Casentino Valley, Tuscany for Ancient Crafts, Regional Food and Unspoilt Beauty

Where is the Cassetino Valley?

The Casentino Valley is in Tuscany, Italy and is a magical place of hills thickly cloaked with chestnuts and oaks, where you will find artisans still practicing ancient crafts including stone masonry, iron mongers, cheese makers and millers where you can find a 17th century mill still producing flour from chestnuts and cereals. This really is your hidden Tuscany.

The Casentino extends from
Capalona in the south, just beyond the boundaries of Arezzo , through to Stia in the north and is just one of the four valleys that make up the Arezzo province. The other valleys being the Valdarno , the Valtiberina and the Valdichiana .
 

An Introduction to the Casentino Valley

The valley is flanked on one side by the Pratomagno range of mountains, and on the other by the Alpe di Catenaia. The main town of the area is Bibbiena, once an Etruscan stronghold and for centuries and important frontier town.  Today it is not a pretty town, everytime I go there I find the cold, grey walls closing in on me and rather depressing, so it is not a town I visit very often, however, the Palazzo Dovizi is definitely worth a stop.

Inside you will find the finest examples of Rustic Renaissance architecture in the whole of Tuscany. It was once home to the playwright Bernardo Dovizi, who later became a cardinal and then secretary to Pope Leo X.

One of my favorite places to visit in the area is
Chiusi della Verna, not far from where we have our farm. The trip to the top of this very important religious sanctuary is lined with forested areas and chestnut trees. Ocassionally, during the season you can see hunters resting on the side of the road in the camouflage hunting clothes with their dogs at their feet after a day out looking for wild boar.

It is at the sanctuary of Chiusi della Verna that you can see the cell where St. Francis of Assisi lived and this is where he received his stigmata. It is also where you can see many artworks by Della Robbia, and nearby is the ruin of a 10th century castle.

Another interesting religious complex to visit is that at
Camoldoli. The hamlet is built around an early 11th century monastery, which despite a rule of complete silence, became a Renaissance cultural center. Here you can visit the old pharmacy and purchase herbal products and soaps. There are also a couple of restaurants on site that serve good food at surprisingly good prices.

If you are looking for some pretty countryside take the road from Rassina, (7 kms south of Bibbiena) to
Tala . There is also an excellent cheese factory here where you can buy Pecorino cheese along with wine, salami and other traditional products. In the town if Tala itself if you visit the church of San Niccolo there is a very beautifully decorated 16th century organ.

Caprese Michelangelo , the birthplace of the artist Michelangelo, can be reached via tortously winding roads through dense greenery. Once I had got there I was a little disappointed. The church on the corner at the bottom of the hamlet where Michaelangelo was baptised was closed and the 13th century castle where Michaelangelo lived as a boy has been turned into a museum. But in my opinion, not a very good one. However, the drive over is enjoyable if you can get past the nauseous roads and there is a good restaurant along the way in the forested area on the left hand side, which name eludes me now.

There are two towns that are very interesting on the SS 71 just a few miles south of the Casentino Valley. The first is
Castiglion Fiorentina where Bono, the musician has property. The town is situatuated on the side of a hill on a bend in the Chiana Valley and from Roman times was very important for controlling important communication routes.

If you do go to Castiglion Fiorentina you will find many good churches to visit, but if time is limited at least have a look at the
Collegiata di San Giuliano which contains Signorelli's Deposition of Christ . There is also an art gallery inside the restored Palazzo Comunale where you can find some important pieces of art. The castle itself was built in the 14th century.

Further south, but not too many miles you will find Cortona. A town established by
the Etruscans more than 2,500 years ago, passing through many hands until it was taken by the Florentines in 1411.  As the town was a fair distance from Florence, the locals were treated well and the town flourished. As a result, it really is one of the most attractive little towns in the whole of Italy. There are many sites to see, and you can read about these on our dedicated page to Cortona . There are also 2 Etruscan tombs that can be visited on the hillside below the town, and of course, not forgetting Frances Mayes' house of Under the Tuscan Sun fame.
 

Slow Food Italy for the Casentino

The Valley is renowned for its regional food. As a result there is now a special gastronomic route called the Strada dei Sapori Casentino . This food route winds for more than 200 km along the valley floor, the hillsides and through the National Park of the Casentino Forest where you can experience locally produced food. Among the regional specialties are honey, pecorino cheese, the "grigio" Casentino ham, spelt or "farro" as it is known in Italian which is a very ancient grain, zolfini beans, chestnuts and the red potatoes grown only in Cetica, Tuscany.
 

Food Festivals

In Tuscany people are very proud of their culture and heritage and of course the regional food is part of that. People throughout Italy are proud of their regional food, but particularly Tuscany.  As a result you will find many food festivals celebrating their food and food traditions.

In October, held in every even years in Pratovecchio is
The Taste of Casentino held in Pratovecchio in October, on even years, one can go on a 3 day gastronomic journey learning about the produce of the Valley. You can taste and buy the products, taste the famous potato ravioli, acquacotta (a soup made of bread), grilled pork Casentino, and many traditional desserts. In 2010 the festival was held on the 8th, 9th and 10th October, and the next one is scheduled for 2012.
 

Wine Festival in Casentino

Live from Poggiotondo the 2012 harvest

VIVI LA VENDEMMIA 6
Let’s come to Casentino for an exciting harvest!

POGGIOTONDO in Tuscany, near Florence, like every year, welcomes everyone to live the experience of the harvest. The winery is runned by Lorenzo Massart the "oenological pioneer" of Casentino, since he was the first one to give public exposure to the wines of the local area, to make them appear on the guides together with the most important wines of Italy.

This is the sixth edition – to tell the truth they are at least ten editions if we consider the non-official ones, too. The harvest – says Massart ironically – it’s one of those things that you have to see at least once in your life. For this reason the number of our guests increases every year. How could you miss the unique chance to taste something real, to drink and understand the Sangiovese grape which is the flagship of Tuscany all over the world?

To the question on how the 2012 harvest is going to be in Casentino, Massarts says, "The grape is clearly healthy and ripe, but very few quantity…about 50% less than 2010 harvest which has been the last “normal” vintage. I hope for the future to have a weather which is “good for the soil”, otherwise the farmers’ troubles are going to increase even more…"

The harvest, which is yet to start in these days, will take place in Le Rancole close to Subbiano (15 km from Arezzo; 50 km from Florence) where POGGIOTONDO vineyards and cellar are located.

Everybody who is interested could join us on Wednesday October 3rd , Thursday October 4th and Friday October 5th (weather permitting) from dawn to dusk, by reservation, calling us at +39 329.59.26.089  or sending an email to [email protected]

During VIVI LA VENDEMMIA everyone who would like to know the Casentino better (maybe visiting Camaldoli, La Verna, Poppi or Subbiano), Torre Santa Flora and Chenno in Subbiano, Tirabuscie in Bibbiena, La Vite in Soci and L’Antica Cantina in Poppi will offer rooms, lunch & dinner at very special prices.

Poggiotondo, September 27 2012
 

Organic Farmers' Markets

If you are looking for organic produce try The Haystack Farmers' Market at Ponte Poppi. This is the town just below the old town of Poppi on the main road. Here, every Tuesday morning you can shop at the farmers market that sells a range of good, healthy organic produce from farm to fork. Find fruit, vegetables, eggs, cheese, jams and honey, among other produce.
 

Italian Recipe for Authentic Italian Food: Castagnaccio

A local recipe from the Valley is Il Baldino Also known as Castagnaccio . It is great if you are looking for a no dairy, no gluten recipe.
 

(Serves 6)
Ingredients:

400 g chestnut flour
100 g sultanas (pre-soak in some water)
50 g pine nuts
50 g walnuts
2 T sugar
sprig rosemary
salt
olive oil

Method:
Take a large pan and add the flour, sugar, pinch of salt and about half a liter of cold water. Mix well until smooth, making sure that there are no lumps. Add 2 T of olive oil and all the sultanas that were pre-soaked.

Mix together and pour into an oiled baking tin. The tin should be large enough so that the batter is about 1 cm deep. Heat the oven to 200 C.

Sprinkle the pine nuts, chopped walnuts and rosemary over the batter mixture, plus the 2 T of olive oil. Cook for about 30 minutes.
 

Art and Religious Sites in the Casentino Valley

The Casentino Valley is also an area of great religious and artistic significance. The valley was home to St. Francis of Assisi , Michaelangelo and Guido d'Arezzo , also known as Guido Monaco who invented the musical notation.

The capital town of the Casentino Valley is
Arezzo , also the capital city of the Province of Arrezo where the Casentino Valley lies. Arezzo is famous for its goldsmiths in both times past, and in the present, its wonderful monthly antique fair, the many festivals such as the Saracen Jousting Festival, as well as it Medieval architecture.

San Pietro in Romena, Tuscany surrounded by wildflowers. One should see many ancient churches and monasteries that exist in the Casentino Valley.  One such church not to be missed is the wonderful medieval church built in Romanesque style called San Pietro a Romana , (picture left).

The church oozes with history and when you enter the church you feel a real presence. Its interior is uncluttered and plain, but that is its beauty.

The atmosphere is palpable and you can almost imagine a medieval lord or lady stepping out from behind its huge stone columns.

Another church worth seeing is the
San Antonio at Socana with its rare Etruscan altar.

Another favorite of mine is the Sanctuary of
San Maria del Sasso in Bibbiena . It is a little out of the town along a lower road but as you come across it, you see how peaceful it must have been in its day with lovely hills and valleys surrounding it. This is the church where St. Francis received his stigmata, along with the hermitages at Camaldoli and Chiusi della Verna .
 

Castles in The Casentino Valley

poppi castle tuscany on a winter's day One should visit a couple of places in this region which are still a testament today of the uncertainty of times past in the many castles and forts that dot the valley, the most well-preserved being Poppi Castle (see right)which has been in existence since the 12th century, and has always been used by those in local power.

The Valley, as I have just said, saw some turbulent times, and one of the most famous and bloody battles was the
Battle of Campoldino fought on the plains of the valley not far from Poppi Castle. If you go into the castle there is a replication made to scale of the battle and the troops and a lot of information displayed.

Then there is
Castel Castagnaio which is a ruined medieval castle nearthe remains of a Roman temple that was built on the site of an older temple yet again. There is not much left of this castle, but it belonged to the powerful Guidi family and was first mentioned in 1050. However, the Ghibelline army came along in 1269 and raised it to the ground.

To get to Castle Castagnaio Follow the 'SS 70 to Consuma, turn right at 'loc. Ponticelli', continue until 'la Villa'. The ruins of the castle are a few hundred meters from the hamlet of Castel Castagnaio, on a private property.

Other interesting castles can be found in the area, such as the imposing castle, the
Castle San Niccolo , Porciano , Romena , Castle of the Fioraia near Subbiano , the Castle of Chitignano which dates from the 10th century but is in ruin.

The Casentino Valley for Kids' Travel

Children love castles, and there are enough of them for them to visit in this area. However, there is also a wonderful Parco Zoo not far from Poppi where the kids can see European animals. This is not your zoo with animals behind bars. Instead it is a nature reserve where the animals have been placed in a safe environment in their natural habitats. The Parco Zoo is open every day from 9:00 a.m. to sunset. Prices as of 2010: Adults 6 euros, and children from 2-10 at a reduced rate of 5 euros.

The Casentino Valley is also home to one of the largest
National Reserve at Sasso Frantino . It covers part of the Appennines and there are many animals and birds to be seen here. During the months of September and October it is mating season for the deer and so a greater chance of seeing these often elusive creatures. Other animals in the forest besides deer are wild boar, mouflon, foxes, hares, hedgehogs, badgers, porcupines, beech martens, squirrels, dormice, pine martens  and a few wolf of about 30 - 40 in number.
 

Weather Casentino

Here is a weather forecast for the Casentino Valley
 

Getting to the Casentino:

From Arezzo: Motorway A1 exit Arezzo, simi-ring road link towards the city center, then signs for Bibbiena - Casentino take the SR 71.
From Forli: Follow the SP 4 which crosses Civitella, Galeata and Santa Sofia as far as the Passo della Calla then continue onto Stia.
From Florence: Motorway A1 exit Firenze Sud, after 1 km turn right for Pontasseive (SP34 for 10 km) then roundabout, right (SS67 for 3 km) Again right in Via Aretina (SR69) and after about 350 m. turn left for SR70 taking the Passo della Consuma road, the follow the signs for Montemignaio, Poppi or Pratovecchio.
From Sansepolcro: Continue for Anghiari, then SP43 for Libbia as far as Chiassa Superiore then right for Subbiano.
 


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