The Casentino Valley - Magical Landscapes and Old-age Traditions
Needless to say, Florence is one of the most beautiful, popular and visited destination in the world. Not only Florence, but also the nearby Chianti area, with its unique landscape designed by green, gentle hills covered with vineyards and olive groves. What is less known is that just an hour far from Florence, following the Arno river on the way to Arezzo, lies a surprisingly beautiful, unspoiled and untouristed valley: the Casentino.
The Casentino valley is a unique natural and historical treasure trove, where you can experience some of the most amazing sceneries in all of Italy: fairytale villages, medieval castles, churches graced with Renaissance masterpieces and the wild forests of Parco Nazionale delle Foreste Casentinesi, a national park, one of the largest forest in Europe, home to roe deer, venison, fallow deer, wild boars and even wolves.
After his exile from Florence, in 1302, Dante Alighieri came in this area as a fugitive, seeking for protection, and found hospitality by local lords. His staying in Casentino left remarkable evidence. While he was hoping for a return to his homeland - that was never to be - Dante was a guest of the Guidi Counts at the castle of Poppi (which is, by the way, the smaller scale copy of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, since they were both designed by the same architect, Arnolfo Di Cambio). In Poppi, Dante composed the Canto XXXIII of the Inferno.
The profound silence of the dense forest of the National Park offers the perfect environment for two important spiritual destinations: the Benedictine monastery and hermitage of Camaldoli, founded in 1052, where the monks live in seclusion and prayer, and the Franciscan sanctuary at La Verna, where Saint Francis received the stigmata. The two monastries have always been strongly connected with the history and productivity of the area, and still are nowadays. In Camaldoli, more than a hundrend monks grow their own food and continue their traditions in distilling liqueurs from herbs found in the woods and in producing honey, soaps, artisanal cosmetics and natural remedies, sold in their local pharmacy.
The Casentino is a land of centuries-old traditions that still survive today, keeping artisan expertise alive. The most famous is certainly the Casentino cloth, a woollen fabric, rough in texture, very warm and wear-resistant.
The traditional process goes back in the centuries: there are evidence of wool production in this area since the Etruscan times and has developped ever since. The famous curls are created, from as early as the 1300s, by a process called rattinatura, whereby the wool is brushed with a stone. It became fashionable for use in coats in the 19th centuries, iconically worn by famous composers Giuseppe Verdi and Giacomo Puccini, as well as by many other florentine notables. But probably the most iconic, modern image is that of Breakfast at Tiffany's, where wonderful Audrey Hepburn wears the typically orange Casentino coat, designed by Givenchy. Casentino wool is today used in high fashion and it is one of the symbols of the traditions and the characteristics of the Made in Italy. And think that, for centuries, the fabric in the original typical dark green color was used by friars, carters and as a cover for horses!
Let's not forget the gastronomical part, that - as anywhere in Tuscany - has a lot to offer. Typical local products are chestnuts, truffles, mushrooms (especially incredibly tasting Porcini, of which the forest is rich), honey, and the PGI White Chianina Bullock of the Central Apennines. Recipes are simple, based on rural tradition, like homemade pasta, often made with chestnut flour.
Castagnaccio, tortello alla lastra (filled with different kind of local vegetables, like pumpkin or black cabbage), potato tortelli, grey ham: this is just a sample of what you can taste.
Autumn is the ideal period to visit Casentino, when chestnuts and porcino mushrooms flavor local menus and the trees paint the forest in gold and amber hues, so you can enjoy its stunning foliage. Its fantastic environmental and cultural heritage is an extraordinary asset to exclusive, new, authentic, environmentally friendly, experiences.