Visiting a Tuscan hilltown is like travelling back in time. Ancient walls encompass centuries of history and traditions, which are still passed down from generation to generation. If you want to visit Tuscany at its most authentic, the Tuscany nestled between the Apennines and the Apuan Alps, and lose yourself among the stone alleyways, craft producers and traditional restaurants, we recommend that you choose one of the towns in the Garfagnana or the mid Serchio Valley that appear on the Associazione Nazionale Comuni Italiani's list of the most beautiful Italian hilltowns (Borghi più belli d'Italia). Only a few kilometres apart from each other, these three can all be visited in a single day, but dedicating at least one day to each will allow you to discover the hidden corners, the sunset views, the typical dishes in the osterias, and the hospitality of the locals.
The history of Barga goes all the way back to 180 BCE and the Romans, but this town is best known for its medieval period and for the name of Matilde di Canossa. Within the city walls, in the historic centre, you really step back into the Middle Ages, what with its cobbledstreets, artisan shops, perfectly maintained piazzas, theTeatro dei Differenti (an architectural gem), the little osterias and finally, at the town's acropolis, the imposing Duomo di San Cristoforo, which was started in the eleventh and completed in the sixteenth century. Musical, cultural and culinary festivals animate the town all year round but especially in summer, the Barga Jazz Festival in August being just one example.
The earliest mention of Castiglione Garfagnana comes from the Roman period, and indeed it seems to have been a Roman base before the medieval castle was built; in the interim it was contested by various republics and governments. It was Lucca that constructed, in 1371, the circuit of walls and towers that surrounds it even today. You enter through the drawbridge gate and find yourself in the striking piazza del Castello, among enchanting cobbled streets, old palazzos, osterias and historic little shops selling products typical of all Garfagnana. The town enjoys a good deal of fame and visitors, thanks not least to its numerous historical re-enactments, costumed medieval festivals, the procession of the crocioni (large crosses) and the many culinary events that celebrate all the flavours of today and yesterday.
Coreglia Antelminelli's main claim to fame is that it was granted power over itself and the surrounding land by the hero soldier Castruccio Castracani and the Antelminelli family, from where it gets its name. The piazza just before the town walls offers a valleywide view that will leave you without words. Following the cobbled streets, you come to the church of San Michele Arcangelo and the Museum of Plaster Figurines and Emigration, which has more than 800 plaster models on display, fruit of the profession that Coreglia's inhabitants have practised for centuries: figurine-making. If you come in August, you will be lucky enough to enjoy the most important festival of the year: a night in the ancient hilltown (una notte nell'antico borgo), a real leap back into the Middle Ages.