If you’re wearing a pair of Made in Italy leather shoes, you should know that they might come from the Leather District of Santa Croce sull’Arno, in the heart of the most industrious Tuscany. It is here that the skin of cattle, sheep, pigs is treated to obtain the most suitable leather to cover the shoes. It is in this tannery district that the great names in fashion draw for their creations of value. Each municipality has specialized in one phase of production: from the vegetable tanneries of San Miniato, to the chrome tanneries of Santa Croce, to the shoe factories of Castelfranco di Sotto and Santa Maria a Monte.

This itinerary proposes a sort of “Leather Road“, along the lines of the more famous Wine or Oil Roads, to enhance leather and hide as tourist attractions, showing live the stages of processing and explaining what is behind the purchase of quality craft products, including respect for the environment.

Santa Croce is the capital of what has become one of the most famous tanning districts in the world, thanks to its main production activity, which is the tannery. Technicians and managers from all over the world come here to discover how today, while respecting the environment and the workplace, companies and entrepreneurs manage to produce without polluting by using research and experimentation. Born as a new land or “city of foundation” does not show particular historical and artistic attractions if not the Convent of Santa Cristiana presents in the surroundings the protected area of Poggio Adorno, which is part of the Cerbaie Hills 

It boasts a productive activity of remarkable level in the sector above all of the shoe factories. The presence of the tanneries has favored the birth of artisans manufacturing for which footwear, handbags and leather goods, expression of a quality craftsmanship aimed at those interested in shopping directly in the place of production, avoiding shopping malls and outlets.
Castelfranco di Sotto is an example of Renaissance urban redevelopment, a “new land” with orthogonal layout. Nearby is the village of Orentano, with a small but interesting permanent exhibition of archaeology, as well as the reserve of Montefalcone, of great natural interest, in the Colline delle Cerbaie.

The Tuscan tradition of craftsmanship in leather and hide is rooted in Santa Maria a Monte, through a constant search for perfection in workmanship with a keen eye for innovation. If the industrial and handicraft part is in the plain, the historical part of Santa Maria a Monte is on the hills: it is a charming village of medieval origin with an original spiral shape. In the center we find the house-museum of the Italian poet Giosuè Carducci, a medieval cistern and a network of underground tunnels used in the Middle Ages as escape routes. Traditions are also very important, in particular the procession of the Paniere (baskets) on Easter Monday or the Luminara dell’Assunta on August 15th.

Not only leather and skin. A manufacturing activity of Montopoli, now unfortunately almost disappeared, was that of ceramics. If today there are companies that produce leather and leather or semi-finished products, in past centuries there were furnaces where they produced mainly bricks and ceramics. Evidence of its history is exhibited in the Guicciardini Civic Museum that ranges from the Etruscan age to the Middle Ages with an interesting section dedicated to Montopoli ceramics. Not to be missed is the Villa Varramista, where important personalities of the Italian society and customs passed during the years of the economic boom.

In addition to visiting companies or business outlets, the itinerary offers the opportunity to visit small jewels of art and history as San Miniato, slow food city and land of excellence of the prized white truffle. Important and strategic center along the Via Francigena, San Miniato boasts an interesting museum system consisting of public and religious buildings and a lively program of shows and events throughout the year, but that in autumn finds its highlight in the festivals and exhibitions dedicated to the white truffle.

Total length (km): 40
Accessibility: by car, camper, by Vespa or scooter, by bike
Difficulty: none

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