Between chestnut and beech woods in Valtiberina

by Stefano Farinelli

In Tuscan Valtiberina, we can find plains, hills and mountains of supreme value. The valley washed by the Tiber River offers the opportunity to cultivate the plots of land which branch off to the foothills of the Tuscan-Umbrian-Marchigiano and Romagnolo Apennine. This type of agriculture is all in all easier to carry on, obviously with the help of specialized machinery. The water resource is not lacking thanks to the Montedoglio reservoir and the numerous pits for irrigation. In some areas the morphology, however, does not help the farmer and so as we climb along the steep slopes this activity also, closely linked to environment, changes considerably. Let’s go to discover the wide chestnut woods of Caprese Michelangelo and higher up the beech woods which reach up to 1400 meters above the sea level.

It is one of the highest historical centres in Tuscan Valtiberina with its approximately 650 meters above the sea level and it offers a multitude of aspects related to territory, mountain economy and history. Famous for being the birthplace of Michelangelo Buonarroti, who was of Florentine origins but born in Tuscan Valtiberina. Just the name “Buonarroti” was added to “Caprese” in honor of the well-known artist. The morphological conformation of the ancient village leaves no space for many plains and it is characterized by the presence of large woods of tree species such as chestnut and beech.

The agricultural economy, adapting to the place, has always seen the cultivation of chestnuts,( which are spontaneously here), to collect their precious fruits called “il marrone of Caprese Michelangelo”. The precious chestnut in question has also taken on the special protected designation of origin D.O.P. which certifies the origin of the product. In the past, it was a real source of livelihood around which structures and subjects revolved. Still today, inside the chestnut woods, you can find some ancient stone structures called “i seccatoi” where the chestnut was dried with controlled temperature to be able to transport it more easily to the mill in which it was transformed into flour. From this flour you could get an excellent little bit sweet and nutritious polenta.

Not only chestnut woods but also fruits of the wood such as the porcini mushroom emerge here naturally from the earthy substratum rich in organic substance. Even the porcino, like all other mushrooms, needs special conditions of temperature and humidity to be able to populate the undergrowth. This precious fruit of the forest acts as a link between the high range of chestnut trees and the highest range of beech trees.

The beech, in Valtiberina grows mostly at altitudes above 900/1000 m. above the sea level where the temperatures are very cold in winter and less sultry in summer. This broad-leaved tree bears fruit – the so-called “beech trees” that spread at the foot of the big trees. In the municipality of Caprese Michelangelo you quickly pass from chestnut to beech trees.

A great place to spend a few hours in absolute tranquility is for sure the Alpe della Faggeta/ Catenaia between the municipalities of Caprese, Subbiano and Anghiari. One of the most easily accessible eateries is located in Caprese Michelangelo, right at the foot of the Alpe in Faggeto/ fonte della Galletta . Once you reach the famous restaurant “Il Cerro” near the old city centre of Caprese Michelangelo, turn towards Faggeto. The road climbs to asphalt for several hundred meters of altitude gain, which, if traveled by car, are definitely less challenging! Once you reach the place where to rest you can see some stone houses which emerge from the beech wood. We are at an altitude of 1200 meters? above sea level. so the vegetation consists mainly of beeches and conifers. From here, you can take various paths which branch off to the peaks of the mountains behind and then descend into Casentino. Many of them are marked C.A.I. (Italian Alpine Club) therefore of easy practicability. To quickly reach the peak and return to the starting point in about 6.5 kms you can follow the path 012 that runs slightly uphill the half coast of the Tiberian side until it intersects with 085 which then passing to 50, it quickly climbs up to Monte il Castello at an altitude of 1414m above sea level. Once at the peak, you can see the Casentino on your right and the Valtiberina on your left. Monte il Castello, together with Monte dei Frati (Alpe della Luna) is one of the highest peaks in the area. Continue on path 014 to Monte Altuccia and then descend again intersecting the 012 that leads to the starting point. Just shortly after crossing the path 012 you can see the Montedoglio reservoir in all its size. Once reaching again  the Fonte della Galletta, you can stop to recover your strength!