Tips for a great day out: a day of trekking in San Leo, described by Umberto Eco as “the most beautiful town in Italy”.
San Leo is a village where time has stopped and one with so many stories to tell, set in the Valmarecchia valley; an area with a wealth of nature, historical and archaeological landmarks and landscapes that have gone through the ages.
The best way to start exploring the village is with a walk (a little demanding, but absolutely worth it) to San Leo’s old town centre, via the one access road that is carved out of the rocky hillside.
With every step you take, as you pass by the town's Medieval quarters, the stately buildings, the magnificence of the fortress and the beauty of the town's churches, you will be on your way to discovering all the intricacies of the capital of the Montefeltro area, with its examples of Medieval art and architecture.
These include the must-see ninth-century Parish Church and the San Leo Cathedral, one of the most important monuments from Romagna’s Romanesque era.
The next step of your San Leo tour will see you leave the Medieval walls behind you as you head towards the Franciscan Monastery of Sant’Igne. This monastery is thought to have been founded by St Francis and dates back to the thirteenth century: legend has it that St Francis got lost in the woods and it was only thanks to a divine light, perhaps a flame (‘Igne’ was the old word for ‘fire’), that he found is way again.
You’ll find it won't take you long to fall desperately in love with the Valmarecchia valley: just allow your gaze to take in the landscape which, starting from the sea and moving up the line of the Marecchia river, is studded with enormous rocky cliffs, the very cliffs that once harboured marine life many millennia ago.
On the way back, the hiking route in this landscape of lush-green nature, vertical lines and chalky cliffs carries on to take the ridge which from Monte Gregorio leads to the small village of Tausano: the distinctive line of Tausano's jagged cliffs creates an unforgettable panorama. It is precisely here, between the peaks and chalky cliffs of the Valmarecchia valley, that the masterpieces of great Renaissance artists came into being: the Balconi di Piero panoramic vantage points are what inspired Renaissance painter Piero della Francesca for the backgrounds in his Portrait of Battista Sforza and St Jerome and a donor.
As you venture into the Valmerecchia hinterland for the last unmissable leg of your trek, you will embark on a journey to discover the traces left by humankind, long before Dante, Piero della Francesca, Cagliostro and other illustrious names appeared on the scene in this strategic corner of countryside, nestled between Romagna, the Marche and Tuscany.
Gaze upon traces of human life dating as far back as 900,000 years ago, as they emerge from out of the rocky outcrops and erratic boulders: the vasche rupestri in the Valmarecchia valley are basins carved out of rock that provide clear evidence of prehistoric rupestrian archaeology and of human life being present in the Valmarecchia valley thousands of years ago.
This itinerary promises so much more than your average day out!