To visitors who reach this area, coming through the dense and wild valleys of the “alta Romagna”(mountainous part of Romagna) or along the course of the river Arno through the Casentino valley, so rich in history and art, or through the imposing valley of the Falterona torrent on the Florentine side, the National Park of the Casentino Forests brings a unique and unforgettable experience: the discovery of one of the most ancient forests in Europe. Indeed, imposing forests,rich in varied woodland, cover almost all of the territory of the Park, to the extent that it would be possible to cross its entire length and breadth without ever leaving the luxurious, exuberant green mantle that clothes it. These millennial forests, imbued with history, bear witness to the continual evolution of nature where the relationship with mankind has roots far back in the past. These are well-documented from as early as 1012 when St. Romualdo started the Order of the Calmaldolese Monks, who for centuries were the guardians and keepers of this heritage. From these exuberant forests, generous in providing sustenance and shelter for communities both small and large, comes the prized timber used for the scaffolding of monuments such as the huge cathedral dome in Florence, or for the long, straight beams needed to build the ships of the Pisan fleet. These welcoming forests enable visitors in our times to experience deep and vivid sensations; fascinating in their range of colours, with all the shades of green that in autumn explode into brilliant splashes of amber and russet; heavy with a meditative stillness which in a moment can transform itself into amazing sound, giving the chance to catch sightings and encounters of wildlife to talk about afterwards.
The heart of the Park
In the heart of its territory, like a shining pearl, the Park encloses a precious treasure: the Integral Nature Reserve of Sasso Fratino. This stretch of luxuriant forest, clinging onto the central part of the rocky rampart that is the source of two important branches of the river Bidente, area full of streams and torrents, is the nearest we have today to the ancient woodland. The harsh landscape, with steep inclines and numerous rocky outcrops, and the lack of access roads have made it difficult for man to penetrate the forest over the centuries, and thus have allowed the wood to remain as close as possible to its natural state, with an outstanding wealth of arboreal species which are free to germinate, grow, adapt and...die naturally. An enchanted place which is so essential for understanding and studying the life of the forests that from 1959 it was decided to protect it, forbidding free access or any interference by setting up the first Integral Nature Reserve in Italy, with the award of the European Diploma from 1985.