The Brancoleria stretches between the valley and the slopes of Mount Pizzorne, upstream of the Serchio river, approximately 10 km from Lucca. Its unpolluted woodland, dotted here and there with small plots and olive groves, make this area a haven for nature-lovers. Aside from the Pieve di San Giorgio, there is a wealth of mementoes of the past and historic places to visit. Take the SS 12 highway from Lucca towards Bagni di Lucca, drive on for a few kilometres to Vinchiana, and then go right following the signs to Piazza di Brancoli. A marvellous view of the Serchio valley unfolds along the way. The first village you come to is Sant’Ilario, with the 7th century church of the same name, still virtually unchanged, and open to visitors. From Sant’Ilario, carry on to Ombreglio, surmounted by the classic pink bell tower of the church of San Pietro, which still conserves its 17th century appearance. The church is documented as far back as the 8th century; it was rebuilt in 1199, as indicated on the inscription in the entrance, and radically restructured in 1700, with the side chapels added in 1870.
From Ombreglio make your way to Deccio, originally a castle built on the top of a hill as a watchtower over the entire valley. The church of San Frediano, also thousands of years old, is immediately striking. Documented as of 774, the building was altered and restructured several times during the 16th and 17th centuries and most recently in 1913. Its original austere and mystical appearance has, however, been preserved. Proceed back towards Ombreglio and follow the turn-off to the picturesque hamlet of Piazza di Brancoli, with its stupendous view over the valley. The church of Santa Maria Assunta, its aspect virtually unchanged since the 12th century, is worthy of note. The original foundations indicate that it was built in the 8th century, like most of the churches in the area. The façade with its handsome pre-Romanesque bas-reliefs is confirmation of this. The portal is decorated with plant motifs, the lintel with leaves and human figures, lions, saints and angels. The bell tower dates from 1545. The hamlet still retains a mediaeval atmosphere, with its alleyways and chiselled doorways, little arched windows and myriad tiny details that combine to evoke an atmosphere of times past.
Back in Sant'Ilario, follow the signs for Pieve di Brancoli, which will take you to the mediaeval church of San Lorenzo in Corte. Austere, simple and perfectly preserved, as white as its limestone bricks, it stands beside the ancient path that led from Vinchiana up to the Romitorio di Brancoli. It contains a glazed panel of St Lawrence by Andrea della Robbia.PContinue along Via Coloreto, which intersects with the path of the ancient Via Crucis, ending at the famous Croce di Brancoli, almost 700 m above sea level. The monumental 18 m cross was erected in 1900 above the ruins of a watchtower built during the Republic of Lucca. Destroyed by the Germans during World War II, it was rebuilt in 1958. The trenches and walkways dug out by the Germans during the war, close to the Gothic Line, survive. There is a magnificent view from the top over the Lucca plain, the Serchio Valley and the Apennines.