Photo ©Mattia Marasco
Discover the churches and castles at the heart of the Casentino Forests

The village of Bibbiena is an excellent base for those wishing to visit the splendid Casentino forests. It was built as a medieval stronghold on top of a hill, of which the Tarlati Tower is the first thing that can be seen.

Historical documents confirm that the foundation of Bibbiena dates back to the year 979; shortly thereafter, the first small group of houses developed around a parish church. Until the sixteenth century, the village was contested by Florence and the bishops of Arezzo. 

Every corner of Bibbiena’s historic centre evokes its illustrious past. While wandering through the alleyways, surrounded by the work of artists and artisans, you constantly feel as though you’re experiencing life as it was lived once upon a time.

While exploring the village, a visit to the fifteenth-century church of San Lorenzo is an absolute must. The church is home to two beautiful terracottas (The Deposition and The Adoration) by Andrea della Robbia. Equally fascinating are the Oratory of San Francesco, a jewel of the Tuscan Rococo, and the church of Sant'Ippolito and San Donato, which was built at the beginning of the twelfth century and houses a beautiful wooden Madonna and Child from the thirteenth century, a triptych by Bicci di Lorenzo, an Annunciation by Balducci and a panel, extremely rare of its kind, by Cola di Camerino. The sixteenth-century Palazzo Dovizi is another of the town’s most significant monuments; Cardinal Bernardo, also known as Bibbiena (1470/1520), belonged to this very Dovizi family. The Cardinal was secretary to Pope Leo X and author of the comedy La Calandria, a commentary on Renaissance society.

The Sanctuary of Santa Maria del Sasso, just one kilometre from the town, was designed with a distinctly Renaissance flavour by Giuliano da Majano. There are some remarkable artworks inside, including a Nativity by Maria del Ligozzi, one Madonna and Child by Fra Paolino del Signoraccio, and another one by Bicci di Lorenzo, housed in a central tabernacle. There is also a choir with a magnificent Assumption by Fra Bartolomeo and Fra Paolino. The cloister in the centre of the sanctuary is also hugely impressive.

All around Bibbenia you will find many hamlets, full of hidden gems and fascinating corners. One such hamlet is Soci, which produces not only the classic green and orange Casentino cloth but also, since the last century, high quality carded and combed textiles. Just outside Soci is the seventeenth-century Villa della Mausolea, formerly a guesthouse and hospice run by the Camaldolese monks. The hamlet of Partina, dominated by a castle which was renovated in a neo-Gothic style at the end of the nineteenth century, is now home to the interesting Casentino Museum of Archaeological Artifacts. Last but not least is Serravalle, a holiday resort immersed in the greenery of the Casentino Forests National Park, which is home to an important environmental educational centre on bioindicators.

Bibbiena is located in the Casentino area, full of woodland and religious monuments; the area lends itself to meditation and recollection. It contains the sanctuary of La Verna, one of the most important Franciscan sanctuaries, for it was here that St. Francis of Assisi received the stigmata; ever since then the complex has been a destination for pilgrimages from all over the world.

The Monastery of Camaldoli, in the municipality of Poppi, is one of the most popular spiritual attractions in the Casentino Forest Park. It was named Fontebuona for the quality of its water, celebrated by the fountain that Ambrogio Traversari had built in front of the entrance to the structure. The monastery is home to seven paintings by Giorgio Vasari, among other artworks.

A Historic Carnival with medieval origins takes place in Bibbiena every year. The event is closely linked to the legend of Mea, a young woman who fell in love with a man belonging to a rival family. The war between the two sides ended with the "burning of the beautiful Pomo", an ancient symbol of peace between the two districts of the city. To this day, the story is brought to life with characters dressing up in costumes. 

In summer, however, the region becomes an oasis of taste and flavours: the Raviolo Festival is held in the hamlet of Partina, while Bibbiena enjoys the Sagra delle Sagre, summing up the best of the Casentino valley's food and wine.

The menus of local restaurants change according to the season and availability of certain products. A must-try is Chianina beef, accompanied by a varied and rich selection of Tuscan wine. One of the typical Casentino recipes is the brown trout; it’s also worth trying the potato tortelli which are often served with meat sauce. The local antipasti always include cold cuts and cheeses, including pork prosciutto and Casentino pecorino.