Go off the beaten track and explore Dante Country

Angela Youngman


Think of Dante – Italy’s greatest poet and author of the Divine Comedy - and the city of Florence instantly comes to mind. But think again – exploring Dante Country takes you around Tuscany and beyond, providing opportunities to go off the beaten track, away from the usual tourist destinations to discover unexpected insights into local culture as well as Dante himself. Wherever you go within Dante country it is possible to find locations relating to both the poet and his masterpiece. One of the greatest works of world literature,the Divine Comedy takes Dante through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise.

A Look at Dante Country

Dante described himself as ‘Florentine by birth, but not by conduct.’ The Dante House museum, Florence marks the poet’s birthplace, and not far away is the San Giovanni Baptistry where he was christened. Yet his life in Florence did not last beyond childhood. Involvement in politics resulted in his banishment, facing the threat of death if he returned. Dante fled. He spent the rest of his life in a variety of cities – Venice, Verona, Bologna, Rome, Ravenna, as well as smaller places like Cassentino, Romena, Lunigiana and the Mugello region.

One of his favourite places was the town of Lunigiana in Northern Tuscany. Just like Dante, modern visitors can stay in the monastery of Santa Croce del Corvo. Apparently he told the monks on arrival all that he wanted was peace – and today that is still on offer. From the monastery’s tranquil perch high above the calm waters of the lake, guests can explore the mountains or take boats to quiet beaches and inlets. The near by town of Mulazzo celebrates Dante’s arrival in the area with a historical re-enactment each April.

Ravenna is where he died and was buried. Interestingly, after his death the Florentines wanted him back due to his importance. Although the monks in Ravenna sent a coffin to be placed in the big tomb created by the Florentines, it was actually empty as they had hidden his bones elsewhere. It was not until 1865 that his bones were rediscovered. Nowadays, the Dante Museum houses fascinating exhibitions about the poet and his life. 

Vineyards and Foodie Treats

Dante country is rich in food and wine. There are local specialities such as the unique potatoes tortelli of Mugello. Not to be missed in the fall is the chestnut harvest when there are many local sagras (food festivals focusing on chestnuts) offering the opportunity to taste and try them in many different ways. Pureed, roasted, boiled, turned into sauces, eaten raw – the options are too many to list. Particularly popular all year round are the chestnut sweets such as torta di marroni and castagnaccio. This is truly a world of chestnuts.

It is also the home of Chianti where almost every town and village has its own versions to try. One of the smallest of the Chianti regions is Rufina in the Sieve valley. Although it produces far less than any other region, it has been described as the jewel of Chianti wine, offering intense flavours different to any other area. Vines have been growing here since the time of Dante and Rufina is the home to museum devoted to all aspects of viticulture.

Unexpected heritage activities

Much of Dante Country is little visited by tourists which means you can really connect with local people and local culture, discovering the real Tuscany. One of the best ways to do this is to take the Faentina train – often known as the Dante train – passing through the Appenine countryside Dante knew so well and provided him with so much inspiration. It is a relaxing experience, as the train gently cruises at a low speed through the Mugello, Sieve and Lamone valleys connecting Florence with Ravenna. It is a landscape of old vineyards, of ancient farmhouses, hills covered in orchards and wild woods full of chestnut trees. Stop off en route at little towns like Borgo San Lorenzo, home of the Chini family producers of Art Nouveau style ceramics or the town of Scarperia, known for its centuries old knife production covering everything from hunting knives to butchers knives. Brisighella has been described as one of the most beautiful villages in Italy, renowned for its thermal properties. Dante actually quotes from the village’s founder, Maghinardo Pagani in the Divine Comedy. Over at Faenza, you can expect to find magnificent ceramics still being produced, just as they have for many centuries. It now houses a stunning International Museum of Ceramics including artefacts from the Far East and the pre-columbian era.

Experience a very different form of transport at the San Piero a Sieve for this is the location of the Mugello Circuit, home of the MotoGP races. Depending on the day, it may even be possible to try out your own skills on the circuit. Alternatively, you can hire a vintage car and go for a drive around the countryside following routes such as Mille Miglia where historic races took place. Stop off at one or more of the many wineries and enjoy some local produce.

Prefer travelling by horseback? No problem. This is a popular method of transport in the area, and you can hire a horse or even bring your own and trek from place to place.

Getting there and what else to do

The international airport at Florence is the main entrance point for most visitors to the area. The Dante Train offers transport up to Ravenna from where there are direct connections to cities like Venice. Culturally, this is one of the most important areas of Italy for is also the birthplace of Giotto, an art genius who helped transform the world of art in medieval times.

Visiting Dante Country can easily be linked with visits to cities like Rome and Venice. There are frequent short haul flights across Italy from Florence, likewise a good network of high speed trains offering connections to all major cities. 

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