Casentinesi Forests National Park is one of the largest areas of forest in Europe, extraordinarily rich in flora and fauna and located between Tuscany and Emilia Romagna. The Casentino is crossed by the tributaries of the river Arno and extends from Monte Falterona to the Mandrioli Pass.
This area can be visited either on foot, by bike or on horseback, along a network of over 650 km worth of trails. Casentinesi Forests are great natural and historical discoveries that can be the perfect place to soak up nature and understand the historical relationship between human settlements and landscape. There are also the ancient forests of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, which once supplied wood to the arsenals of Livorno and Pisa and served as raw materials for the Opera del Duomo in Florence.Mule tracks, bridges, churches, villages, abbeys, monasteries and mystical places add charm to these places, and these suggestions will enhance your already spectacular experience:
The Acquacheta waterfall: Among the most interesting hiking trails found in the area is one that culminates with the Acquacheta waterfalls. The Acquacheta is the most important tributary of the river Montone and before reaching San Benedetto in Alpe it drops into a spectacular cascade of more than 70 metres, the same described by Dante in the sixteenth canto of the Inferno. The Acquacheta waterfall can only be reached after a few hours’ hike, from a choice between three different routes, depending on your physical ability and the weather conditions at the time. The easiest and most popular route starts in the village of San Benedetto in Alpe (495 m), which can be reached by car from San Godenzo through the Muraglione Pass. From here, you can begin a two-hour long trail, which ascends to the famous waterfalls (720 m), after which the descent follows the same path.The ancient hamlet of Poggio and S. Benedetto in Alpe Abbey: Poggio is an ancient village nestled at the crossroads of three rivers. Here you will find a beautiful church built in 1723 to replace the Benedictine abbey of S. Benedetto in Alpe, around which a medieval village grew and developed. Today, only the crypt, a defensive tower, an arched doorway and part of the exterior walls of the original monastery remain.
The trail of the Mills: In order to understand the very prevalent dependence of humanity upon nature in the Casentinesi Forests, a walk along the trail of the mills is a must. The milling industry was once typical of this mountainous region and the Mill Mengozzi in Fiumicello and the Mill Biondi in Castel Alpe are examples of this, demonstrating how the stream was used to produce cereal and chestnut flour, which in turn enabled farmers to cook the simple dishes, characteristic of these areas.
Castagno d’Andrea: The town of Castagno d’Andrea, 725 metres above sea level, is the ideal place to begin the trail up to the Falterona, Falco or Acuto mountains. Extensive “marronete” forests (forests of chestnut trees) characterise the landscape around the old town, and were used extensively for the production of chestnuts. The town is the birthplace of the Renaissance master Andrea del Castagno, and to pay homage to his legacy the town hosts a permanent exhibition at the Park’s Visitors’ Centre.
Campigna: One of the most remarkable features of Campigna is the eighteenth-century Grand Ducal Palace, now turned into a hotel, which once was the hunting residence of the Lorraine dynasty.Casentinesi Forests National Park peaks: The largest mountains of the Casentinesi Forests are located on the eastern side of the Park, an area entirely covered by beech trees. Along the southern slopes of the Mount Falterona, at 1358 m, flows a large spring called Capo d’Arno that is considered to be the origin of main Tuscan river (Arno). For another special view, climb the Monte Penna, where you will be able to look out over the entire Lama Forest, a collection of centuries-old trees, as far as the eye can see.
Lago degli Idoli: The “Lake of the Idols” is the most important archaeological site of the Castentino area, where many Etruscan ruins have been found throughout the centuries. Monte Falterona was a sacred mountain to the Etruscans, who put their gifts into the Ciliegeta Lake, located near the source of the Arno River. Some of the remains found here are preserved in the British Museum in London and the Louvre in Paris.
Camaldoli Monastery: This place is linked to the figure of the Benedictine monk San Romualdo, founder of the Camaldoli order, who arrived in the Casentino valley at the foot of the Apennines in 1012 with his disciples. Here, he constructed a sacred hermitage. Read also “Sleep at monasteries in Tuscany“.
La Verna Sanctuary: The sanctuary at La Verna, which is one of the most important Franciscan sanctuaries in the world, dates to the start of the third century and is largely connected to the figure of San Francis of Assisi. La Verna is an extraordinary place not only for its history but also for the incredible nature that surrounds it.How to reach Casentinesi Forests National Park
Casentino area can be reached from Florence and Arezzo via two roads: through the Consuma Pass or through the Giovi Valley from Romagna.
By car: Casentinesi Forests National Park can be reached by the A1 motorway (Milan-Rome), exit at Barberino del Mugello, Florence or Arezzo. From Barberino, pass Borgo San Lorenzo, Florence and follow the SS. 67 route that goes to the towns of San Godenzo and Londa. From Florence, after Pontassieve, turn to the SR 70 route in the direction of the towns Pratovecchio Stia, Poppi and Bibbiena. From Arezzo take the SR71 route towards Bibbiena, Poppi, Pratovecchio Stia. From Bibbiena, with the SP 208 road, you can reach the town of Chiusi della Verna.
By train: In Tuscany, the park is accessible by train from the stations of Bibbiena, Poppi, Pratovecchio and Stia in the Casentino side and from Mugello side Pontassieve and Contea-Londa stations.
By bus: The Park is served by the SITA and LFI bus companies.
By plane: The nearest airports are in Florence, Bologna, Forli and Rimini.