Autumn is over. Trees and shrubs which showed their rainbow of colors are now covered by a blanket of white, untouched snow. A new charming vision, making this place very unique in the panorama of Italian mountains. The Foreste Casentinesi and Monte Falterona National Park is a millenarian area of 36,000 hectares created by nature centuries ago and preserved since Xth Century by the monks of Camaldoli Hermitage, a community that established itself here and still lives in the monastery.
Forget the high peaks of the Dolomites and welcome to the Apennines, the backbone of Italy. This area covers a vast part of Romagna and Tuscany, building on a historical and political relationship which is still present, notwithstanding the evolution of Italy’s history in the XIXth Century.
Nature, men and animals have all lived here, harmoniously together for centuries, as strange as that may seem. This is what Park visitors experience when they come and go birdwatching or listen to the howling of the wolves or simply take a leisurely walk. The peculiarity of this park is the integral Natural Reserve of Sasso Frattino, the first Italian reserve of 764 hectares which is not opened to visitors. Nature exactly as it should be. No men. Not even the rangers.
Park Rangers organize an annual Fall Foliage Day. Small groups are guided into the forest to experience the shades and nuances of the forest. Pale yellows and warm browns. The reds of the maples. The gold and dark greens of the pinewoods. They’ve been called the “leaf peepers!”
Walk along the trails in silence. Listen to the sounds of the wind as it rustles through the branches or the calls of the birds as they watch the people intruding visitors. Take in the earthy smells of the trees’ resin. Why come on this adventure? What’s the purpose of it all? Why, to get the best shot, of course! And well, just maybe, catch a glimpse or two of a wild animal running deep into the forest.
It’s a “living” experience. People used to live and raise their children here, but harsh times, poor living conditions, long winters and lack of food caused that all to change. Signs of these lost communities can still be seen as you go from one little village to the next. Mediaeval stone bridges. Small secluded churches with their abandoned cemeteries. Old stone homes and mills where the families used to grind their own flour. The park completely unveils itself.
In the US, this has become a popular tradition. Every year many professional and amateur photographers climb the mountains of New England, Wisconsin and other Rocky Mountain States, enchanted by the colours of the leaves as they slowly fall from the chestnut, oak, poplar, alder, beech, maple and walnut trees, looking for one of those shots we all fall in love with.
The Foreste Casentinesi National Park is more than just this. If you are thinking of visiting Italy in the cooler months, Fall Foliage may surprise you, especially if you’re looking for an unconventional destination, want to experience something new and “live” a unique opportunity, then this is the place for you!
The Park can be easily reached. Take the A14 motorway from Bologna to Rimini and get off at the Faenza, Forlì or Cesena exits:
From Faenza, follow along the Tramazzo valley until you reach the town of Tredozio.
From Forlì, follow for the Montone Valley (SS.67), Rabbi Valley (SP 3) and Bidente Valley (SP 4) until the towns of Portico-San Benedetto, Premilcuore and Santa Sofia.
From Cesena, head for the Savio Valley by taking E45 until the town of Bagno di Romagna.
Guided tours usually start from Santa Sofia, the Park’s activity hub. If you are interested in staying in the area (which is highly recommended), you’ll find a number of comfortable, fine hotels or B&Bs and excellent restaurants, offering local traditional cuisine. The park also offers hiking and biking trails. To know more about, please visit the official website, http://www.parcoforestecasentinesi.it