The farming estate of Ibibbiena is situated in the middle of the handsome valley of the Vessa Torrent, on a gentle slope facing west, at about 400 metres asl. The farm stands on its own ground, an ample garden surrounded by vast expanses of farmland, and is provided with all amenities to satisfy the demands of both adults and children. The farmstead lies only a few hundred metres from Bibbiena, a noble Renaissance hill-town of ancient Etruscan origins, which boasts 18 stately homes belonging to a landed gentry of ancient Florentine lineage.


The Apennine Mountains are the spine of Italy, embracing many a secluded valley, especially on the Tuscany side. One such enclosed valley is known since antiquity as the Casentino. Only 50 Km from Florence, the Casentino is little known, even to the Italians themselves, and yet it has been the theatre of important events since history began. At the head of this valley is the source of the Arno and on its banks is the home of the Italian language. The Casentino is quintessential Italy, as it has been preserved in both the genes and in traditions long vanished elsewhere, and which have moulded Italian culture as it is known in history. The Casentino is indeed the ARCADIA of Tuscany, and in the middle of it rise the hill-towns of Poppi and Bibbiena, which epitomise the typical Central Italian hill-town. The climatic and environmental advantages of the Casentino as compared to the Chianti and to the Florence and Siena area, are there for all to appreciate. The dense expanses of woodland which clothe the flanks of the mountains and shade the narrow dank valleys, are dotted with the towers of ruined castles and the spires of holy places. The monastery of La Verna, where St. Francis received the sacred stigmata and died, is perched upon a lofty crag, peeping out from between the trunks of an ancient beech forest. The monastery of Camaldoli nestles amid a dense forest of centuries-old fir trees, not far from the Apennines watershed, between clear, rushing streams. Both monasteries are rich in Medieval and Renaissance works of art, among them are the best Della Robbia terracottas, ever to come down to us. Guarding the entrance to the valley, due south, lies Arezzo, sprinkled on the sunny flank of a shallow hill. Famous as an ancient Etruscan capital, it is now a centre for goldsmiths and antique dealers. Arezzo is also known for its annual Medieval Joust, and for the frescoes of Piero della Francesca, a local and world-renowned artists, whose masterpieces are all found within easy reach of the Casentino. The Casentino is home to both wildlife and genuine foods. It is the realm of the wild boar, the stag and the "porcino" mushroom, which provide the raw materials for its uniquely delicious cookery. The Italian language spoken today is a product of the Tuscan vernacular, itself a dialect of ancient Latin, which Dante adopted in writing the great masterpiece of Italian literature: The Divine Comedy, in the 14th century. The Etruscans who ruled Tuscany before the Romans, and who were assimilated into Latin culture around the time of Christ, spoke a Caucasian language, as remote from Latin as Basque is today from Spanish. The Etruscans had to learn Latin as a foreign language, and adopted a high literary form of it, soon after the Roman conquest of Etruria (present-day Tuscany) in the 4th century BC. Consequently the language of Tuscany developed directly from pure literary Latin, being unaffected by the inflexions of a local language akin to Latin, as was the case for all the other regions of Italy. As a political refugee from Florence, Dante took shelter in the secluded valley, and was a guest in the castles of the Counts Guidi of Casentino. Undoubtedly the language chosen by the 'Divine Poet' largely reflects that of the Casentino in years past, before the advent of television. As late as the 1940s and 50s people from the upper valley of the Arno could be heard speaking Dante's idiom at its purest! The language of the people of Poppi and Bibbiena is still as pure as the waters of the Arno at the source. Poppi itself is an ancient prehistoric and Etruscan site. The name, being pre-Etruscan, dates back to before 1000 BC, and probably refers to the shape of the hill upon which it rests, next to the Arno. The town rises above the flood-valley within sight of its sister town of Bibbiena and the Castle of Romena, two equally ancient place-names of obscure origin whose history spans from prehistory to Etruscan, Roman, Medieval, Renaissance and modern times without interruption. The castle itself was built in the thirteenth century in the Florentine Gothic style, on the ruins of an older one, and is decorated with frescoes by the early Renaissance artist Taddeo Gaddi. On the hill, in the shadow of the castle, lies the old town, astride of the watershed, embracing the church known as the "Oratorio" and ending at the Abazia di San Fedele. Bibbiena came into the historical record as a stronghold of the bishops of Arezzo, it was conquered by the Florentines in the 15th century, and after that many Florentine families built town houses there to administer their farming estates. There are eighteen Renaissance and Baroque stately homes in Bibbiena today, many of them still owned by the original families. The town was also the birthplace of modern theatre, as Cardinal Bernardo Dovizi, the writer of "La Calandra", the first comedy in the vulgar language, was a native of the town. Also the dynasty of Baroque stage designers, the Galli da Bibiena, had its origins here. Bibbiena is now becoming a museum centre for the history of the theatre. The streets of Poppi and Bibbiena, as those of other towns in the valley, are paved with the local grey sandstone and are often flanked by cool and elegant arcades, under which are numerous unobtrusive shops and cafes, providing points of interest and comfort for the visitor. The towns of the Casentino are neither large nor too busy with noisy traffic. Visitors may walk the entire length and breadth of them in a few minutes, unless they want to linger by the bar or observe an architectural detail, or take a glance at some unexpected breathtaking view of the valley which lies below or of the hills and mountains towering above.