The Arezzo province has a lot to offer. It is rich in history and nature and boasts quite a few Medieval castles. Here are two that are a reasonable distance from Florence. Both Castello dei Conti Guidi and Castello di Gargonza aren’t easy to reach with public transportation, consider renting a car or using a car service.
Castello dei Conti Guidi, Poppi
The castle belonged to one of the most powerful families in Tuscany during the Middle Ages, the Earls of Guidi. They owned castles all over the region and even in neighbouring Emilia Romagna, but the Poppi castle became the main seat of the family. The castle was built between the end of the 12th century and the beginning of the 14th. Because it is visible from afar, it is a symbol not only for the town of Poppi, but also for the whole Casentino (one of the main valleys near Arezzo).
Two architects are mentioned as the possible originators of the project: Lapo di Cambio and Arnolfo di Cambio. The latter is said to have used the Poppi castle as a prototype for the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. If you look closely there are many similarities, particularly the square shape of the outer walls and the tower. The castle was built so sturdily that it still retains its Medieval appearance today. The only major change was made to the upper part of the tower when it was restored in the 19th century.
In one of the rooms on the top floor you can see a model of the famous battle that took place in front of the castle in 1289. Two factions, the Ghibellini (mostly from Arezzo) and the Guelfi (mostly from Florence), faced off in Poppi. The key victory of the Guelfi was a definitive step towards the Florentine hegemony in Tuscany.
The Guidi chapel is another interesting room to visit on the top floor of the castle. The cross vaulted ceiling is covered in frescoes of sacred scenes by Taddeo Gaddi, one of Giotto’s disciples.
Castello di Gargonza, Monte San Savino
Castello di Gargonza, about 1.30 hour from Florence, is located in Val di Chiana, between Arezzo and Siena.
Castello di Gargonza is more of a hamlet than a castle. Originally built as a fortified town in the 13th century, it passed from Florentine to Sienese hands repeatedly. After the uprising of the local population in 1433, Florence destroyed the whole village in reprisal. Only the tower, the Santi Tiburzio Susanna church and well, still visible today, were left standing.
In the 18th century, the Corsi family owned Gargonza and transformed it into a farm but by the second half of the 19th century a mass exodus left the village deserted. Castello di Gargonza has found a new lease on life. It is now a beautiful hotel that offers both rooms and apartments. It is the perfect place to surround yourself with history and enjoy the slow rhythm of the Tuscan countryside. The venue organises different packages including weddings, family holidays and work events. The restaurant offers local cuisine including dishes showcasing renowned Chianina beef.