It is undeniable that Italy is rich in culture and history and for many, at the top of their bucket list. Many of its cities are quite well known—Rome, Milan and Florence for example. All are recognizable by name or landmark. At the same time, Italy is also blessed with many lesser known cities and towns with their own charm and that also served considerable strategic and historic importance.
San Giovanni Valdarno is one of those towns. It may be lesser known but its strategic and historic importance cannot be underestimated. Founded in the XIII century by Florence as a way to consolidate its presence in the Higher Valdarno, that higher ground served as a lookout for and from any impending danger across Arezzo, Florence and Siena, Tuscany. Located in the valley of the Arno River (“Val d’ Arno” or valley of the Arno = “Valdarno”), the area is divided into the Upper Valdarno (between Arezzo and Siena) and Lower Valdarno (between Florence and Pisa).
Towards the end of the XIV century, San Giovanni Valdarno’s strategic position and in Upper Valdarno enabled a military victory during an invasion by an army led by Gian Galeazzo Visconti, the first duke of Milan. Despite this victory, the town continued to be in the middle of many battles, including the battle between Florence and Naples. Unfortunately, that battle ravaged the territory. When Florence finally emerged victorious over Naples, a short period of peace began and restoration projects and architectural progress were made. Despite this progress, a spreading plague epidemic greatly reduced the population and devastated the inhabitants.
When Lorraine’s Dukes “Lorena family” came to power, the fate of San Giovanni Valdarno changed for the better. The Lorena family was one of the most notable and famous of rulers who cared for the people and the region. They were great patrons and brilliant politicians who greatly enhanced the people’s quality of life. They started significant territorial projects and infrastructure improvements which resulted in economic prosperity and the cultivation of wheat and vegetables. The resilience of the people of the land helped to shape their future.
Today, San Giovanni Valdarno is home to Villa Barberino (Greek for “broken ground”) where we host our Cooking Under the Tuscan Sun Experience. With its strategic position and the role it played in the feuds between Florence and Arezzo, it’s a medieval castle not to be missed!
Boasting of several private rooms (and apartments) located in various historic buildings inside the walls of the hamlet, you can also visit the villa’s museum to learn about all the tools the farmers of yesteryear relied upon to live and make a living. During our wine tasting experience, we challenge you to find the escape hatch thousands of years old used by the residents of the villa to escape danger in the event of an invasion. Maybe with enough wine—it will be easier to find! Running through the hatch, you find yourself in the woods free to run as far (and as fast) as you can. You might also walk the lush green Italian gardens, visit the vineyards, take in the scent of the surrounding cypress trees or just lie by the pool and sip your Tuscan wine.
San Giovanni Valdarno is a hidden gem and a beautiful canvas for any Tuscan countryside experience. We welcome you to join us at Villa Barberino to learn how to live, cook, lounge and explore like a local