Places: La Verna, Vallombrosa, Poppi, Bibbiena, Camaldoli and Stia
Suggested length of stay : One week
Distance: 100 Km.
Ways to get around: Car and motorcycle
The Casentino area separates the Province of Florence from that of Arezzo. This valley is characterized by its views of the high peaks of Falterana (source of the Arno river). Nature-lovers will readily appreciate its lush vegetation including beech, pine and chestnut. Soul searchers will be particularly drawn to the three-faced peak, Mount Verna. This massive forest-covered mount is where Saint Francis of Assisi went for his spiritual retreats. It was precisely on Mount Verna that the saint received his stigmata during the summer of 1224. The Great Sanctuary built at the peak was given to Saint Francis by a feudal count who hoped the gesture would earn him redemption. Other places of spiritual interest are located throughout the Casentino area; Camaldoli, for example, hosts the Monastery of San Romualdo—home to the Camaldoli monks. The area’s hermitage, located in the heart of the forest, consists of twenty evenly-lined cells and a small vegetable garden. The monasteries of Bibbiena and Vallombrosa are located in the valley of the same name.
Considered one of Italy ’s most beautiful hamlets, Pioppi is high on the area’s ‘must-see’ list. Located in the heart of the Casentino valley, it is nestled within the National Park of the Casintinesi Forests. The town, host to the Castle of the Giudi Counts, is surrounded by its original ancient walls. Built in the thirteenth century, the castle is home to the Rilliana Library which contains hundreds of medieval manuscripts and historical documents created with mobile character printing techniques. The ‘Foresta degli arborei’ in Vallombrosa is another of the area’s must-see stops. Part of a living arboretum, this ten-hectare forest hosts trees and plant specimen from all over the world.
The Verna sanctuary and the monasteries of Camaldoli and Vallombrosa all have rooms available for visitors. Another possible option is the ‘Casentino’—the only combined restaurant-hotel in Pioppi’s historical center. Part of the Giudi Castle complex, the hotel is located in one of the town’s oldest historical buildings. For more information: tel 0575/529090)
Spring and summer is the best time to truly appreciate this itinerary, especially for visitors planning to stay inside the monasteries, as heating is scare. One should also bear in mind that the hermitages uphold strict rules and dress codes. For details check out the websites of the various localities.
The wool-weaving factory in via Conti Giudi 9 in Pioppi makes for a great alternative outing, as does a quick trip to Tacs in Stia. Tacs manufactures the area’s typical double-breasted orange wool coat with a fox-fur collar and emerald green lining.
‘Il Gusto dei Guidi’ food and wine festival takes place in Pioppi during the last week in August. The cellars of the hamlet’s medieval center host wine-tasting events, theme-based conferences, shows and folklore performances.