To the west of Bucine on the ancient route of Via Cassia are two distinct residential areas: Mercatale Valdarno (the largest), Torre (the minor to the north-east). The current Mercatale is the result of the fusion of two neighboring communities, but purely different: Santa Reparata in Mercatale and San Biagio in Torre at Mercatale.
The small village of Torre still preserves many historical elements, leaving unchanged the characteristics and the topography of a typical medieval settlement: from the small church of San Biagio stands the quadrangular area developed in the twelfth century with the inhabited area up to the port of access located to the boundaries of the village.
The position of the chapel is particularly evocative, overlooking the creek.
From the market near Santa Reparata, then commercial pole held by Torre, the birth of Mercatale took place here, described in 1776 as a large square surrounded by houses with a public water well in the center, even at that time is known the presence of two oil mills, a sign that the tradition of olive pressing had been alive since then in Mercatale, as in the rest of Valdambra.
A walk around the narrow streets of Mercatale and Torre will surprise anyone for its glimpses of stone house, balconies full of floral patterns and frescoed niches.
Leaving the village of Mercatale, the eye can only turn up, where stands the massive tower of Galatrona, ancient fortress and tireless sentry of Valdambra: easily reachable from Via della Robbia, along the path is possible admire the artistic wonders of the countryside near Mercatale, made of cypresses, holm oaks and cedars, plus the triumph of colors coming from the vineyards, which in any season will be able to surprise the human eye; it is from this itinerary that we can see the shapes of the parish church of Galatrona, located near the tower with its shining frontage and the white bell tower. Also on this path is possible to see one of the most characteristic specimens of the Tuscan countryside, here in all its splendor there is a “Cupressus Sempervirens”, a secular cypress, exceptional for its beauty and size.
And it is precisely in the Autumn, exactly in the second weekend of October, that visiting the village of Mercatale you can take part of the “Sagra del Marrone”, a festival in which flea markets and gastronomic stands are located in many areas of the village, which counts among various products of the typical Tuscan underwood, including the astonishing chestnuts and mushrooms, the chestnut cake, Tuscan autumn dessert that Giovanni Pascoli did not fail to mention in one of his verses:
“Ora, o contadino, le tue castagne seccate le prenda il mulino,
e tu, mugnaio, frangile con le tue macine; prendi sassi e dacci farina…”
A poor dish, part of the basic diet of the peasant population, as any old man, who is still enhanced by this emblem of Tuscan cuisine, will confirm. Its preparation and composition is very simple: consists in a dough bake for 30 minutes made by water, chestnuts flour, pine nuts and olive oil.
For those looking for Tuscan tastings, you cannot miss a taste of another peasant dish, even this poor and cooked in large quantities during the Italian post-war period, it is “Ribollita”, served by the wise hands of the Mercatale’s women for “Sagra della Ribollita”, an event that takes place on Palm Sunday: this dish consists in a soup of stale bread and vegetables, which is distinguished from “Minestra di Pane” to be heated twice in a wood oven, hence the name “Ribollita”, inside a thick-bottomed pan; fulcrum of the recipe is soaking for 24 hours the mixture of stale bread, beans, black cabbage, savoy cabbage, tomatoes and potatoes, with the previously browned vegetables; the day after cooked for the second time, then you can taste it by adding a little bit of olive oil.