Published on: 2 February 2014 | Last updated: 27 December 2019
The Sentiero della Bonifica is the 62-kilometre traffic-free cycleway that runs from near Arezzo to Chiusi. It’s also pretty much completely flat.
The cycleway is unsurfaced - or rather it’s surfaced with fine aggregate. I found it pretty easy rolling - I was able to maintain a reasonable cruising speed.
The route is pleasant, and the history of the land reclamation works is interesting, but beyond that this is primarily a route for people who value the quiet and tranquillity of the countryside and getting away from traffic.
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Here are a couple of videos. The first is the official promotional video, and the second is a slideshow from a school trip (but it’s worth watching - honest).
When to go
I think that May and June would be the best time of year to do this route. The major reason for this is that there is almost no shade on the route. For me this is a major weakness in the route and I would be particularly wary about riding this route with small children in the heat of the summer. The second reason is that sunflowers are the main crop planted in the fields along the cycleway, and these are at their best in early summer - in late summer the flowers start to die back.
Services along the route
There’s a bar-ristorante (and campsite) at the Lago di Chiusi and a bar at the Lago di Montepulciano. There are a few drinking water sources but other than that there are no other services on the route. The signposting is excellent and the signs show places where there’s a train station and/or a pharmacy - and it’s probably a good bet that this will also have somewhere to get something to drink or to eat.
The name of the route translates as something like the ‘path of the reclaimed land’. The Italian word bonificare - comes from the words for making and good - and it’s usually used in the context of draining marshland, although it can also be used for bringing irrigation to arid land and to clearing mines. For 500 years this area was either under water or swamp land. The sentiero tells the story of the massive project to drain the marshes.
More about the history of the bonificazione
Under the Etruscans and Romans the river the Clanis (as it was then known) had flowed south to the Tevere (Tiber) and the area had been an extremely prosperous one with the city of Chiusi as its capital. Things started to go wrong as movement of the tectonic plates increased the level of the ground around Chiusi, with the result that the river stopped flowing south and instead backed up and started to flood the area between what are now the Lago di Trasimeno and the laghi di Chiusi and Montepulciano.
Finding a solution to the problem was made more difficult by the fact that this was the border between two separate countries: the Grand Ducato di Toscana (Grand Duchy of Tuscany ) and the Papal States ruled by the Pope. In 1780 they agreed to a solution which was that from Chiusi the water would flow south to the Tevere, and to the north, it would flow into the Arno.
The reclamation of the valley was masterminded by the brilliant hydraulic engineer Vittorio Fossombroni who world on the project for 50 years until his death in 1844.
The reclamation had two main elements: the first was the construction of the Canale Maestro - the master channel - along which the water flows to the Arno, but also the ingenious work to raise the level of the land to fill in the basins that had held water and facilitate the flow south. The technique that the Fossombroni and the other engineers used was to construct dams and holding tanks which would fill with sediment. Once the tank was filled with sediment, a new one would be built gradually raising the ground levels. In total 80 square kilometres were reclaimed.
The effects of this can be seen most clearly near Chiusi where there are two towers Torri of Beccati Questo and Beccati Quello (or ‘Quest’altro’) (‘this one’ and ‘that one’ or that other one). The towers were built by the Sienese and the Umbrians to protect a border crossing. Today only the top of the Sienese tower is still viable the rest is now below ground level.
I did this route heading south from Arezzo, but the official guide heads north to south. You can do the route in either direction.
The route starts near the station at Chiusi. Note that the main city of Chiusi is at the top of a big hill, and the station is at the bottom. From Chiusi station it heads towards the Lago di Chiusi and the Lago di Montepulciano. The Lago di Chiusi (7 kms) is popular with local anglers and when I arrived at the campsite there, most of my fellow campers were busy cleaning fish they had caught that morning. The Lago di Montepulciano (15 kms) is a nature reserve and here you get much more of a sense of what the area must have been like before the bonificazione. There’s also a little museum. There’s a bar and restaurant at the Lago di Chiusi and a bar at the Lago di Montepulciano - these are the only services on the route apart from a couple of water taps.
The Sentiero della Bonifica starts/finishes outside Arezzo. The comune has now build a 5-kilometre cycleway to connect the town and its rail station with the route. The comune (local authority) have built a cycleway linking the sentiero with the station at Arezzo isn’t perfect (watch this video and this one - the videos are very funny, and even if you don’t speak Italian you should be able to get the drift) but definitely better than nothing.
Points of interest along the way
The Callone di Valliano
At about the 22-kilometre point there’s a sluice gate that was built in the 18th century to regulate the flow of water to the two lakes as well as make the route navigable for boats carrying goods to and from Arezzo - and on from there along the Arno.
The Botte allo Strozzo and Rii Castiglionesi
Perhaps the most impressive, or ingenious, of the works of hydraulic engineering along the route is at the 35 kilometre-point, where a bridge has been built to carry a waterway over the Canale Mestre (to prevent the canale silting up at the junction).
The Rii Castiglionesi is at the 45-kilometre point - where a 600 metre tunnel was built to channel water from the hills above Castiglion Fiorentino into the Canale Maestro.
Earth-wall houses at Alberoro
A little way off the route, near the 50 kilometre point there are the remains of agricultural cottages built using a wooden farm and clay pressed in a mould.
The reclaimed land was extremely fertile and the Grand Duke and estate farms were established to cultivate the land. The palazzi at the centre of these states can still be seen on the high ground on the eastern side of the valley. These are now private property and you can only visit with permission. If you’re curious check out the gorgeously-illustrated website of the Tenuta di Frassinetto.
The Chiusa dei Monaci
The last of the water works is the Chiusa dei Monaci which translates literally as the Monk’s sluice-gate. Originally built to direct water to power the water-mills at the nearby monastery.
The route finishes 6kms from Buriano but the Canale Canale della Chiana carries on to the the Arno and the Romanesque Ponte a Buriano. This is quite possibly the bridge is very likely to be the bridge which you can see behind the Mona Lisa (just over her right shoulder).
You could make a side trip to Cortona following the Sentiero dei Principei Etruschi (the path of the Etruscan princes), this takes you to the Parco Archaeologico del Sodo 12 kilometres from the route. there’s a map on the sentierodellabonifica.it website (for some reason it isn’t on the english-language section). You can also download a gps track.
The Sentiero della Bonifica forms part of the Ciclopista del Sole (eurovelo 7). Which links it to Firenze to the north and Orvieto and Rome to the south.
As well as using it as a link in a through route you could use it as part of a tour of the Toscana-Umbria borderlands. Arezzo, Chiusi, Cortona, Montepulciano, Orvieto are all interesting places to visit with some fascinating Etruscan remains as well as some of Italy’s greatest masterpieces (the Piero della Francesca’s Story of the True Cross (the link is to en.wikipedia.org however the Italian wikipedia page has a much better selection of photographs) and Luca Signorelli’s Capella della Madonna di San Brizio in the Duomo di Orvieto). You could also link to the cycle route around the Lago di Trasimeno and beyond the lake, the cities of Perugia and Assisi.
Maps to print out or view offline
About the maps
The maps are in two versions: A4 portrait format - for printing and maybe also for viewing on an iPad, and A5 for smaller tablets and smartphones. (A4 and A5 are international paper sizes).
Links open in new windows unless you ‘save as’ etc.
Sentiero della Bonifica gps files
(.zip file containing 3 gpx track files plus waypoints)
Italy Points of Interest
POIs are like waypoints, but while you can usually only store a limited number of waypoints on a device, you can store thousands of POIs. These files include information about campsites and hostels, bike shops, train stations, drinking water sources as well as warnings for tunnels and roads where bikes are banned. Please check the ReadMe file for instructions. Updated April 2018. The file format is only compatible with Garmin GPSes .
Places to stay
There are three campsites near the route:
- Le Ginestre a few kilometres from Arezzo. Decent restaurant and swimming pool;
- Ristorante Pesce d’Oro - right by the Lago di Chiusi. The ristorante is excellent.
A little further away there is an agricampeggio near Montepulciano (the Belmondo) and the Parco delle Piscine at Sarteano between Chiusi and Chianciano Terme. There are lots of campsites around the Lago di Trasimeno.
The nearest hostel to the route is the Ostello San Marco in Cortona.
Transport and services
There’s a train line between Chiusi and Arezzo - so you are never very far from a station.
sentierodellabonifica.it (it/en - with some information in )
The brochure for the route is widely available in the area and you can download it from the website (it/en/es/fr/nl/de). You can also download pdfs of the information panels along the route.