Sacred Forest

The Parco Nazionale Foreste Casentinesi in Tuscany (south of Florence) is hardly known outside of the country, despite being the largest national forest in Italy. I heard about it on my St. Francis pilgrimage several years ago, but had not much information about it. When we looked for a four-day hike as a birthday present for my sister Christi, we decided to walk the ancient pilgrimage route from Camaldoli to LaVerna in this national park on a stretch called “Sacred Forest”.






A night train took us from Vienna via Venice to Arezzo, a medieval town of exceptional beauty and history. Arezzo is the birthplace of the famous poet Petrarca and the Renaissance artist Piero della Francesca lived and worked there.




Train station in Venice Mestre. The sitting posture already reveals that we are sisters




Piazza Vasari in Arezzo




Sipping non alcoholic cocktails in one of the many cafes on Piazza Vasari




It was nice to revisit the same Café in Arezzo I discovered several years ago.






We took a taxi to Camaldoli (about one hour ride), a tiny village consisting of two hotels, one monastery and a post office. We stayed in the hotel “Locanda dei Baroni”. The wooden floors of the charming hotel were full of life. Every step on the old, wooden panels made a sound as if they would whisper, “for hundreds of years, pilgrims visited this place before you. Be aware of their presence!”





A powerful, moss patched tree spread its branches over the restaurant garden and was also visible from our room, connecting us with the sacred forest even from inside.



Restaurant garden with tree





View of the inner court of the monastery






Before dinner, we hiked for one hour on a steep mountain trail to the hermitage. It was here that my sister realised her back pack might be too heavy for the trek. Fortunately, she could send some of her things back home the next day from the local post office.





The beauty and silence of the forest already revealed itself on the first day. I loved the three simple crosses, a symbol of overcoming duality. The name “Sacred Forest” refers to the stigmata St. Francis received in La Verna in 1124.  We were told that the entire forest between Camaldoli and La Verna was illuminated by white light for one week.





About 1000 years ago, the Benedictine monk St. Romualdo was fascinated by the beauty of this forest and decided to build a refuge for pilgrims and wayfarers on a clearing. It became a hermitage for monks who follow a monastic order concerned with the conservation of nature and the environment. The “Codici Camaldolesi” (1080 AD) includes guidelines for good forestry, as a healthy forest is considered an integral part of the life of the monks.



In the Spirit of Camaldoli based on St. Romualdo, the monastery sees itself as a bridge between East and West, fostering the dialogue between all kind of spiritual traditions and making room for everybody who sincerely is looking inward.



There are two options to walk to Badia Prataglia and we decided for the longer route, which allowed us to visit the hermitage again. We arrived there about 11am the next morning.



Christi buying “medicine” (nut brandy) and Cantuccini for our walk. The shop was a former pharmacy.




“Medicine” for the stomach


The Hermitage is in an immaculate condition, consisting of an outer part with access to the former pharmacy and an inner part, where visitors can see the cell of St. Romualdo, a garden and the church. The monks live in little houses with a garden enclosed by a wall. This area is not accessible for visitors.



A reminder of impermanence at the entrance of the hermitage




Entrance to the inner part and to the church








View to the innermost part where the monks live.




St. Francis stayed in the house to the left for one month after his return from his mission for peace to Egypt .




Rose garden



Christi, Ilse and I





Cell of St. Romualdo




Window of the cell of St. Romualdo




Getting water from a well at the outer part of the hermitage




The hike to the next village, Badia Prataglia, was a leisurely hike through a beech forest free of all undergrowth.








Nature art




I was fascinated by the moss patched roots








Sometimes we passed huge fields of fern nearly as tall as we were




A single Turk’s cap lily




To the right of the path, the remains of a very old road up the mountain




View to Badia Prataglia


In Badia Prataglia we stayed in a nice bed and breakfast place and went for an evening stroll through the town. Here, we discovered a grotto called “Grotto of our Lady of Lourdes” created by a priest in 1939 who believed that it was Mary who miraculously saved his life twice.








Inside the grotto


We also were fascinated by the crypt dating back to Roman times



View to the monastery from the Aboretum




Having a nice dinner together


We also were fascinated by the crypt dating back to Roman times



Crypt under the church of Badia Prataglia




Roman column with acanthus leaves






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Born and raised in a village along the Danube in Austria, Traude Wild soon ventured out into the world. After a two-year program for tourism in Klesheim/Salzburg, she spent nearly a year in South Africa and Namibia. By returning back to Austria, she acquired a Master of Economics at the University of Vienna. After moving to the United States with her four children, she studied Art History at Arizona State University and stayed in the United States for fourteen years. Here, she was teaching Art History in several Universities like Webster University and University of Missouri-St. Louis. Now, she lives partially in Arizona and Vienna and works together with her husband for the University of South-Carolina, Moore School of business as Adjunct Professor organising and leading Study tours in Central Europe. She also teaches at the Sigmund Freud University in Vienna. Since 1999, she is practicing Zen meditation in the lineage of Katagiri Roshi. She loves to hike and to write and is a student of Natalie Goldberg. During her often many weeks long hikes she brings her awareness into the Here and Now, describing her experiences in an authentic way. She loves to walk pilgrimages. The longest hike so far was the 1,400 km long 88 Temple pilgrimage in Shikoku, Japan in 2016.

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  1. You take such interesting excursions, Traude!! What a full and fulfilling life you lead!! I think of you fondly. Love, Erica


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