The municipality of Pratovecchio Stia is located in the distinctive Casentino landscape; surrounded by evocative forests and places of worship, it’s the perfect scenery for those who love nature, mountains and hiking. Indeed, a visit to the Parco Nazionale delle Foreste Casentinesi, Monte Falterona e Campigna is just the ticket.
One of the many great things about Pratovecchio is that it’s the birthplace of Paolo di Dono, better known as Paolo Uccello, a wonderful Renaissance artist and master of perspective. The architecture in this small medieval village is a faithful mirror of its history: a history of faith, attested to by the presence of two convents in the town, one with Camaldolese nuns and the other with Dominicans. But it’s also a history of power, so clearly represented by the impressive Romena Castle, a fortress once owned by the Guidi Counts that was even cited by Dante in the 30th canto of his Divine Comedy.
The castle towers over all of Casentino from its privileged position. All that remains today is the cassero, three towers and part of the defense walls. The cassero can be reached via one of the towers, and is equipped with a fascinating drawbridge passing over the surrounding moat. Inside, you can visit the Podestà’s house – the residential palace where the Guidi Counts of Romena lived – and the keep, the tallest tower.
Close to the village, you’ll find the majestic Parish Church of San Pietro, one of the best examples of Romanesque architecture in the Casentino. The façade, simple and rustic, is made with ashlar stones, while to the left is a squat but solid bell tower.
The historic centre of Stia is positioned around piazza Tanucci, bordered on every side by porticoes. On the namesake road, you can find the beautiful Parish Church of Santa Maria Assunta, dating back to the 12th century. The artworks conserved inside include a polychrome terracotta coat of arms of the Buonafede family made in Andrea della Robbia’s workshop, a beautiful Annunciation of Mary and Saints by Bicci di Lorenzo, and an impressive Madonna and Child with Two Angels by the Cimabue school or possibly by a young Giotto. Other traces of the distant Middle Ages can be seen in the Palagio Fiorentino, a centuries-old residence of the Guidi Counts, today home to an interesting collection of contemporary art.
Not far from the town is the imposing Porciano Castle, which dominates the valley in this first stretch of the Arno, and the Sanctuary of Santa Maria delle Grazie, completely surrounded by forests.
Pratovecchia Stia is synonymous with artisan activity, particularly with producing the Casentino panno, which has played an important role in the local economy. The historic woollen mill is today home to the Wool Museum.
To fully understand the area’s nature, crafts and historical heritage, follow the thematic itineraries of the Casentino Ecomuseum, a sort of "widespread museum" that will lead you around hugely valuable archaeological sites.
Castel Focognano, Poppi and Bibbiena are all examples of particularly interesting monuments in which you can closely follow in the footsteps of Etruscan and Roman civilizations; meanwhile in Subbiano - a town still distinctive for its historic water mills - you can visit the Documentation Center of archaeological culture and the territory.
If you’re on the hunt for something more "tasty", head towards Ortignano Raggiolo, the "capital" of chestnuts. The place is covered almost exclusively by chestnut woods, which have become a central resource for the community, both from a social and economic point of view.
In May, the Arte della Lana Museum hosts the traditional Festa del Battilano, the historic name of the wool carder. At the end of the Holy Mass, the re-enaction of the workers exiting the wool mill takes place. Stia is not only known for its soft fabric, but also for its blacksmith trade, which is celebrated with a biennial event including a World Forging Championship. There is also the Forme del legno (wood shaping), dedicated to the process’ culture.
After you’ve poked your head around Pratovecchia Stia’s cultural treasures, take a seat at a table and savour the area’s amazing flavours, starting with its meat and cheese. The classic local appetizer includes Grigio del Cascentino ham, which is obtained from pigs reared in the wild according to historic traditions; and Abbucciato Aretino, a cheese with distinctive dark rind that dates back to the 11th century and the Camaldolese monks.
Brown trout live in Casentino’s crystal clear streams; the fish is healthy and light, often grilled and flavoured with herbs and spices.