The surroundings by Empoli (Empolese in italian), on the way between Florence and Livorno, are an ideal starting point if you are setting out to find other interesting places.
On the right bank of the river Arno, at the foot of the mount Montalbano, there’s a nature reserve which once was a famous game preserve belonging to the Medici family (known as Barco Reale, dating back to 16th–17th centuries): close to the reserve you’ll find the towns of Capraia and Limite.
Capraia still preserves its medieval fortified structure, lying on a rocky spur, an ideal place to control the river and the roads below, between Florence and Pisa. A flourishing ecological tourism has recently developed thanks to traditional, as well as new plantations and products (oil, wine, honey, marmalades, cheese, but also officinal herbs); traditional farms lie side by side with new company flats, sprung up along the main tourist roads for trekking and bicycle routes, on the way to unique places like the Lecceta of Pietramarina, an ancient Etruscan site (VI century b.C.) where yo’ll find wonderful secular Holm-oaks, hollies and other trees.
The town of Limite was named after its position: it was actually the boundary between Florence and Pistoia, and it was probably founded as a small harbour on the river Arno. The sailors of Limite soon became famous for being very skilled, and so they were often hired to transport goods along the river, from Florence to the sea. Important dockyards were built in this area (they are still operating for small boats’ repairing) and the first Rowing Club in Italy was founded here in 1861. The traditional boat race on the river Arno (called Palio della Montata) takes place in September every year, attracting many tourists to the town.
Vinci is world famous for being Leonardo’s birthplace, here the tourist can find all his genius. The Leonardiano Museum shows many models and machines created by Leonardo (who was actually an engineer) and here reconstructed following his original drawings. The museum is housed inside an old castle, belonging to the Earls Guidi (11th – 12th century), and it is a documentation centre as well, first of all thanks to the Library Leonardiana, a real point of reference for Leonardo’s scholars from all over the world.
A completely different museum is to be found inside the 16th century Villa Medicea in Cerreto Guidi: the historical museum for hunting displays different weapons (mainly for hunting) dating back to the 17th–19th centuries. This museum was strongly commissioned by Cosimo de Medici in this place, because of the closeness of a marshland by Padule di Fucecchio, an wonderful area for hunting (nowadays this area is a nature reserve, and the biggest inner marshland in Italy). The Grand Duke Cosimo wanted a hunting house to be built here, where the former Guidi Castle lied, and since 2002 the Museum and the V\illa have been opened to the public. On a plain crossed by the river Arno which was reclaimed by the Romans, we find the town of Empoli, lying between the rivers Arno and Elsa, close to the hills. Among its famous citizens we can mention the artist Jacopo Carucci, also known as il Pontormo (1494–1556), one of the best Tuscan Mannerists. In 2006 a Centre for Art Studies Dedicated to the Tuscan Renaissance has been created in his native house, the so called Casa del Pontormo (i.e. Pontormo’s house).
Noteworthy in the city is also the Museum della Collegiata, where you can see masterpieces by different artists, like Masolino da Panicale, Lorenzo Monaco, Filippo Lippi, as well as sculptures by Tino di Camaino and Mino da Fiesole, terracotta and glass works by Della Robbia. The whole area is characterized by different factories as well, it is actually the third industrial centre in Tuscany.