Discovering castles, ancient villages and sanctuaries
The spirit of Middle Ages in Casentino
Set off from the nearest place, Castel Focognano, whose origins date back to Etruscan time, as the archaeological site of Pieve a Socana witnesses with its Romanic church, built on the ruins – still visible – of an ancient Etruscan sanctuary from the V century B.C. Castel Focognano is named after a fortified castle built around year 1000 and destroyed three centuries later by bishop Guido Tarlati. Visit its last fascinating bastion, the little Tower of Ronda, which currently houses the Centro di Documentazione sulla Cultura Rurale del Casentino, a centre dedicated to the rural culture of Casentino, especially to the ancient tools for the production of milk and wool.
Move on then to the nearby town of Pratovecchio-Stia, where you can follow Dante Alighieri’s footsteps. During his exile he was hosted by the Conti Guidi in the castles of Romena and Porciano. Cross the drawbridge of the first fortress, go past the donjon and get to the parade ground where in 1901 the poet Gabiele d’Annunzio set his tent. Then reach Porciano and enjoy the view of the tall palace tower, which in autumn is turned into a scarlet red by the bold Virginia creeper climbing its walls.
You cannot say you have really experienced the Middle Ages spirit of Casentino unless you visit the Castle of Poppi, the most majestic among the fortresses built by the Guidi family. It is below its tower that the Guelphs and Ghibellines fought the famous Campaldino battle in 1289, which Dante Alighieri and Cecco Angiolieri took part in too. Nowadays it is a favourite tourist destination in the area and in the summer it becomes the suggestive framework for cultural events and festivals.
Now, if after quenching your thirst for knowledge you feel like feeding your body as well, move just a few kilometres away to discover traditional restaurants and inns, where you can have tortelli di patate or taste some delicious acquacotta, served in its typical crock pot with a glass of Morellone del Casentino wine.
La Verna, Camaldoli and the catholic sanctuaries of Casentino
Our spirituality is deeply rooted in the territory of Casentino.
Wrapped around by a monumental fir and beech forest, La Verna Sanctuary rises up on an unmistakable summit on top of three sheer slopes, and it is visible from everywhere in Casentino and from the high part of Valtiberina. In 1224 Saint Francis withdrew to La Verna mountain for his ordinary spiritual exercises: here he received the Stigmata from God, the seals of Christ’s Passion. Saint Francis’s powerful legacy is in every corner of the Sanctuary, whose articulated structure cherishes numerous artistic, spiritual and historical treasures.
The Camaldoli Hermitage lies in the peace and quiet of the forest too. Founded by San Romualdo at the beginning of the XI century, it is still nowadays the original home of the Benedictine Congregation of Camaldolesi monks. In the nearby Monastery, the religious community is open to sharing and welcomes visitors in the Foresteria, a meeting and conversation space open to everyone.
Smaller, but not less fascinating, are the Sanctuaries of Santa Maria del Sasso, in Bibbiena, and Santa Maria delle Grazie, just few kilometres from Stia. They were both built in places where, according to tradition, the Virgin Mary had appeared and are decorated with fine terracottas by Giovanni and Andrea della Robbia.
Arezzo, the town of Saracino
Do you want to indulge yourself with another place to visit? Get into your car and leave the Podere: in half an hour you will be in Arezzo, hometown to the Renaissance poet Francesco Petrarca and Guido Monaco, the inventor of music notes. One of the main Etruscan towns in Tuscany, Arezzo experienced its utmost expansion in the Roman Age and Middle Ages, under the guidance of the bishop Guido Tarlati. The glorious legacy of the past is found in the rich cultural and artistic heritage: churches, cathedrals and town squares celebrate the genius of Piero Della Francesca and Giorgio Vasari, who greatly contributed to outline the fascinating historical centre. It is exactly Piazza Vasari – better known as Piazza Grande – the unique framework of the Joust of the Saracen (Giostra del Saracino), an ancient knightly competition dating back to the Middle Ages, which is brought to life again every year in June and September at the drum rolls and clarion blares. And if you are lucky enough to visit Arezzo in the first weekend of the month, you will be able to purchase some fine handicrafts or a precious relic while walking among the booths of the renowned Antiques Fair.
Has Tuscany conquered your heart? With its central position, Podere Sant’Egidio is just an hour drive from Florence and Siena, or you can drive on to Perugia, in Umbria, to further discover the centre of Italy.