Places to visit
Garfagnana territory gives visitors the opportunity to do long walks in the green of its forests and on its mountain trails, to discover ancient castles, fortresses and medieval villages, to enjoy rich cuisine specialities like spelt, chestnut flour, mushrooms, cheeses and fantastic hams, to enjoy natural sights such as the majestic rocky peaks of the Apuan Alps, the unfolding of beautiful mountain flowers or the exploration of the fascinating underground world made of a complex network of caves and tunnels crossing the “bowels” of this area. The Garfagnana is a land rich of mountains, valleys and dense forests, nestled between two mountain chains (the Apuan Alps and the Appennino Tosco-Emiliano) . Those who are looking for a relaxing holiday in the nature, with their families or friends, will definitely find this green jewel of Tuscany as the right place to rejuvenate their bodies and their minds.
This brief Garfagnana guide will present cities, monuments, places of natural interest that visitors will find on their way, moving from Lucca to the Garfagnana. It’s obviously possible to take the reverse route, starting the visit from the Garfagnana and descending to Lucca.
Visitors coming from the city of Lucca drive on one of the two main access roads to the Garfagnana, the Brenner state road or the provincial road (“Lodovica”), both following the Serchio river in a valley (called Valley of the Serchio) rich in history and legends. One of these is, for example, the legend of Devil’s Bridge, located in Borgo a Mozzano: this is one of the most beautiful and oldest exemples of humpback bridge, it was erected in the twelfth century by the Countess Matilde di Canossa,it’s characterized by 5 beautiful asymmetrical arches mirroring on the Serchio river. The old legend says that this old bridge was completed with Devil help ; when local workers were trying to complete the great central arch of the bridge, it always collapsed. So the desperate builders asked for the help of Lucifer, who completed the work, claiming, in exchange, the acquisition of a soul. The local population let cross a pig on the bridge, Lucifer, astonished and angry, had to accept this unusual sacrifice, disappearing in the mists of the valley.
Barga is also worth a visit, it’s a small town on a hilltop with magnificent views over the mountains of Garfagnana. Barga also joined the list of ” the most beautiful villages in Italy” (orange flag of the Italian Touring Club) and the group of “slow”cities. It’s characterized by a medieval center within the ancient walls and a new part in which there are many Art Nouveau villas dating back to early XX° century, indicating the great wealth accumulated over the years by many “Barghigiani” who emigrated abroad (especially in Scotland). Walk through the narrow stone paved streets, get to the top of Barga on which a stunning marble Romanesque Cathedral stands (the “Duomo”of Barga). From here you can enjoy a magnificent panorama on the Apuan Alps and, in particular, on Mount “Forato”, a true giant natural arch located on the rocky ridge separating the Garfagnana from the beaches of Versilia.
Just outside of Barga , in the village of Castelvecchio Pascoli, there is the villa where the Italian poet Giovanni Pascoli lived between 1895 and 1912. The house, which is open to visitors, still holds the original furniture and desks on which the poet worked. In the garden of the villa, there is the chapel where the poet is buried.
Leaving Barga, follow Gallicano road signs ; then continue towards Vergemoli village. The road climbs along a deep rocky gorge, leading you to “Grotta del Vento” a natural cave where you can admire stalactites , stalagmites of various kinds and colors, columns, underground rivers and lakes. The “Grotta del Vento” is open to the public since the 60’s, it offers the opportunity to walk with a guide on 3 different routes (with concrete floor, metal handrail, and lighting). The bravest visitors can venture on other itineraries with speleologic guides with the help of ropes, slings, ladders and other special equipment (on request).
On the way back from the “Grotta del Vento”, you can take a break to Calomini Hermitage, a monastery set in a vertical rock wall. Today, the Hermitage hosts 2 churches, an eighteenth-century style church , another created by monks directly into the rock and the ancient monks’ cells. Old tradition says that in the place where now an old fountain stands, the image of the holy virgo appeared to a young girl. Soon, the image was brought from Calomini to Gallicano, the larger village located in the valley below, allowing the faithfuls to venerate the image much more easily but it mysteriously disappeared and re-appeared again where it was seen for the first time by the little shepherdess. So the locals decided to create a special sanctuary in Calomini , where the precious image could be properly preserved .
Once in Castelnuovo di Garfagnana, the capital of the homonymous area, you can walk and shop in the old town , characterized by ancient city walls and by the “Rocca Ariostesca”, a powerful defensive building dating back to twelfth century. The main street, the heart of city life, leads visitors to the Cathedral which houses valuable works, like the Altarpiece of St. Joseph (pottery decorated with Della Robbia style) and the “Black Christ” (wooden crucifix dating back to the fifteenth century).
After Castelnuovo, start the exploration of other interesting places of Garfagnana: move to Castiglione di Garfagnana along the Provincial Road 72, cross Pieve Fosciana village. Castiglione is also surrounded by walls and very well preserved ramparts, dating back even to Roman times (the original latin name was “Castrum Leonis,” Castle of the Lion, evolved in “Castiglione” ).
Mountain hikers and nature lovers can not miss to visit the Orecchiella Park, a 12.400 acres reserve, characterized by forests of chestnut, beech and fir trees, inhabited by an interesting wildlife. Inside, you can find naturalistic museums, enclosures housing some local wildlife, magnificent mountain gardens (flowered and beautifully maintained by State Forest Guards), small lakes as well as marked trails to fully immerse you into the wild heart of the reserve.
Don’t miss a visit to two stunning fortresses of the Garfagnana : the Verrucole Fortress located on a rocky ridge near the village of San Romano in Garfagnana and Moltalfonso Fortress, located on a hill overlooking Castelnuovo di Garfagnana. Nowadays, both fortresses house cultural events (such as theater performances and concerts) and meetings.