Having a break from everyday life and spending some days in one of the most spectacular forests of Italy is the best gift you can make yourself when autumn comes. After all, “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower” (Albert Camus).
When I was a child the woods near grandma’s house were the perfect place to play, hide and run after butterflies. During summer the trees offered repair from the sun and in autumn the fallen leaves formed a soft red carpet where I sank my feet and then dragged them making that lovely noise. Woolen sweaters and beloved caldarroste used to come shortly after.
Years later, while travelling through New England, I learned how popular is the so-called fall foliage. North America is famous for its dramatic explosion of colors when autumn starts and, for New England in particular, foliage colors are a real magnet for travellers and photographers coming from all around the world.
I start guessing where I could have a similar experience in Italy. As Ale is really interested in this topic, as autumn comes, he starts showing me pictures of the most spectacular beechwoods in Italy. “Let’s go there! We absolutely must go!” he says every five minutes.
We plan a couple of days trip and he starts immediately thinking about all the photographic tests to do. On my side, I’m happy to spend some time in the woods as I used to do during my childhood. I’ll have the chance to walk on a soft red carpet once again very soon…
The most colorful forests
The chosen destination is Foreste Casentinesi National Park on Appennino Tosco Romagnolo mountains, between the territories of Forlì and Arezzo. It’s the ideal place to go in the period that goes from mid-October to the first days of November, when the amazing colors of foliage are so bright.
We collect some information before leaving having a look at the Foreste Casentinesi National Park website. We learn that inside the Park there’s a strict nature reserve (the very first one set in Italy, in 1959) where there are the ancient beechwoods of Sasso Fratino (a Unesco Heritage spot). Strict nature reserve means that nobody can go there. The reason is due to the need of preserving this precious place. Moreover, this place is impervious and there are no roads inside nor human settlement. It seems quite strange to me that nowadays such an off-limits place could exist in Italy, doesn’t it? In my opinion, it’s almost a miracle!
We learn also that there is a wide network of hiking and cycling paths in the park. There are options for well-trained hikers and for tourists too. Some paths are longer and need more than one day to be completed, others are shorter and meant for a one-day trip. In this website are listed several trails that differs for length, walking time and difficulty.
It’s interesting to know that forests cover about the 80% of the extension of the Park: here you have the chance to relax and breathe fresh air. Both your body and soul will feel better!
Weekend in the woods
We leave home early on Saturday morning and drive to Bagno di Romagna, a small city where we’ll stay for the weekend. From there, a 20 km winding road brings us to Badia Prataglia and we finally are in the heart of Foreste Casentinesi National Park. Here we consult the Visitor Centre, a small office where you can:
- get information about the guided excursions;
- find detailed maps of the paths;
- have a look at the local events calendar (there is always some food feast going on…do not forget we are in Italy after all!);
- take precious advices from the staff.
In Badia Prataglia you can find some pubs, restaurants, small food shops and a chemist’s in case of need. If you need something energetic and sweet, you should stop to Bar Vittoria and order the delicious caffè alla castagna (it comes with cream and marron glacé). You will feel immediately happy!
Based on my experience I would recommend a couple of amazing trails, both of them are one day long ring-routes. I think this is a good way to visit the Foreste Casentinesi for the first time and maybe after this experience you will come again.
The first trail is called “The Forests above Badia Prataglia”: it’s 11 km long and it takes about 5 hours to be completed (if you come with your camera, plan one extra hour at least). The first part of the trail goes uphill and passes through a beautiful beech wood. If you’re so lucky to be completely alone in the forest and surrounded by a sort of fluid mist (as we were), you’ll probably feel like walking in a fairy kingdom. If a white unicorn appears don’t be surprised, he’s probably come to show you the way.
The second trail is called “To La Lama walking down from the top”: 11 km and about 4 hours walk (take some extra time for pictures). The starting point is Passo Fangacci and you will walk through different landscapes, crossing small streams, panoramic viewpoints and the Scalandrini’s waterfall. It’s an unusual trail because the first part is downhill and the final part uphill, in other words be informed that the hard work comes at the end.
Good for the spirit
The Foreste Casentinesi National Park is a special place because it offers not only the possibility to hike but also some cultural sites to visit. A really suggestive place to keep in mind is the La Verna Franciscan Sanctuary. It was built isolated on the top of a rock, surrounded by woods. Probably it is one of the most spiritual places that you ever will visit and coming here after a walk in the woods will make your experience unforgettable. Before leaving the Sanctuary just stop at the ancient chemist’s: the monks for sure know how to prepare herbal remedies and…excellent spirits!
- Between mid-October and the beginning of November temperatures are still warm: dress “in layers” during the excursions.
- Around mid-October the autumn colors are at their best and there are many people hiking along the trails. At the beginning of November there are few visitors as the leaves are quite completely fallen from the trees, but the trails are still very impressive.
- Park facilities open seasonally: be sure to check if they are still open at the date of your visit.
- We stayed in Bagno di Romagna where we booked a room at the comfortable Hotel Balneum. For dinner we reserved a table at Cenacolo Santa Lucia, a really special location inside a deconsecrated church.