The Parco Benestare is the open park in the areas around the districts of Gambassi Terme and Montaione, Tuscany.
This is a new notion of a park, without strict territorial boundaries, making it an essential part of the two districts' culture and history.
The park features interesting routes that give visitors the opportunity to experience landscape attractions of uncommon beauty.
Layers of minerals, former mines, unique geological formations and, best of all, a series of streams and old springs that give visitors a new, direct relationship with nature.
As well as the large number of trekking routes, two different loop paths have been identified and marked, which begin from the two starting points San Vivaldo in the municipality of Montaione (red path) and the spa centre of Gambassi Terme (violet path), which permit visitors to enjoy all the magnificent views the territory has to offer.
These two routes provide a rational, but diversified approach to visiting the interior of the Park, with the possibility of viewing artistic and cultural sites of incredible value, including the wonderful complex of Jerusalem by San Vivaldo and the enchanting romanesque church of Santa Maria in Chianni.
A visit to this wonderful park means loosing oneself in the natural environment with its flora and fauna that provides a background to the artistic and handcrafted products famous throughout our region and the whole of Tuscany.
Hiking, horseback riding and mountain bike trips are a few of the countless options from which visitors can choose to enjoy all the wonders that the Park has to offer for a weekend or longer vacation.
At the 'Parco Benestare', visitors will be enraptured by a complex, rich atmosphere in which the great cultural resources are of primary importance. True accounts of the past waiting to be discovered and savoured, like the historical town centres of Montaione and Gambassi Terme, two gems which are still inhabitable, with a stroll through strong emotions created by the narrow streets, their balconies overflowing with flowers, by the stone used to build the houses, by the little squares and typical architecture of this real, bustling part of Tuscany.
Just outside the centre of Gambassi on the road towards Castelfiorentino stands the splendid Romanesque parish church of Santa Maria a Chianni, one of the most significant monuments of Romanesque architecture in the Elsa Valley. The first mention of the parish of Santa Maria a Chianni can be found in a document dated 26 March 988. The basilica design with a nave and two side aisles is grafted on a wide, protruding transept, on the end wall of which there were originally five semi-circular apses. Of particular interest are the four smaller apses made in the depth of the end wall itself, following a design which is also found in the Cathedral of Volterra. A gem waiting to be discovered and savoured ( http://www.comune.gambassi-terme.fi.it/f_fede.htm ).
About six kilometres from Montaione, next to one of the two info locations of the park, lies the complex of the 'Jerusalem' of San Vivaldo which is not to be missed. A remarkable series of events make this place a "unicum" of western culture, in both artistic and natural terms. From 1185 to 1280, we know it was owned by the Monks of the Normandy Cross and was disputed between Castelfiorentino and San Miniato. When the Franciscan Monks entered the antique church of Camporena, it had already become the place of an antique local worship linked to Vivaldo, the hermit Saint who became the object of intense worship when his body was found in miraculous circumstances in the trunk of a hollow chestnut tree, which had been his home.
The Franciscan Monks arrived at a time when the tradition of popular religiosity in the area was going through a crisis, and they knowingly reconverted people to worship through a new demonstration of devotion which was deeply rooted in Tuscany: the pilgrimage in the places of the Holy Land, which are here faithfully reproduced, according to the topography of Jerusalem.
It is for these reasons that Friar Tommaso of Florence wanted to found what was defined as the Jerusalem of the Elsa Valley where, in a series of chapels scattered amidst the woods surrounding the church, the sacred places of Jerusalem and Palestine were reproduced. It took a relatively short time to complete this work: between 1500 and 1516 just under 25 chapels were probably built, in memory of the 34 "native places" of Jerusalem during the life of Christ.
Plunging into the spirituality of this place also means discovering a priceless artistic gem, which is bewildering and amazes visitors for the beauty of the frescoes which decorate the chapels ( http://www.comune.montaione.fi.it/sanvivaldo1.php ).