A week along the Sacred Forests Trail
Hiking and ideas for a vacation in nature and walking in the Sacred Forests.
7 days

This is a location of smooth, rounded and hidden mountains, a green space where trees are the uncontested masters and thousand-year-old guardians of uncontaminated nature. This is the Apennine region of the National Park of the Foreste Casentinesi, Monte Falterona and Campigna, a historic protected area of the Tosco-Romagnolo Apennines that conceals in its treasure chest of centuries-old forest – one of the largest forested areas in Italy. For centuries man has followed nature’s decrees, integrated into the landscape with little residential clusters, mule tracks and ancient places of worship. This remote land was favoured territory of religious persons that found refuge here, far away from the cities and main residential areas, in order to live a life of prayer and contemplation.

This parkland was uncovered with a wayfarer’s patience, which follows the undulating rhythm of the Apennines in the shadow of beech and chestnuts trees. The Sacred Forest trail serves this objective: a route in seven legs, from the Lago di Ponte in Tredozio to La Verna. Passing through symbolic locations in the park like Monte Falterona, Campigna Forest, the Acquadcheta valley and the hermitages of Camaldoli and La Verna, you can live an experience closely connected to the Earth.

The Sacred Forest trail marks the last stage of a long hike on the high land that marks the border between Tuscany, Emilia Romagna and Marche, departing Berceto on the Passo della Cisa and arriving at Carpegna, in the park of Sasso Simone and Simoncello.

We begin our journey of ancient flavours, in the footsteps of wayfarers and monks who, in the shadow of beech and chestnut trees, esteemed even centuries ago a luxuriant nature that has remained practically untouched till this day.

first day
From Lago di Ponte to San Benedetto in Alpe
 - Credit: Shutterstock / lafoto

Our long and shaded walk begins in a small corner of Romagna, in the far north-western corner of the National Park. We tie our boots on the shore of the Lago di Ponte, the starting point of a trail that takes us to San Benedetto in Alpe traversing the high Tramazzo. The body of water that you find here was artificially made more than 50 years ago. With one of the largest amount of hiking trails in the entire Park, it is only a few strides from the Casa Ponte refuge, where you can rest and recover for the night. The Tramazzo creek valley, evidence of man-made routes and trails since 1200 BCE, is a land of passage that has remained throughout the centuries. Divided between the Papal States and Grand Duchy of Tuscany, it has been crossed by bandits, smugglers and noble families who found their home here. From the Lago di Ponte you gain height walking up a bare and scenic slope until you reach the Tramazzo Peak at 971m. You then descend along the Susinelli ridge and follow it until Poggio, which is the largest section of the San Benedetto in Alpe municipality that is host to a long-standing Benedictine abbey. Founded around the year 1000 by San Romualdo before arriving at Camaldoli, it is one of the finest historic buildings to be found in the Acquacheta valley. In the attractive hamlet, recognized as a Bandiera Aranzione by the TCI, you can taste the same atmosphere that fascinated Dante in his period of asylum in the Apennine Alps. Also, in the Molino district you can find one of the Foresete Casentinesi Park’s visitor centres.

second day
From San Benedetto in the Alps to Castagno d’Andrea
 - Credit: Shutterstock / MaurizioR75

From San Benedetto we follow the path of Acquacheta, venturing on the many paths that surround the hamlet. Going back up the wide valley towards Tuscany, we will find one of the most spectacular sights in the entire park: the waterfall of Acquacheta. Taller than 70 meters and surrounded by thick vegetation, this waterfall drops into the void with a spectacular leap. The breath-taking nature of the location could not be missed even by the Supreme Poet, Dante, who in the 16th canto of Inferno told of the majestic thunder that “reverberates over San Benedetto in Alpe” (“rimbomba là sovra San Benedetto dell’Alpe”). Ascending from the waterfall towards the plain of Romiti, we can admire a medieval residential centre of a monastic community, then ascending towards the Passo del Muraglione we can similarly appreciate the important crossroads that separate Romagna and Mugello. Looking down, to the left, we catch sight of the Toschi hermitage, a consecrated church surrounded by splendid woods and farms, isolated from the rest of the world in Val Montone.

At this point you can immerse yourself in the Tuscan landscape, continuing towards Serignana, an medieval Apennine village built at the foot of Monte Falterona. Perfectly restored, the hamlet has everything necessary to offer a postcard view of another time: a church, the main house, the sacristy and an old well with an ancient wash house are all on display around the little central piazza. Finally we are at the gates to Castagno d’Andrea, the last point in our long itinerary.

third day
From Castagno d’Andrea to Campigna
 - Credit: Shutterstock / Francesco de Marco

We leave again from Castagno d’Andrea, the little hamlet in the municipality of San Godenzo, home to the Renaissance painter Andrea del Castagno. The historic hamlet, which was razed to the ground in the Second World War by Germans since it was too close to the Gothic Line, today represents the Tuscan gateway to the Foreste Casentinesi and hosts the Park’s Visitor Centre . As the town’s name already suggests, here the chestnut trees are the masters, once a fundamental resource in the daily diet, especially in autumn. We leave again from Castagno to ascend – immersed in a beech forest dotted with boulders – towards the Gorga Nera pond. From there we hike on the southern slope of Monte Falterona, in a landscape that alternates between woodlands and marshes. A few more strides and we reach the Lake of Idols, a body of water that represents an important archaeological site: an ancient votive offering was recovered near the lake (a tangible testimony of the Etruscan period), as well as over 650 bronze statues. Today they are conserved in some of the most important museums of the world, like the British Museum in London, the Louvre in Paris and the Hermitage in St. Petersburg.

Continuing on the slope, we proceed to the Montelleri grasslands, from where we recommend a simple detour to the peak of Falterona. After having reached the summit, we continue our walk towards Monte Falco, the highest peak of the Tosco-Romagnolo Apennines. Here the majestic view extends out over all the surrounding landscape, with Casentino on one side and the Romagnola high grounds on the other. But proceeding and passing beyond the Passo della Calla, we reach the CAI refuge “Citta di Forli” of Campigna, the final destination of the third day.

fourth day
From Campigna to Camaldoli
 - Credit: Shutterstock / pegasophoto

We pick up our journey from where we left off, in Campigna, on the southern slope of Monte Falterona. We climb back up the Passo della Calla until touching upon the splendid area of Sasso Fratino, which is the first integral nature reserve in Italy, established in 1959. Due to its rugged slopes and remote location, it represents one of the few patches of forest that has remained untouched today and this is why it has been included in the UNESCO List of prehistoric European Beech forests. We are not allowed to venture into this natural paradise as all access is forbidden, but a scenic view of this splendid landscape will be a good reward for all our effort.

Venturing between the leafy branches that cast a shadow over the track, we carry on until the peak of Poggio Scali - a splendid viewpoint over the forest. The beech forest becomes a majestic pine forest until the Camaldoli Hermitage - a pearl of medieval architecture nestled deep in the forest. Taking in the silence and peace, you can really understand why San Romualdo chose this location to establish the sacred building. Still inhabited by a monastic community - the Camaldolesi - it is flanked by a church, guest quarters and the old hermit cell where San Romualdo was locked in prayer. Here we also stop, for a contemplative break in nature.

fifth day
From Camaldoli to Badia Prataglia
 - Credit: Matteo Alessandrini

The awakening in Camaldoli will be exceptional, refreshed by the continually crisp air while rays of sunlight shyly peak through the leafy branches. We take up our walk in the forest again climbing toward the Cotozzo refuge. Continue toward the Prato alla Penna clearing, or radura, and the Passo dei Fangacci, once again immersed amidst the beech trees. From the Passo, you can easily reach Monte Penna in about 30 minutes, which offers one of the most spectacular views of the park: from here, you can see the Lama forest and the valleys in Romagna, a great sight with dense vegetation clinging to the ridges.

Walking in the direction of Badia Prataglia, climbing up Poggio allo Spillo, you’ll leave the ridge of Passo della Crocina behind as you head toward Campo all’Agio. After a few kilometres, you’ll see the Buca delle Fate, a natural recess the extends for nearly 70 metres into the heart of the mountain. The area has many waters, and is contains long hollows that attract curious visitors thanks to their bizarre forms. Pass by the Carbonile Refuge, after which you’ll arrive at the centre of Badia Prataglia.

sixth day
From Badia Prataglia to Rimbocchi

Start the next leg in Badia Prataglia: this village with small clusters of houses has immensely old origins and is another gateway to the National Park. The relationship between the residents and the monks has always been lasting here and is in perfect harmony with the forest, queen of this land. A little before the year 1000, a Benedictine abbey was founded in Prataglia, built by monks even earlier than the complex in Camaldoli. All that remains today is the Parish Church of Santa Maria Assunta, which with its simple façade well-represents the features of monastic architecture in this area. Starting in the centre that was once inhabited by lumberjacks and carpenters, continue toward Passo dei Lupatti, followed by Passo dei Mandrioli, walking along the ridge. Head in the direction of the Vallesanta – used in Antiquity for connecting the roads in Romagna to those of central Italy – and then toward the valley of the Corsalone stream. You’ll come to Corezzo – a small village famous for its sagra with tortello alla lastra, a typical mountain dish made with a flaky pastry filled with boiled potatoes and served with a vegetable sauce – followed by Frassineta. Return down into the valley and you’ll eventually arrive in Rimbocchi, a small village where you can treat your taste buds to the local bread, prepared by the expert hands of the Rimbocchi family for over 50 years.

seventh day
From Rimbocchi to La Verna
 - Credit: Shutterstock / Dan74

This is the last leg of this woodland walk, the grand finale as you approach one of the most emblematic places in the park, La Verna. Leave Rimbocchi and climb toward Casalino, using the road that circles around Monte Penna. In just a few kilometres you will arrive at the foot of the steep cliffs dotted with the sacred buildings of La Verna. Immersed in the forest, this Franciscan sanctuary became famous for being the place where Saint Francis received the stigmata. The thousands of pilgrims that come here every year can admire the Basilica and numerous chapels, including the one where the saint of Assisi received the miracle. From its panoramic position, the complex dominates the Casentino and is surrounded by a monumental forest, preserved over time thanks to the patient work of the monks. Amidst firs and beech trees (some of which are as tall as 50 metres) are the fronds that act as shelter for deer of every kind and wolves. The magnificence of this place merits a lengthy visit and is an excellent final stop for this journey through the dense greenery of the Foreste Casentinesi.