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16 towns to visit in the Garfagnana

A splendid region between the Apuan Alps and the Tosco-Emiliano Apennines

The Garfagnana is a mountain area in the north-western stretches of Tuscany, situated between the Apuan Alps and the Tosco-Emiliano Apennines. It’s a wild, broad valley covered in woods and lapped by the waters of the Serchio River. Due to its variety of landscapes, the Garfagnana is home to two nature parks: the Apuan Alps Park and the Appennino Tosco-Emiliano National Park. The area is divided into 16 municipalities, each one with its own distinctive features and undiscovered gems.

Castelnuovo di Garfagnana
Castelnuovo di Garfagnana
Castelnuovo di Garfagnana - Credit: Roy Luck

Castelnuovo is considered the main town in the Garfagnana. The first reliable sources about a settlement here date to the 8th century CE, even though traces of an Etruscan village have been discovered. In the 14th century, Castelnuovo was an important gateway to the Garfagnana valley, and after a series of changes, the town was officially under the Este family’s power until the arrival of Napoleon’s army. Despite its destruction and rebuilding following WWII, the town still preserves part of its Renaissance ramparts, with three gates and two bell towers (one for the cathedral and one for the Rocca di Ariosto).

Careggine
Careggine
Careggine - Credit: Pure Mouse

Careggine stands out for its spectacular views of the Apuan Alps. Just like Castelnuovo, the first urban settlement dates to the 8th century CE, jumping forward in time, Careggine was seriously affected by the 1920 earthquake, which also damaged the Parish Church of San Pietro, one of the oldest traces of the town’s past. The church’s bell tower characterizes 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. The town is located inside the Apuan Alps Park, a wild nature reserve with beech woods and the Marmitte dei Giganti.

Camporgiano
Camporgiano
Camporgiano - Credit: Sailko

Human settlements have been recorded in Camporgiano since the Bronze Age. Under the power of the Este family, construction began on the huge fortress, Rocca Estense, and its tower, the defending feature of the town, while the symbol of Camporgiano is a centuries-old octagonal fountain. In the Church of San Jacopo, visitors will find a beautiful panel painting of the Madonna and Child from the 14th century, as well as pottery and processional crosses.

Castiglione di Garfagnana
Castiglione di Garfagnana
Castiglione di Garfagnana - Credit: Matteo Pieroni

The village of Castiglione di Garfagnana is situated on a panoramic and sunny hill overlooking the Apuan Alps and has been included on the list of the Most Beautiful Villages in Italy. The name Castiglione comes from the Latin Castrum Leonis, underlining the strength of this hamlet thanks to its dominating position on the road that led to the San Pellegrino Pass, one of the easiest ways for the Roman army to reach the Apennines, but its location also meant it would suffer many sieges in the past. The walls visitors see today are the ramparts built in the 14th century to reinforce the fortress. It’s worth visiting the bell towers at the churches of San Michele and San Pietro, as well as the clock tower, but visitors are sure to enjoy the historic centre as a whole, which has preserved elegant buildings, paved streets, piazzas and courtyards.

Fosciandora

This really small hamlet lies on a sloping terrace and wooded terrain on the left bank of Serchio River. The village dates to around the 10th century and belonged first to the Republic of Lucca and later 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 the Garfagnana (partly because its location is difficult to reach). We recommend visiting the Ceserana Fortress while in town, a church-castle from the 12th century, decorated with an elegant apse and wooden statues of St. Andrew and St. James, sculpted in the 14th century.

Gallicano
Monte Pania outside Gallicano
Monte Pania outside Gallicano - Credit: Luana Spagnoli

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, but today, Gallicano is a lively town that’s very fond of its own traditions and covers a vast commercial and manufacturing area, boasting huge urban development. The historic centre has not changed much over the centuries, with well-preserved houses and buildings set around a parish church, and an aqueduct with Gothic arches that used to bring water to the paper mills.

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Giuncugnano
Giuncugnano
Giuncugnano - Credit: verseguru

This small hamlet is known as “tetto della Garfagnana” (the roof of the Garfagnana) because it stands on a panoramic terrace like a natural amphitheatre. It’s always been a mountain pass and border town, with history documented since before Antiquity and crossed by the Via Clodia. Something worth seeing here is the spectacular Argegna plateau and the panoramic meadows facing the Apuan Alps. The Appennino Tosco-Emiliano National Park is home to a large nature reserve with oak and beech forests, high-altitude meadows and a maze of mountain trails leading to the highest peaks of the Apennines.

Minucciano
Minucciano
Minucciano - Credit: Davide Papalini

Minucciano has ancient origins, having been inhabited since the Bronze Age, which is attested by archaeological finds. Its name comes from the Roman consul Quitus Minucius, who was in charge of defending the border from barbarians. In the Early Middle Ages, the village became a fief under the Malaspina family, who ruled it until the 11th century, when the village became part of the Principality of Lucca, reaching its maximum splendour. Due to its strategic position, Minucciano was long disputed between Pisa, Florence, the Este family and many others. Two violent earthquakes struck Minucciano in 1837 and 1920, but thanks to detailed restoration work, the town boasts a maze of alleys covering the upper part of the village and a beautiful parish church dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel.

Molazzana

The municipality of Molazzana stretches up and down the slopes of the Apuan Alps, a natural border with the Versilia. It was mentioned as early as 1105 and was ruled by many different powers through the centuries. Molazzana was one of the most battered villages along the Gothic Line during WWII. Among the things to see here are two gates, a stretch of walls and two towers remaining from the fortification, a 15th-century castle and many churches, including the Sanctuary of the Madonna della Neve, while surrounding the outside of the village are forests and cultivated fields.

Piazza al Serchio
Piazza al Serchio
Piazza al Serchio - Credit: Davide Papalini

Piazza al Serchio is nestled in the hills at the bottom of the Garfagnana, spreading towards San Michele and around a small historic centre, and is dominated by the Parish Church of San Pietro e Paolo, the Doglioni di Sala basalt cliffs and Castelvecchio, the ruins of a medieval castle. The town is at a strategic crossroads between the Garfagnana and the Serchio Valley, making it very important for commerce and tourism, which is helped by its picturesque landscape and well-equipped resorts.

Pieve Fosciana
Parish Church of San Giovanni Battista in Pieve Fosciana
Parish Church of San Giovanni Battista in Pieve Fosciana - Credit: Davide Papalini

The earliest mention of Pieve Fosciana dates to the Neolithic era. The name is probably a combination of pieve (parish church) and the Latin name Fuscianus. Indeed, a parish church is believed to have been established by the bishop San Frediano in the 6th century, while the earliest settlements are Roman, as attested by archaeological finds. When the Roman Empire fell, the region was abandoned due to frequent barbaric invasions, and it wasn’t until the Early Middle Ages that people started to inhabit the village again, when it gained religious importance, being the only licensed religious building to administer baptisms. It was a very important place during the Italian Risorgimento and acted as an outpost for the Gothic Line during WWII. Today, you can visit the Parish Church of San Giovanni Battista, admire elegant palaces on streets paved in stone and enjoy the view of the beautiful landscape stretching to the Apuan Alps.

San Romano in Garfagnana

Archaeological finds dating to the Ligurian and Roman era have emerged in the area around San Romano, a place long fought over by various rulers. The town is home to a parish church with a bell tower and a recently-restored fortress. San Romano in Garfagnana is also located in the Appennino Tosco-Emiliano National Park, which includes the nature reserves of Pania di Corfino and Orecchietta, two vast protected areas with a visitors’ centre, accommodation and huts.

Sillano
Sillano Fortress
Sillano Fortress - Credit: TPT

Prehistoric settlements in the area are attested by some stone artefacts dating to the Mesolithic era, while the Roman and medieval road systems are also evidence to the town’s historic roots. Sillano has always been an important borderland and pass to the north toward the Po Valley, surrounded by hills, pastures and crops, and thanks to its mild climate, it’s a favourite destination of tourists, who like to come here for the forests full of bramble fruits and mushrooms.

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Vagli di Sotto
Vagli di Sotto
Vagli di Sotto - Credit: Shutterstock.com / robertonencini

The area of Vagli di Sotto stretches across the slopes of the Apuan Alps and is characterized by two distinctive features: the largest hydroelectric basin in the region (Lake Vagli) and the marble quarries. The discovery of some Ligurian necropolises suggest that the region was inhabited in the 1st millennium BCE, and its history has seen many changes of power. The 20th century was a period of fervid activity because of the marble quarries, but after WWII the village was emptied out. The cultural highlights of the area are the Church of San Regolo (13th century), the Church of San Lorenzo in Vagli Sopra (16th century), the Church of Sant’Agostino (10th century), the Church of San Bartolomeo in Roggio and the alpine Hermitage of San Viviano, both dating to the 14th century. Vagli also offers remarkable natural beauties, including Campocatino and the surrounding terraced valleys.

Vergemoli
Hermitage of Calomini outside Vergemoli
Hermitage of Calomini outside Vergemoli - Credit: Giovanni Sighele

The tiny municipality of Vergemoli extends across the steep southern slopes of the Apuan Alps and Mount Forato, which separate it from the Versilia. The village was first mentioned in a 10th-century document, and at 1,711 meters above sea level, it dominates over the solemn forests of chestnut and beech trees. In the centre of the village, visitors will find the bell tower at the Parish Church of Santi Quirico e Giulitta, while not far from town, there’s one of the most important karstic caves in the Apuan Alps, the Grotta del Vento.

Villa Collemandina
Pania di Corfino near Villa Collemandina
Pania di Corfino near Villa Collemandina - Credit: Matteo Pieroni

The first reliable mention of the Villa Collemandina dates to the 8th century, and domination over the town changed hands several times. In the 1920s, Collemandina was the epicentre of a catastrophic earthquake, which struck the Garfagnana and razed the village to the ground, though some cultural gems do remain, including the nearby medieval village of Corfino and the Romanesque Parish Church of San Sisto, with its cloister and altars by Matteo Civitali.

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