Garfagnana, Tuscany: 16 places you should visit (1st part)
The Garfagnana is a mountain area in the north-western stretches of Tuscany, situated between the ridges of the Apuan Alps (west) and the prairies of the Tosco-Emiliano Apennines (east). It is a wild, broad valley covered in woods and lapped by the waters of the river Serchio. Due to its variety of landscapes, Garfagnana is home to two natural parks: the Regional Park of the Apuan Alps and the National Park of the Tosco-Emiliano Apennines.
The Garfagnana area is divided into 16 municipalities, each one with its own distinctive features and undiscovered gems. We're going to get to know them one by one.
Castelnuovo di Garfagnana
Castelnuovo is considered the main town of the Garfagnana with a range of services. The first reliable sources about a settlement here go back to the 8th century AD, even though traces of an Etruscan village have been found here. In the 14th century Castelnuovo was an important intermediate station as a southern gateway to the Garfagnana valley. After various historical vicissitudes, Castelnuovo remained under the Este family’s power until the arrival of Napoleon’s army. Despite the destruction and the rebuilding following the WWII, the town still preserves part of its Renaissance ramparts, with three gates and two bell towers (one of the Cathedral and one of the Rocca di Ariosto). The most important events in the town are the carnival, the trading week (Settimana del Commercio), concerts and other events held in the Mont’Alfonso fortress.
The first thing to say about Careggine is that it stands out for its spectacular views over the Apuan Alps. As for Castelnuovo, the first urban settlement dates back to the 8th century AD. Careggine was seriously affected by the 1920 earthquake, which also damaged the parish church of San Pietro, one of the most ancient remains of the past in this area. The church’s bell tower characterized the skyline of the village, which retains the architectural features of a walled town with underpasses and small alleys circling the church and Piazza Regina. Here, visitors find themselves in the Regional Park of the Apuan Alps, a wild reserve with beech woods and the geological phenomena of the Marmitte dei Giganti. We also suggest visiting the charming village of Isola Santa.
Human settlements have been attested here since the Bronze Age. Under the power of the Este family, building began on the Rocca (fortress) and the castle with its tower . The huge Rocca Estense with its tower is the defending feature of the town, while the symbol of the community of Camporgiano is an ancient octagonal fountain. In the Church of S. Jacopo there is a beautiful painting on wood of the Madonna delle Grazie con Bambino (The Lady of Mercy and Child - 14th century) and all around is other important archaeological evidence, such as pottery and processional crosses. Within the most important events of Camporgiano there are the “International Festival of Folklore” and the events connected with the “Via del Fungo” (mushroom trail).
Castiglione di Garfagnana
The village of Castiglione di Garfagnana is situated on a panoramic and sunny hill overlooking the mountain chain of the Panie (Apuan Alps) and it has been included in the list of the “most beautiful villages in Italy” (Borghi più belli d’Italia). The name Castiglione comes from the Latin Castrum Leonis, underlining the strength of this hamlet due to its dominating position on the trail that leads to the San Pellegrino pass, one of the easiest ways for the army to reach the Apennines. Due to its position, the “Castle of the Lion” suffered many sieges in the past. The walls that you can see today are the ramparts built in the 14th century to reinforce the fortress. You can visit the outstanding bell towers of S. Michele, S. Pietro and the clock tower and, of course, the old town that has preserved elegant buildings, paved streets, squares and courtyards. There are many medieval re-enactments and food festivals. The hamlets of Casone di Profecchia and Passo delle Radici are touristic spots for skiing.
This is a really small hamlet that lies on a sloping terrace and then wooded terrain on the left bank of river Serchio. The village dates to around the 10th century and belonged first to the Republic of Lucca and then to the Este family. Today, Fosciandora is characterized by terraces with vines, fruits and vegetables, and is a stronghold of the culture and identity of Garfagnana (also because its location is difficult to reach). Within the events of Fosciandora we can mention the Festa dell’Emigrante (emigrants festival), and many food and wine festivals.
Evidence of this village dates to 771, as testified by a parchment from Lucca’s bishopric archives. The town's name seems to come from Roman legionary Cornelius Gallicanus, who was given the land as a reward for his deeds. The history of Gallicano is a series of hostilities between Lucca and the Este family. Today, Gallicano, a lively town that is very fond of its own traditions, covers a vast commercial and manufacturing area, with huge urban development. The old town has not really changed: there are well-preserved houses and buildings set around a parish church and an aqueduct with Gothic arches, which used to bring water to the paper mills.
This small hamlet is known as “tetto della Garfagnana” (roof of Garfagnana) because it stands on a panoramic terrace, like a natural amphitheatre. It has always been a mountain pass and border town, with history documented since before Roman times, crossed by the Via Clodia. Not to miss here are the spectacular plateau of Argegna and the panoramic meadows facing the Apuan Alps. The National Park of the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines is home to an ample reserve with oak and beech forests, high-altitude prairies and a maze of mountain trails leading to the highest peaks of the Apennines.
This village is ancient in origin: it was inhabited since the Bronze Age as witnessed by archaeological finds. Its name comes from the Roman consul Quitus Minucius, in charge of defending the border from the barbarians. In the Early Middle Ages the village became a fief of the family Malaspina, who ruled it until the 11th century and after 1000 years the village became part of the Lucca princedom, reaching the peaks of its glory. Due to its strategic position, Minucciano was long disputed between Pisa, Florence, the Este family and more. Two violent earthquakes struck Minucciano, one in 1837 and another one in 1920. The village, thanks to detailed restoration work, presents a maze of alleys covering the high part of the village and a beautiful parish church named after S. Michele Arcangelo. This village is famous for its marble works as well as for tourism.