Chapter #1

An extravagant choice

More than a century ago, Ella and Dora, two sisters of high English society, undertook what was super fashionable at that time: a journey in Italy, known as The Grand Tour. Ella and Dora had had an excellent upbringing, but they certainly weren’t lacking in that rather blasé attitude, typical of young people of their class in late nineteenth-century England. They also had the reputation of being eccentric, anticonformist (even early feminists!), to the point of saying that they were against having children because they found unbearable the idea of the male intervention needed to make them… And yet, on deciding their travels around Italy, in order to live up to their reputation of being young women who refused to follow the tide, they did not choose Florence, Rome or Venice. Instead they opted for the Tuscan countryside and headed straight for the Casentino Valley. An unusual choice to say the least, extravagant indeed. Who knows what snobbish Ella and Dora thought they would find in such a remote valley; certainly not the refinement and good manners that they could have encountered in an art-filled city… It’s true that culture had enabled them to learn in advance that Casentino was the valley of Dante and that Poppi Castle had been the Florentine writer’s retreat where he penned most of the Inferno. For the rest, we’re convinced that Ella and Dora believed they would find the “good savage”, to study, describe and paint with an anthropologist’s spirit and an artist’s eye.

Chapter #2

A happy choice

But, in the Casentino and especially in Poppi, Ella and Dora didn’t find what they had envisaged, but much more. An infinitely beautiful valley, dotted everywhere with age-old churches, monasteries and abbeys sealing the spirituality of a singular place. But above all else, our two “expats” met the people, simple and illiterate, as well as proud and self-respectful; passionate, crude and diffident, but generous and sometimes even affectionate. The food, the light, the sun of Tuscany did the rest… In a nutshell, Ella and Dora had met human warmth. Something that their upbringing had never managed to give them. After their life-changing experience, upon their return to England, in 1905, Ella and Dora Noyes published a sumptuous book that would become famous, The Casentino and its Story, a veritable art and spiritual guide, of priceless beauty, about Poppi and the upper Arno Valley.

Photo by: M. Agati