Silence and adrenaline: these two words aren’t often found in the same sentence, but this is exactly what awaits you in the wild woods of the Casentino and the steep slopes of Pratomagno, where an unparalleled variety of landscapes offers total solitude in the company of millennia-old forests and exhilarating trails to some of the highest mountains in the region.
An early start is the best way to conquer Pratomagno, the mountain range that extends between the Upper Valdarno and the Casentino, reaching nearly 1,600 metres in height. Our group gathers downhill, where we meet a team of mountain bikers ready to show us how it’s done. With just a glance at the trail ahead of me, I begin to question how one can pedal up such a steep slope, but our guides laugh off my concern.
“These are e-bikes,” Massimo says. “Bikes like these have pedal assistance,” continues Leonardo, “so it’s much easier for ‘normal’ people to ride up mountains like Pratomagno.” Off they go, whizzing along with smiles on sweat-free faces. The rest of the group goes for the hiking option, and in no time at all, our blood is pumping and a feeling of invincibility pervades as we look down at Tuscany stretching out below us. Stopping halfway up the mountain, a herd of wild horses canters into view, offering a magical moment of untamed authenticity. The trail lies ahead, so we leave the equines behind to continue our walk along the mountain ridge.
At the 19-metre-tall iron cross, which marks Pratomagno’s highest point, our guide points out the paths that lead to and from the monument, explaining how this spot lies at the centre of a crisscrossing of walkways that branch off in every direction: Terranuova Bracciolini to the east, Bibbiena to the west, Castiglion Fibocchi to the south and Casentino to the north, which we where we are headed next.
Visiting the Casentino is like stepping back to a time before the advent of cities. These millennia-old forests seem largely untouched and conceal treasures like the medieval Vallombrosa Abbey and the Camaldoli Hermitage. But the Casentino is more than just forests. Indeed, this area is ideal for all kinds of outdoor activities given the variety of landscape in this relatively small territory. From forest trails to mountain paths and winding roads through the valley, you can enjoy the Casentino in whatever way you see fit, be it on foot, on horseback or by mountain bike.
E-mountain biking is perfect here because they make it easier for casual tourists to see more than the flat lands of the valley, effortlessly also tackling the mountain ridges. The area is suitable for family outings as well, says another of our guides, Fabio, who teaches children how to ride bikes and takes them out for trips to explore the Casentino. Our guides enthusiastically explain how a recently opened bike trail along the whole length of the Arno River, stretching from the source on Monte Falterona all the way to Marina di Pisa, includes a 50-kilometre stretch through the Casentino, improving access to the territory from outlying areas and major cities along the trail.
The freedom to take slow day trips like this are an added value to any stay in Tuscany and the Casentino lends itself perfectly to such an outing. Walking these trails, weaving in and out of small towns, you realize just how close to its roots this territory still is. Watch a shepherd make cheese, wine being made, chestnuts being harvested and speak with the people who drive these historic traditions, better appreciating the territory in all its complexity and beauty.