More magic

I mentioned in a recent blog post that there was something magical to me about fog and that autumn mornings in the Casentino Valley offer lots of magic. That was an understatement, as you can see from the photos in this gallery.

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Images © Melissa Corcoran.

The road to Porciano: Consuma to Porciano

After the road crests at the Consuma Pass, it dips down to the hamlet of Ponticelli. There’s a bus stop here, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, where the bus from Florence offloads passengers going to towns in the Casentino and the busses from the Casentino offload the passengers going to Florence. For the most part, the timing is coordinated, but the first time it was a little nerve-wracking, wondering if we’d be stranded here!

Ponticelli bus stop.

Ponticelli bus stop.

After Ponticelli, the road climbs again through a heavily-forested area (as I mentioned in another post, the wood used for the scaffolding and machines used to build the dome of the Duomo came from the forests of the Casentino), but at one point, the land drops away from the road and I can see Poppi and the valley opening up before me. From here, I am usually narrating the journey in my head for the benefit of my siblings, wishing they could be along for the adventure and thinking how much they would enjoy this trip. When I am bringing someone to Porciano for the first time, I try not to narrate – I don’t want to impose my feelings on their first impressions.

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Looking into the Casentino Valley towards Poppi.

The bar that marks the turn.

The bar that marks the turn towards Porciano.

Then it’s time to make the turn at Scarpaccia, where a bar (meaning a place to get food and drink, not just alcohol) marks the turn. Now I’m almost to Porciano and I swear I can feel the tug of the place. Soon Castello di Romena comes into view. No matter the angle I see it from – from Porciano, on SR70 from Bibbiena, or from here – I get a catch in my heart because it’s so beautiful.

 

Castello di Romena.

Castello di Romena.

A couple more twists and turns and Porciano comes into sight. I’m like a showman when someone is with me – if no one is behind me, I stop the car and point out the village with Castello di Porciano behind it. Then it’s down into Stia, a little town of which I am very fond, a turn onto a small bridge across the Arno River, with the centro storico on the right and the football (soccer) field and La Rana, a restaurant overlooking the Arno, on the left.

A turn onto Via Dante Alighieri and I’m almost there. I pass the house where a dog named Zoe and her canine companion whose name I haven’t found out yet live, hoping to catch a glimpse of them both; if I see them, I sometimes pull over and distribute scritches! Another turn, and Porciano comes into view again. Different times of day and seasons have shown me the hills ahead glowing with light or wind ruffling the olive trees, displaying the silvery undersides of their leaves. In the fields on either side of the road, I often see a shepherd with his flock. Another turn or two and I’m in the piazzale below the castle. I pass the local cemetery, turn into the drive, and I have arrived.

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As I said, it’s a journey I’ve made many times; I never tire of it and it is never less than beautiful.
Images © Melissa Corcoran

Three castles

Earlier this week, I took a walk up a nearby hill, from which I could see three castles: Castello di Porciano, Castello di Romena, and Castello dei Conti Guidi – Poppi. They are joined in the history of the Casentino Valley and each is special in its own way.

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From left to right: Castello dei Conti Guidi – Poppi, Castello di Porciano, and Castello di Romena.

I wrote about my first visit to Castello di Porciano here. On this visit, I’m staying at a cottage on the grounds, learning more about the area, and appreciating how wonderful it is to be perched high on a hill, with views of the valley and the other two castles.

The current owner’s parents, Flaminia Goretti de Flamini and George A. Specht, restored the tower of Castello di Porciano over a period of years in the 1960s and 1970s. The lower floors of the tower house a museum, in which are displayed domestic and agricultural artifacts from the Casentino valley and archeological finds from excavations of the Castle. Various events take place at the castle during the summer months, including lectures and musical performances in “Dante’s Hall” and activities for children, such as an ‘afternoon in the Middle Ages.’

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Clockwise from left: Castello di Porciano, with Castello di Romena in the distance; the castle and village from the town of Stia; the curator of the museum at a children’s event.

The next castle, distance-wise, as I look out from the hill, is Castello di Romena, much of which is a ruin. What is special to me about this castle is how it looks from both Porciano and the valley. From Porciano, the castle towers are outlined against the hills behind them, as are the cypresses on the road to the castle. From the valley, the castle towers stand tall and proud and every time I drive towards them, I think, ‘beautiful Romena.’

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Clockwise from top left: Castello di Romena as seen from Porciano; one of the towers; view through a wall of the surrounding hills; the castle grounds.

The third castle is Castello dei Conti Guidi – Poppi. Visiting this castle was on my ‘must do’ list and I enjoyed every minute of my time there. I learned a lot of history that day and even better, my interest was piqued to learn more. One of the best parts of the castle for me is the Rilliana Library—entering these two rooms of ancient books and manuscripts was like entering a church. I also enjoyed my climb of the bell tower, although I had to make sure I was out of the tower before the bells rang at noon or I would have been deafened! The views from the top were spectacular.

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Clockwise from top left: Poppi from the Castello dei Conti Guidi – Poppi; the castle; frescoes by Taddeo Gaddi in the chapel; a view of the countryside from the bell tower; stone medallions.

Three castles and I love them all!

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View from a castle window.

View from a castle window.

I’m not sure if I’ve been in a fairy tale or a movie, but my visit to Castello di Porciano was magical.

Our hostess was the owner of the castle, Martha Specht Corsi. Before lunch our first day, she took us through the living quarters of the castle (a museum occupies the bottom three levels and the living quarters the top three levels) and onto the roof terrace. What incredible views of the Casentino valley! We could see the village of Stia nestled in a fold of the valley and green-upon-green hills, with clouds sweeping across the sky and sudden shafts of sunlight illuminating features of the landscape.

Martha pointed out the village cemetery and invited us to be present at the “Day of the Dead” ceremony that afternoon. Beforehand, we went to the cemetery to place flowers in front of the tombstones of Martha’s parents. The cemetery was the most beautiful burial place I’d ever seen – filled with well-tended graves. Martha explained that the people of the village stop by on their walks to say hello to their family members who are buried there. I’m sure the living must miss their dead, but the cemetery did not feel morbid or weighted with sorrow, but filled with love.

When we returned to the cemetery later, people were standing by the graves of their family members and waiting for the priest to arrive from Mass in the small village church. Martha and her husband went to stand outside the small chapel where her parents are buried. Since he had no one to stand by him, we positioned ourselves by the tombstone of a Russian professor friend whose grave Martha tends.

Just before the priest arrived, a young woman hurried in and went to one of the graves near where I was standing. She kissed the tombstone, made the sign of the cross and rubbed the tombstone in an affectionate gesture. Martha told us later that the three actions are performed in either that order or reverse order, but always together.

The approach of the procession from the church was signaled by the sound of prayers coming from the road. A man holding a crucifix came through the gate first, followed by a group of men and women, then by the priest flanked by two small altar boys. The priest stood at the door of the chapel, facing out into the cemetery, and said the prayers. Then he walked down the center aisle of the cemetery, shaking holy water onto the graves and bystanders as he blessed them. Afterwards, people visited with each other and the cemetery took on the air of a quiet, friendly gathering.

That evening, there was a celebratory dinner for Martha’s birthday, which included the surprise appearance of a friend of hers from the USA. From the champagne toast and canapés to the mille-feuille, it was a wonderful evening of conversation and goodwill, enhanced by the glamour of dining in an actual castle!

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Clockwise from top left: Castello di Porciano; table set for a festive dinner; the castle’s shadow overlays the village cemetery; view of the Casentino valley from the castle roof.

A drive through the surrounding towns the next day served to whet my appetite for more exploration of the Casentino valley. We ran errands (loved the old-fashioned hardware store!), visited an antiques dealer, and explored the church of San Pietro a Romena. This doesn’t often happen to me, but I was speechless as we drove up to the Castello di Poppi and down through the surrounding village. Just when you think you’re tired of the look of Tuscan villages, you are seduced all over again! We wrapped up our explorations with lunch at a wonderful restaurant that ended with a drink of ‘liquid sunshine,’ otherwise known as Granello.

Driving out of the Casentino that afternoon was like leaving an enchanted valley, one to which I will return.

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Clockwise from left: the church of San Pietro a Romena; persimmons in the churchyard; liquid sunshine.

Castello di Miramare

In my travels, I have visited homes of the aristocracy, including a palace or two. There’s always been something to admire about each of them and a couple of times, I’ve been awestruck. It wasn’t until today, however, that I felt a personal connection with one of these homes. I visited Miramare Castle (near Trieste, Italy), built by the Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Hapsburg as a residence for him and his wife. What struck me most about the Archduke was that he loved the sea and his favorite activity, according to the audio guide, was reading.  A man after my own heart!

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The Archduke was in the Austrian Navy and many of the elements of his rooms reflect that. This room was paneled in wood and the ceiling lowered to mimic a cabin on a ship. The bed was brass like that on a ship, but I’m not sure a portrait would have been standard furnishings!

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In the library, Maximilian wanted to celebrate the literary genius of four diverse cultures:  Greek, Italian, Anglo-Saxon and German. These are represented by busts of Dante, Goethe, Shakespeare (spelled Shakspeare on the bust), and Homer.

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It was the view from the terrace that made me understand why Maximilian had chosen this rocky outcrop for his home.

Before I left the castle grounds, I walked out on a stone jetty, where boats would have pulled up to discharge guests arriving by water. The wind was blowing, the waves were crashing against the jetty and I could look far out into the Adriatic.  It was wonderful, as was this view of the castle.

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