The village of Poppi is included on the list of Italy's Most Beautiful Villages, and its history, like that of the entire area, is inextricably linked to the family of the Counts Guidi, who built castles not only in their hometown but also in Romena, Porciano, Montemignaio and Castel San Niccolò.
The Castle of Poppi, a historical icon of the Casentino, with its imposing structure well preserved over the centuries, rises majestically over the village and overlooks the Campaldino Plain, the scene of the historic Battle of Campaldino between the Arezzo and Florence factions of the Guelphs and Ghibellines, which took place on June 11, 1289.
It was the Counts Guidi who wanted the Castle built in the 13th century; the oldest part of the medieval manor is supposed to be the work of Lapo di Cambio, while the most recent, built around the end of the 13th century, is attributed to the better-known Arnolfo. In the courtyard the eye is immediately drawn to a complex system of staircases and a very rich collection of coats of arms. Inside the chapel visitors are amazed by a cycle of frescoes by Taddeo Gaddi, one of Giotto's most important disciples. The castle's true must-see is then the splendid library, whose impressive book collection is a real treasure. Among the guests of the Counts Guidi, according to some sources, is alleged to be Dante Alighieri, in 1310, during his exile from Florence.
Poppi is home to the Parco Zoo della Fauna Europea (European Wildlife Zoo Park), which covers an area of about 50 hectares, with pine trees, chestnut trees, and centuries-old oaks, inside which some species of European fauna can be seen: the Alpine chamois, the barn owl, the eagle owl, the otter, the wolf, the European lynx, and the bear.
Poppi is a perfect starting point to explore the Casentino, the highest part of the Arno valley, a land of forests and monuments of faith, colors and silences. Its forests of chestnuts, beeches, oaks and firs make up the natural heritage of the Parco Nazionale delle Foreste Casentinesi (Casentino Forests National Park) and, at the same time, characterize two places of intense spirituality: Camaldoli, with its Hermitage and Monastery, and the Santuario della Verna (Sanctuary of La Verna), where St. Francis received the stigmata.
The Hermitage of Camaldoli, nestled in a forest of centuries-old fir trees and founded by St. Romuald around the year 1012, is one of the major places of Tuscan spirituality. The church, dedicated to S. Salvatore, has undergone numerous transformations and preserves a glazed terracotta altarpiece by Andrea della Robbia in the chapel of St. Anthony the Abbot. Opposite the church is the cell of San Romuald, the only one open to visitors. Finally, a few kilometers further downstream rises the architectural complex formed by the Monastery, the Guest House and the Church of Saints Donato and Ilariano. The interior, in Baroque style, houses early works of art by Giorgio Vasari.
From Poppi, travel a little more than 10 kilometers to reach the Pieve di San Pietro a Romena (Parish church of San Pietro a Romena), a jewel of Romanesque architecture dating from 1152, made entirely of stone.
Not far away, the towers of the Castle of Romena soar in the midst of nature. Erected around the early 11th century, under the rule of the Counts Guidi, it is one of the most evocative in the Casentino and one of the best known in Tuscany for its wealth of historical memories, although today only imposing ruins remain.
The local food and wine tradition is typical of the Casentino area, based on the products given by its rich woods - truffles, mushrooms, chestnuts - and characterized by simple but tasty dishes, such as the tortelli di patate (potato tortelli). There is no shortage of cheese and cold cuts, starting with the Casentino ham.
Info: Visit the site of Poppi