Castles and fortified hamlets, thousand-year-old churches, abbeys and monasteries that conserve traces and vestiges of that medieval world which still continues to fascinate and interest. This is Casentino: a broad valley enclosed to the west by the slopes of Pratomagno which separate it from the Valdarno, to the east by the range of the Alpe di Catenaia and by the mountains of La Verna which separate it from the Valtiberina, traversed in its entirety by the Arno.
From Arezzo we take the Regional Road No.71 as far as Rassina, from where we recommend a short detour to visit the church of Sant’Antonino in Socana. This religious building is one of the most extraordinary examples of the continuity of worship: first the Etruscans (in the apse section a large sacrificial altar is visible, part of an Etruscan temple datable in the 5th century BC), and later the Romans and the Christians chose it as a site of worship.
Returning to the Regional Road we continue as far as Bibbiena. After passing through the centre of the town, we take the Regional Road No.70 for the Consuma on the left, which brings us to Poppi.
From a distance we can see the Medieval castle of the Guidi counts, built between the middle and the end of the 13th century. The design is attributed to Lapo di Cambio, with later additions (15th century) by a local architect, Jacopo Turriani. A meticulous and lengthy restoration means that we can now admire this gem of civil and military architecture, superb evidence of the richness and pomp of the Guidi counts. Painting is illustrated in the elaborate and elegant decoration of the counts’ chapel, with a fresco cycle executed by Taddeo Gaddi, one of Giotto’s most faithful disciples, in the first half of the 14th century.
Also worth visiting is the old town centre, with the main street, Via Cavour, lined with porticoes, standing at either end of which are religious edifices: the Oratory of the Madonna del Morbo, an elegant example of Baroque architecture (17th century) and the Vallombrosan Abbey of San Fedele (late 12th century).
We then continue along the State Road as far as the Campaldino junction, where we take the Bidente State Road No. 310 to reach Pratovecchio. The heart of the old town centre is Piazza Paolo Uccello, dedicated to the great Renaissance artist who was born here in 1397. Also remarkable are the religious buildings, including the monastery of the Camaldoli monks founded by the Guidi Counts in the 12th century and the monastery of the Dominican monks of Santa Maria della Neve (16th century) with the adjacent church of the Propositura housing 17th-century paintings.
From Pratovecchio a hillside road leads to the Castle of Romena, an impressive building, a fortress of the Guidi Counts which dominates the entire valley from a height of 600 metres. From the castle a narrow road leads directly to one of the most impressive Romanesque buildings in Casentino, the parish church of San Pietro a Romena. The construction dates to the 12th century, remodelled on various occasions, and has a simple facade and bell-tower. The interior, divided into three aisles, features monolithic sandstone columns with capitals elaborately carved with stylised leaves and figures, rich in symbolism and at times mysterious.
From Romena we retrace the road as far as Stia. The bridge over the river Staggia gives access to the old town centre, set along Via Tanucci with the main square embellished by porticoes, the remains of Medieval buildings and the reworked facade of the Romanesque parish church dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta. The building dating to the 12th century, frequently remodelled, features an interior marked by a restrained architectural style, with three aisles separated by columns bearing capitals carved with human and animal motifs. The church also houses several remarkable works of art.
Just a few kilometres from Stia, a hillside road leads us to the 11th-century castle of Porciano, one of the first residences of the Guidi Counts. Clustered around the castle is the tiny hamlet of Porciano. All that now remains of the castle are the tower and part of the walls, but an interesting visit can be made to the small museum set up within, displaying objects of everyday use within the local rural and pastoral tradition, medieval crockery and a small collection of American Indian crafts from North America.