection is in the 4th room where you’ll find the Annunciation by Fra Angelico dating from 1430.
The Casa Masaccio is another must-see of the town. Although it has a rich past as the birthplace of Renaissance artist Masaccio, today it’s host to some of Tuscany’s most cutting edge contemporary art. It’s the longest public institution for contemporary art in the region and puts on many exhibitions throughout the year including sculpture and installations.
Once you’ve built up an appetite, try one of the typical dishes from the city, the San Giovannese stew. Created during the first world war when an Italian soldier made stews from his home region of Tuscany for his fellow troops while serving in Libya, it’s made with veal and chopped vegetables and its available all over the city especially in the colder winter months; there’s even a competition every year, Il palio dello stufato alla sangiovannese, where the different neighbourhoods of San Giovanni fight to make the best plate of stew.
Montevarchi, south of San Giovanni Valdarno, is home to The Ernesto Galeffi Museum of Modern Art. Opened in 1996 in the building next to Villa Galeffi, all the works of art on display are part of a private collection completely dedicated to the creativity of local artist, Ernesto Galeffi (1917-1986). The Museum of Sacred art is located in the historic centre of the town, adjacent to the Collegiate Church of San Lorenzo, it has a fine collection of sculptures, frescoes, fine jewellery, sacred furnishings, reliquaries and illuminated manuscripts. There is also an important collection of glazed earthenware by the Della Robbia family.
Montevarchi is on the Terre di Arezzo wine trail , a trail of over 200km crossing the Province of Arezzo where the Chianti Colli Aretini is produced and available to try. This wine can be tasted with the Tarese del Valdarno salami, a large flat pancetta made of the back, the belly and “arista” (chine) of the pig.
You can also find the famous Tarlati soup here, a chicken soup made with local Valdarno chicken that’s named after a bishop who in the 14th century who overthrew the rulers of the area taking the title for himself.