Casentino: through the woods of Tuscany, a heritage worth discovering
What an amazing planet this is! Everywhere I go nature never fails to enchant me with all its beauty and abundance! This time I will share with you all, my trip to Casentino, which is in the heart of Italy, at the border between two regions: Tuscany and Romagna. Italy is run in the middle from north to south by the Apennine mountains, where the woods are magical, the people friendly and welcoming, and the food fresh and genuine. When you travel through the small towns of Casentino it feels like the time stopped, the people preserve ancient skills that have been passed down through generations. Here the eggs come from local chicken coops, the vegetables from the neighbor’s garden, the cakes home-made, the bread made from scratch. Here the people wake up early, breed animals, take long walks,and pick berries in the woods.
This is the area that, in the years 1200, Saint Francis chose for his religious calling. As a young man, he abandoned all his material belonging to dedicate himself to the monastic life. He was a lover of nature and animals. In his memory, in the country side of the city of Chiusi, you can find a Sanctuary called Santuario della Verna. Austere and magnificent at the same time. The building is situated on the side of a mountain in the cracks of massive rocks, as you walk the narrow paths that take you from the main entrance of the sanctuary to the various small chapels around the main building, steep staircases made of stone guide you to the cell that used to be the place Saint Francis lived in. Despite the hot weather you could feel the cold radiating from the rocks covered with green moss.
The sanctuary is located on the side of Mount Penna, where you can take hikes that allow you to discover enchanted corners of the forest or breath-taking views over the Appenine mountains. The whole area of Casentino is sparsely populated and the nature is uncontaminated. If you happen to be so lucky as to visit these suggestive places the best option for boarding is certainly the “agriturismo”. This alternative kind of tourism, which could be explained as a farm-stay, it is actually much more than that, it is perhaps the best way to really fully immerse yourself and experience Italy’s countryside. Typically, an “agriturismo” is an independently owned farm that the owners have decided to use partially for accommodation purposes. I love staying in agriturismo not only because they are always located in charming beautiful places, but also because they serve the best local food ever!
Before leaving home one of my students gave me a tip about a quaint little place to stay, the places’ name is “Agriturismo La Chiusa”, located in Stia. We got to this place before sunset, the sides of the mountains were golden from the light of the setting sun. The building made of stone, was standing in the middle of this small valley at the bottom of rolling mountains, tall and stern. A white horse was strolling and munching on grass right in front of the house. It felt like, in this place, time had stopped a long time ago.
We got out of the car to stretch our legs a bit, which were all crumpled up from a long car ride, a smiling middle-aged man leans out from the terrace of the building to greet me. I have a nice chit-chat with this gentleman who turned out to be the owner of the agriturismo. I ask him if we could stay for the evening and have dinner by them, but very politely he informs me that they do dinners for guests only on reservation and that they were having a party on that night, which made it hard to add new people, but that we were more than welcome to stay a while, look around and enjoy ourselves there. I thanked his hospitality but decided to move on to find a place to eat since it was getting dark soon and we were all very hungry. We leave this charming, stuck in time place, on a white gravel road, leaving behind us a romantic rural existence with its brilliant colors and the sound of birds chirping and chickens cooing.
As we kept driving in the lonesome mountains of Casentino, pops out from nowhere a brown sign showing us the direction to another agriturismo called Borgo Tramonte. We climb further up the mountain on very narrow curvy roads with a stunning panorama below us. In front of us we see a picturesque group of small stone buildings, two swings and a fire-red sunset framed in by a scented bush of purple lavender. We see a young lady standing in front of what we supposed to be the main entrance of the facility and with a heart full of hope we ask if they have extra room for us to stay for dinner. She greets us politely and welcomes us inside while she goes into the big kitchen to confirm with the cook. We follow her to a cozy room with a big fireplace, she starts setting the table and tells us to make ourselves comfortable since we were welcome to stay with them for dinner. With a relieved heart we sat down, eager to try the delicious creations of such a generous and kind cook, which opened her arms to four starving travelers.
You can believe me If I say that our hearts were filled with joy just as much as our stomachs filled with hunger, when we found out we could stay for dinner. After we ate we were amazed by the quality (and quantity) of the food we had. For starters we were served a typical dish from the area: tortelli di patate, which is stuffed pasta with potatoes in a sauce of salty butter and sage, topped with grated parmesan cheese.
To follow they brought us pork roast, steak, and roasted potatoes, they dug up from the dirt a couple of hours prior. The food was so good we could not refrain but helping ourselves to seconds.
When we thought we could not fit anything else in our well fed bodies, we were presented with a home-made chocolate mousse, topped with candied cherries and a home-made, heart-shaped, butter cookie. I usually don’t eat dessert after dinner, but that time I could not turn it down, and I am glad I didn’t. All the dedication, passion, and hospitality was transferred to the food, which made it all the more delicious.
By the time we finished eating the lovely sunset had left its place to the dark night, and down in the valley all the lights had come on like little stars. We were so glad our guardian angel somehow had shown us the way to this place, so cozy, warm, and welcoming. We will certainly be back, perhaps in the winter months, when the snow will have kissed the tops of these mountains. Thank you lovely place: Borgo Tremonte!