The beer street in casentino among history, tales and wonders

by Renato Nesi

The history and the beauties of Casentino are combined with a product that has been consumed here for millennia and is part of people’s daily life: beer.

Beer has been produced in Tuscany since before the advent of the Etruscan civilization, but it was this people that improved its production process and quality linking its consumption to both religious rites and festivals. The Etruscans also had temples dedicated to this drink they called Pevak and they were guarded by priests and priestesses who played an important role in society.

Even the province of Arezzo, and Casentino in particular, tell of the tradition linked to beer. Fatigue, rhythms of the seasons, work: women have made beer at home for their men engaged in the fields or on pastures for centuries. The ingredients were barley, but also spelt, oats, honey, chestnuts and whatever else the earth offered.

Today, of course, things have changed a lot, but in the last fifteen years in the wake of the young movement of Italian craft beers new realities, daughters of the passion and competence of a generation of brewers who knew how to study, invent and develop a new local way of drinking, have been born between the villages and the mountains of this territory. 

We therefore propose an itinerary linked to brewery tourism that will lead you to live a new experience, slow and decidedly bubbly.

We will discover three different types of brewery, each with its own history, philosophy and soul.

Our journey begins right on the Passo della Consuma, at 1,050 meters above sea level. The first thing to do is to take a moment to get full of energy with a look that embraces the valley below and gives us an idea of why it is called Casentino, a name perhaps born from clusus, closed or cluseo, near the plain… of Arezzo.

And then, off you go. You can experience this beer tour by car, motorcycle, scooter, but also by bike: it will be unique in any case.

Stage 1: from Consuma to Poppi

We take the Regional Road 70 of Consuma downhill in the direction of Poppi up to Scarpaccia and then take the Provincial Road of Scarpaccia up to the parking lot from which you depart the road that leads to the Castle of Romena, first beautiful stage of the day.

The manor house is located in a place inhabited since ancient times. The name Rumena, Ormena or Ormina, in fact, brings us back to the Etruscan Rumine and to the Latin Rumenius.

We are in the Upper Casentino Fiesolano along the Arno river in a strategic position. The Castle, one of the most beautiful in Tuscany with its three-tower keep, was built in four phases starting from the Eleventh century by the family of the Hucpoldingi, Marquises of Spoleto and Camerino (the future Alberti) also called “Counts of Romena” with numerous properties both in Tuscany and in Romagna.

In the course of the Twelfth century, it passed under the Guidi Counts reaching its maximum splendor at the time of Dante Alighieri like the castles of Porciano and Poppi, during the following century.

In the middle of 1300, it was sold by the Guidi Counts to the Republic of Florence, which sold it in turn to the Goretti Counts, still owners, in the year 1700. It also seems that here, in 1902, Gabriele D’Annunzio wrote a good part of the Alcyone.

Leave the castle and return towards the parking area turning first left for a detour dedicated to the visit of the picturesque Pieve di San Pietro di Romena, built during the twelfth century (1152). A stop that takes about two hours.

Castello di Romena
The Castle, one of the most beautiful in Tuscany, have three-tower keep.

Once the visit is over, take the provincial road in the direction of Pratovecchio, pass the town and in about fifteen minutes you reach Porrena di Poppi with the State Road 310.

Here there is the Atlantic Oil Brewery: an interesting Brewpub (they produce beer in the room where it is served) opened in 2006 by Andrea Innocenti, a long-time home brewer. The project starts from an abandoned factory and the verses of Cesare Pavese, whose poetry is inspired by the name Atlantic Oil. The beers on the menu are four, plus some seasonal, ranging between different styles but mainly Anglo-Saxon and beers are proposed in combination with excellent tasty and territorial cuisine. Among the labels in paper I suggest the Solea, Bitter very easy to drink 4.2% ABV and the Gotica, Porter 5.9% ABV.

Satisfied and happy we can now turn our attention to Poppi, one of the “most beautiful villages in Italy”. The Castle of the Guidi Counts towers above the town almost like a flag planted as a warning over the valley, the castle is visible from most of the Casentino.

The narrow streets with porticoes and stone pavements suddenly open on elegant squares, which refer to a mixture of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, art and new fears in the era of the “incastellamento”, typical of the Thirteenth century. The castle of Poppi is the youngest of those wanted by the Guidi, built between the end of 1100 and the beginning of 1300, but it can boast illustrious guests, first of all Dante Alighieri who lived here a year between 1310 and 1311 (some say four years), guest of Count Guido di Simone from Battifolle during his exile from Florence. The Rilliana Library with over 25,000 texts, many of which are Medieval manuscripts and incunabula, is located inside.

Do not miss the remarkable Chapel of the Guidi Counts with its cycle of Fourteenth-century frescoes attributed to Taddeo Gaddi, a pupil of the great Giotto.

The narrow streets with porticoes and stone pavements suddenly open on elegant squares, which refer to a mixture of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

Stage 2: from Poppi to Bibbiena

This stage will lead us to the discovery of an agricultural brewery.

The agricultural beer is produced by breweries within a farm that produces more than 50% of the needed raw material. Usually the choice falls on cereals, herbs, such as hops, fruit or other possible agricultural ingredients.

First, we expect a visit to the village of Bibbiena, cozy town since the time of the Etruscans, although its formal birth is dated in 979 A.D. when the ancient name, Viblena changed into Beblena and then became Biblena in the Eleventh century. Indeed, the place names and the small Etruscan necropolis found on the western slope of the hill of Lonnano, which dominates the sanctuary of Santa Maria del Sasso, confirm the presence of an Etruscan settlement in this area.

The history of the town, already defined by the Sicilian Arab geographer El Idrisi in the Twelfth century and still referred to as “the capital of the valley” has always been tormented. Battles, sieges, looting and so on. Bibbiena did not miss anything. One of the bloodiest episodes was undoubtedly that of the battle of Campaldino between Guelphs and Ghibellines. Bibbiena sided with the Ghibellines of Arezzo and lost. The Bishop Count Guglielmino of the Ubertini, who lived in the city, was killed by the Florentines who plundered Bibbiena after eight days of fierce siege. The breach in the walls is still visible.

In the Eighteenth century the village lived a second golden age with flourishing art and culture, a general requalification, the echo of which pushed young European offspring in the throes of Sturm und Drang to make a last Grand Tour up to Bibbiena to buy “Vases of Savona” like the ones at the historic pharmacy in Camaldoli.

Today the centre is very pleasant and in the streets, especially in summer evenings, you breathe a lively and relaxed atmosphere. The offer of tourist services is wide and there is no lack of excellent food and wine among which, of course, we cannot forget the Agricultural Brewery La Campana d’Oro.

The name originates from a legend dear to Casentino, according to which the woods around the Castle of Porciano keep a secret, a treasure to say the least. It would be a Golden Bell of immense value, which is able to ensnare men with desire leading them to thoughtless actions that do not bring anything good. As happened to the jester Banfio who, after risking his life and repenting, ended up a monk in Camaldoli.

Some say that even today in certain districts of the territory people recite the quatrain:

“In Porciano, in Casentino,

 Between a source and a thorn,

 There is a bell of fine gold,

 Worth as much as all of Casentino”.

The tale wants to push men not to be greedy and selfish, but humble and frugal. Qualities of peasant and industrious culture that brings us back to our brewery.

It takes a few minutes to reach it. Leave Bibbiena along the state road 208 then continue in La Ferrantina along the Regional Road 71.

La Campana d’Oro was founded in 2015 thanks to the commitment and passion of Antonella Matassoni’s husband Giancarlo and children Matteo and Alex, today it is a very developed project that goes beyond the production of beer.

The activity is located in a Nineteenth-century farm, purchased by the family in 2003 and combines the production of raw materials for beer (especially cereals) with the agritourism and educational farm. Tastings, courses, events, attention to beer-food pairing are all characteristic elements of this beautiful reality of Casentino.

At the moment, there are five beers produced including the Ghibelline, an American Amber and the IPA Gold Leaf made with local hemp. Finally, there are also proposals for tours designed to combine beers with the beauties and excellences of the territory from the Panno Casentino to the truffle, to the castles reached on horseback.

In short, a true 360 sensory experience.

Pieve di Romena
A beautiful glimpse of Casentino, a valley of churches and castles.

Stage 3: from Bibbiena to the cross of Pratomagno

The third stage of our itinerary takes us to Capolona, on the border between the Casentino and the Arno valley. To say it with Dante, “…where the Arno twists its nose to Arezzo…”. More than a single town, what you can reach in about twenty minutes by car from Bibbiena is an area in the shadow of Pratomagno, inhabited perhaps since the Neolithic Age and certainly by the Etruscans. Now it is suitable for manufacturing and agritourism hospitality, but also rich in history and important events.

If we wanted to try to tell them in a fairytale style, we could start with a nice “once upon a time… an Abbey”.

Indeed most of the events of these places revolved around the Abbey of San Gennaro in Campus Leonis (hence the name “Capolona”), which was founded in 972 A.D. and then entrusted to Benedictine monks arrived from Montecassino. For over two centuries, until the end of the Twelfth century its power was enormous with possessions also in Umbria. Among the illustrious guests of the Abbey, in 1064 it is thought that there was also Pope Alexander II. Indeed, there was also a Roman villa that later became a small castle of which there is still a tower and inside the castle a medal with the effigy of the Pontiff was found.

The Abbey finished its parable of glory at the end of the Fourteenth century and then it was abandoned not without consequences for the surrounding villages.  But many testimonies of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance have resisted centuries and have come down to us through the remains of fortifications, works of art and parish churches such as Santa Maria Maddalena in Sietina; a culture handed down by men.

Capolona is home to Bifrons, a brewery located in Via Dante, Località Subbiano and it can be easily reached by the SR71. The family-run company was founded in 2013, after years of passionate homebrewing by the owners.

In 2016 the quality leap comes with a new plant, able to guarantee stability in production. Here a cozy beer garden is active to taste the creations of the house: today there are eight beers on the menu, among which I gladly mention the Catenaia, a Ale chestnut 6.0% ABV and the Apanema, an American Pale Ale 5.5% ABV.

By now we are almost at the end of the journey and the story, but there is still something to do, to build another good memory to take home: admire the view from the Cross of Pratomagno.

From Capolona take the provincial road of Spicchio up to Ponte Buriano and from there up along the provincial road 1 until the junction from which you take the panoramic road of Pratomagno. The route is beautiful with superb views of the valleys below. Consider an hour and a quarter to get to the top.

Once you leave the car, the last easy stretch is only on foot and allows you to conquer the Cross at 1,592 meters above sea level.

On the summit the view stretches from Valdarno to Casentino in a single powerful embrace. And to stop in silence, letting oneself be carried away by the genius of the wind, one can guess why the Franciscan Luigi da Pietrasanta, in 1926, wanted to celebrate the 700 years since the death of Saint Francis, proposing to place here a cross:

Right in front of the Monte de La Verna, as if it were a bridge thrown in time to cover the years and distances that are found outside and inside us.