January 14th , 2010 → 4:50 am @ admin

The Garfagnana is one of the most famous ‘undiscovered’ parts of Italy. It’s a large area of valley and mountain north of Lucca and Pisa, in the northern part of Tuscany.  Although mostly rural and little affected, so far, by tourism, the Garfagnana has been creeping onto the itinerary of more adventurous tourists for some years. The small town of Barga, though hardly a capital, is becoming somewhat the tourist destination of the area.

Garfagnana, TuscanyFrom the northern end of the Garfagnana, the river Serchio winds roughly parallel with the coast for 30-odd miles (50km) down to Lucca.  There is some industry on the flatter valley bottom but the sides generally run up quite swiftly into a patchwork of woods and farms with their own network of tributary streams.  The skies are broad, because the summits of the mountains lie well back.  On the east side these mountains form sweeping ridges typically 4-5,000 feet (around 1,400m) above sea level. On the western side – between the river and the coast – they are more aggressively shaped, attain well over 5,000 feet (1,500m) and have taken the title “Apuan Alps”.  Their upper reaches are green pasture and white limestone: they have been massively quarried (mostly on the farther side) for the marble prized by Renaissance architects and used for graveyard memorials ever since.

GarfagnanaUntil the 1400s, the area was under the control of Lucca, the source for its art and culture and the destination for any local agricultural surplus, as well as timber and stone.  The largest towns in the region are Barga and Castelnuovo di Garfagnana, but settlement is mostly a matter of small and scattered communities, whose orchards, vineyards, and grazing lands are separated by oak and chestnut forests.  The attractions of the Garfagnana for tourists – landscapes, picturesque villages, churches, and castles – are many but widely dispersed.  For this reason, the Garfagnana is becoming a favourite with bikers and hikers, who can spend each day exploring the beautiful countryside and resting when and where they end up.  The best time to visit the Garfagnana is either the spring, when the trees are in young leaf and the mountaintops still streaked with snow, or autumn, when all colours converge to bronze and gold.  Summertime is also a possibility, as travellers may find respite from the intense heat of the cities.

An article in the Financial Times of London calls this spectacular area “stunning and barely visited.”   Take a look at  http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/3655580e-48da-11df-8af4-00144feab49a.html

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