Toiano, an ancient castle in Valdera-damiano


Once again, I’d like to thank you for all the travel journals you have sent me over the past two months. From the many points you raised, there was one thing that particularly struck my attention: many of you expressed your wish to find out about the less touristy, undiscovered areas of Tuscany, places off the main tourism trails which are of another era and that remain true to their original character – just waiting to be explored.

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Considering that Tuscany is full of places like this, to find a really genuine spot of the beaten track you need to target the small medieval villages and towns instead of the museums and parks. I think I have found exactly what you are looking for – at least for the more demanding of you.

Tuscany is world famous for its landscape of gently rolling hills, on top of which there is usually perched, eagle eyrie-like, a borgo or small medieval settlement, castle, monastery and sometimes even a city, such as Siena. Mostly they are well looked after, elegantly preserved in their original state, and welcoming. One of these, a true Cinderella of urban modernisation that has no trattoria’s, hotels, shops, banks, offices, street lamps or running water – it does not have any residents – is Toiano delle Brote.

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Toiano is an ancient castle settlement in the centre of the Valdera region, reached from Palaia, in the province of Pisa, on a road that finishes with the village. Toiano has one street, aptly named Via del Castello- a mere 50 metres long and with just two rows of houses on each side, a deconsecrated church (though the acoustics are still top quality) and a tiny cemetery, which is looked after by the relatives of Toiano’s ex-residents, who don’t want to lose touch of their past.

Toiano is probably the only borgo in Tuscany to not have made any attempt to attract tourists. To tell the truth it has nothing to offer apart from its old city walls, its houses and the beautiful view from the south-facing terrace towards Volterra. Even if this is all it has, it is still worth a visit, and its best to come at sunset.

For five kilometres before the village the road to Toiano is not wider than 3 metres. Though it is rare that two cars meet, if they do, its not uncommon that one car reverses to where the road widens, to allow the to other car to pass. To the left and right of the road, spurs of sandstone, called Calanchi, rise like spires of a cathedral sometimes up to 50 metres high. The calanchi are grey-ochre earth, bare and dry, eroded by centuries of wind and rain, impossible to cultivate and so are left there, creating, especially during the winter, a landscape that looks like a corner of Dante’s Purgatory.

Once you have parked your car, you’ll find yourself in a small paradise – silent, serene, with flourishing vegetation and dotted with ancient fruit trees, planted by who knows who and when! But mostly it is the view that is enchanting – perched on top of a tall and narrow hill, overlooking a landscape of vineyards, farmhouses, and olive groves. Further south the ancient walls and towers of Volterra float on the sea of low rolling hills.

The high point of Toiano’s history was during the 1800s when there were more than 500 residents. After a slow decline, there was an economic boom in the 1960s and the few remaining farming families decided to leave in search of work in the thriving industries in the Valdera. Amongst the main industries was Piaggio – Vespa, the icon of the Dolce Vita – that continues producing millions of models that have been built for decades by the (ex) inhabitants of Toiano.

Our journey through Tuscany finishes here for now. If you decide to go to Toiano delle Brota, I’m sure that it will remain in your hearts as a place from another time, isolated from the rest of the world, with its houses in various states of repair, walls papered with calenders from the 1950s, that recall the strong, proud, countryside atmosphere.

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Everything I have said is true, apart from one thing. There is in fact one resident in Toiano, he is a forty-something Tuscan, Giovanni Cerasoli, a diver, who works in ports all over the world. He has chosen to live, however in this tiny village, like a modern Robinson Crusoe, betting all his future on this little jewel of Tuscany. Who knows, maybe someone else may decide to go and join him on his quest.

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