Italy’s greenest park turns thousands of different colors come autumn: the striking and varied shades of red, yellow and orange make its foliage phenomenon practically unrivaled.
The park in question is the Parco Nazionale delle Foreste Casentinesi, Monte Falterona e Campigna, one of Europe’s purest forested areas. A quiet natural oasis stretching over both Tuscany and Emilia Romagna, the park is home to roe deer, venison, fallow deer, wild boars and even wolves (the last were largely absent for a long while, but have recently become a stronger presence in this corner of the Appenines).
The surface area of the Park extends over more than 38,000 hectares, from Monte Falterona to the north to Passo dei Mandrioli to the south, with the landscape changing from one side to the next. The Tuscan portion has a sweet simplicity about it, while the Emilia Romagna side is steep and rugged. These magnificent forests are home to hermitages and monasteries, such as La Verna and Camaldoli, sites that have both been ideal hubs for cultivating spirituality and meditation for centuries. Immersed in nature and far from worldly distractions, it is easy to see why.
These age-old forests have remained intact through the centuries thanks to the foresight of both monks and forest administrators: these were the forests of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, which supplied valuable timber to arsenals in Livorno and Pisa and to the Opera del Duomo in Florence.
Wandering through the park you will find fairytale-like waterfalls, such as the Acquacheta, mentioned in Dante’s Divine Comedy, as well as incredible places such as the Castagno d’Andrea, a village amid marronete, the Italian word for centuries-old forests cultivated for chestnut production (chestnuts were once the basis for the mountain population’s diet).
Leaving from here, you can take an excursion to Monte Falterona, home to the sources of the Arno river and the Lago degli Idoli (Lake of the Idols), an ancient worship site for the Etruscans and the Casentino’s most important archaeological site.
Among the most beautiful sites to visit is the Lago di Ponte, an artificial basin perfectly positioned in one of the most path-packed areas of the Park, along with the picturesque medieval town of San Benedetto in Alpe; the old mills in Fiumicello and Castel dell’Alpe, still operational; and Monte Penna, a magnificent panoramic overlook with a view toward the Lama forest and the valleys that slope downward toward Emilia Romagna. The view from the mountain peak is one of the most memorable in all of the Appenines: centuries-old forests as far as the eye can see, and, on particularly clear days, you might catch a glimpse of the Adriatic Coast.
The protected area can be visited via walking excursions, mountain bike, on horseback or, in wintertime, via ski touring along the more than 650 kilometers of nature path routes.
Cover image credit: Varda HB