Tuscany is a maze of ancient roads which at one time led the way for pilgrims and travellers journeying on the Via Francigena and Via Romea. Cycling slightly off the beaten track, opting for alternative, less well-known routes, will allow you to discover some of the area’s untouched historic treasures and local traditions.
Via Salaiola was, and still is today, a shortcut: a parallel route which crosses Val d’Elsa, before leading to Francigena. This route will give you a taste of the area surrounding Monterappoli, a small village in Empoli.
Coming out of the centre of Monterappoli, at the Cavour-Fabiani junction (close to what was once Porta Giudea or Porta ‘dei Cappuccini’), follow the road with the same name. This road was formerly known as “Via Salaiola”, or the Salt Road, because it was the route used to transport salt arriving from Volterrano into the ancient river port at Empoli.
Coming to the traffic lights, after passing underneath the railway line, turn left onto Via di Ponsano. After 100m, you will see the Madonna del Rosario church on your left. Back on Via dei Cappuccini, after 500m, keeping the old Del Vivo tannery on your right, turn right onto Via Salaiola.
Continue on Via Salaiola, which brings you into the heart of Corniola, around 1.5km from the Cappuccini. Turn right at the first junction. You will come to the church of Saint Simone and Saint Giuda. Opposite the church, you will find Villa Salvagnoli-Marchetti villa, which dates back to 1742 and boasts a park of ancient trees. From the front of the church, take the Via di Corniola which heads west along a boulevard lined with residences dating back to various eras. Among these properties is the Villa Del Vivo.
Turn back to the fork in the road, following the Via Salaiola which heads towards Monterappoli. Just 100m after the bridge which crosses the Rio dei Cappuccini, you find the nineteenth century Villa Castellani and, a little further ahead, the church of Saint Giorgio in Petroio.
Following the Via Salaiola, you will catch sight of two of the oldest aristocratic villas in Empoli: on the right, Villa Ricci in Castagneto, defined by its late fifteenth century elegant architecture, and Villa del Terraio on the left. Opposite the Villa Ricci, you will find the small oratory of San Girolamo, with beautiful works of art dating back to 1600 and 1800.
Back on Via Salaiola, when you come to the turn off for the Via Maremmana which heads to Valdrome, you will see the old brick watchtower on the right: the ‘Torrino di Montepaldi’. The tower, which takes its name from the district of Montepaldi, was likely built under the orders of the Guidi counts, Tuscan aristocrats of the Middle Ages.
Continuing on Via Salaiola, you arrive at the ancient castle of Monterappoli, the name of which likely derives from the Lombardic Ratpaldus (from ‘Mons Ratpaldi’). The castle of Monterappoli, mentioned for the first time as a court-fiefdom in 1191, is nestled in the hills which separate Val d’Elsa from Valdorme.
Close to the castle of Monterappoli, you can find the church of San Lorenzo, the beautiful Palazzo Orlandini and the oratories of Sant’Antonio Abate and San Pietro in Castro. Leaving the village, continuing on Via Salaiola, you come to the parish church of San Giovanni Evangelista.
You will then continue along Via Salaiola until you reach Fontanella, a little village at the bottom of Val d’Elsa, which lies on the ancient route of the Via Francigena.