Quaint, ancient, intricately constructed towns are situated fairly close to one another along the flow of the Sieve River. What was once an area dominated by important Etruscan developments later becomes, in Roman times, the site of numerous colonies and hamlets. Later the Guidi and Ubaldini families, the medieval lords of the territory, come into conflict with the city of Florence, which was expanding and searching for “new lands”.
The territory witnesses a remarkable period of growth in the 14th century because the Mugello basin represents an extremely important strategic and economic asset for Florence. Mugello was a source of pride for the Medici, whose origins lay here, and the Lorenesi families, which invested strongly in the territory to consolidate their power in the area surrounding Florence. Numerous important structures and fortresses, castles, villas, and palaces still bear witness to this important period of growth in Mugello. In fact, even the artistic and cultural history of Florence owes much of its development to key individuals from the area. Artists such as Giotto and Beato Angelico were born here; important architects worked on the construction of the hamlets in the “walled lands”; and moreover, the Mugello landscape has provided inspiration for numerous Florentine paintings.
The territory of the Unione Montana unites two geographic areas: Mugello, and what is known as Upper Mugello or Tuscan Romagna. The Mugello valley is situated in the upper middle part of the hydrographical basin of the Sieve River: it is an enormous valley closed in on the north by the main watershed of the Apennines (from Mount Citerna to Giogo di Villore), on the south by the spurs of Mount Giovi and Mount Senario, and closed in on the west by Mount Calvana beyond which the city and province of Prato extends. Here we find the towns of San Piero a Sieve, Barberino di Mugello, Scarperia, Borgo San Lorenzo, Vicchio and Dicomano. The Mugello countryside is varied: from the lofty crests of thick woodland where the wild boar, the roe deer and the fox reign, to the chestnut and olive groves; from the fields of wheat and sunflowers on the vast flat terraced lands bordered by cliffs, to the fertile lower valley where the main towns and roads lie. On the north side, among the towering peaks of Mugello, and the mountain passes that make their way down to Bologna and Romagna, in the upper part of the Santerno, Senio and Lamone basins, you find Upper Mugello with such centres as Firenzuola, Palazzuolo sul Senio and Marradi. The huge boulders and peaks, although reaching only 1000 metres above sea level, present an exceptionally breathtaking and imposing profile.
The view is dominated by uncontaminated beech, chestnut and oak woods, by vast meadows dotted every now and again with juniper bushes, and by the occasional outcrop of rock. The limpid waters and luxuriant riparian vegetation make this valley the perfect habitat for numerous species of fishes and birds. The weather shifts from the harsh Padana Planes climate, where the cold winds gust down unrestrained from the lofty Alps, to the milder Mediterranean one that is typical of central Italy. The Mugello basin, which lies just below the higher passes of the mountain chain, is often where the cold north wind meets the hot and humid libeccio, sirocco and westerly winds: the result is that the cold winds sweep away the fog produced by the warm winds in winter, and bring in some cool relief to mitigate the hot damp spells those same winds produce in summer.
In this Tuscan territory between Florence and Bologna, the traveller can discover traditional dishes and a variety of local produce that have maintained their authenticity to this day. The few dishes that have been passed down in Mugello from the gastronomic tradition of the past are all important, typical recipes with “natural” flavours, made with traditional wholesome ingredients and never with the strong spices that are often overused in modern day food. First servings often include “tortelli di patate” (small pockets of pasta stuffed with potatoes), the “tagliatelle sui funghi, sul cinghiale, sulla lepre” (thick string pasta with mushroom, wild boar or hare meat sauce), “farinata” (polenta with kale and beans), soup, and minestrone.
Meat is a very important part of the Mugello cuisine: we find steaks two inches thick, but also “rosticciana” pork ribs, and sausages or “coniglio ripieno” (stuffed rabbit), and the very particular boiled duck. The main cheese is “pecorino”, made with pure sheep’s milk, or “misto” mixed with cow’s milk; the side dishes include “fagioli all’olio” (beans with extra virgin olive oil dressing), and a tasty variety of garden vegetables dipped in batter and fried (artichokes, aubergines, pumpkin flowers). Desserts can be quite simple like the “pan di ramerino” (sweet buns with rosemary and raisins) and the “schiacciata con l’uva” (sweet flat bread with grapes), classical like the tarts made with delicious jams, or more elaborate like the cake or the “budino” (pudding), from Marradi, made with the delicious “Marrone del Mugello”, the I.G.P. denominated Mugello chestnut.