Barga, the Middle Ages in the mountains
Our journey begins in Barga early in the morning. For the first half of the day, dive into the wild nature of the Garfagnana with a hike on the slopes of the Tosco-Emiliano Apennines. You’ll come to the hamlet of Crocialetto, where the path begins that leads through beech tree forests and over streams with the purest of waters to the Passetto di Rondinaio.
Return to Barga and dedicate the rest of the day to visiting the town, ranked as one of the Most Beautiful Villages in Italy, as well as the recipient of an Orange Flag from the Touring Club Italiano. Stroll the streets of the historic centre and visit its most important buildings. The Collegiate Church of San Cristoforo is worth a stop, one of the best examples of Romanesque architecture in all of Tuscany.
The cathedral, home to frescoes and sculptures dating back centuries, is dedicated to the city’s patron saint and is recognized as the oldest religious building in Barga, having been built on top of an older church from the year 1000. Other buildings narrate the city’s history: Palazzo Balduini, Palazzo Angeli, Palazzo Pancrazi, Palazzo Podestà, the Church of Santissimo Crocifisso and the Church of Santissima Annunziata, which conserves important paintings.
In addition to being a splendidly-preserved example of an 18th-century theatre, the Teatro dei Differenti is also where Pascoli gave his famous speech in 1911 in favour of the war in Libya. In nearby Castelvecchio Pascoli, you can visit the Pascoli House Museum, where the poet lived between 1895 and 1912. Spend the evening tasting typical local specialities; choices certainly aren’t lacking: baked trout with potatoes, vegetable soup, mushrooms and chestnuts.
Castelnuovo and Castiglione, the heart of the Garfagnana
Set off from Barga the next morning, for a circular route leading through two historic villages in the heart of the Garfagnana: Castelnuovo di Garfagnana and Castiglione.
Castelnuovo is filled with artistic, historic and literary heritage. This is where Ludovico Ariosto spent part of his life when he was elected governor of the Garfagnana by the Este. The fortress, which dominates the main piazza and is the symbol of the town, was where the governor/poet lived and carried out his work. The building dates to the 13th century and was transformed the following century with interventions commissioned by the Lord of Lucca Paolo Guinigi.
Further on, Castiglione Garfagnana can be seen from afar with its defense walls and towers: a fortified village whose strategic position often made it subject to conflicts and wars between Florence, Pisa and Lucca. Walk the narrow streets inside the medieval walls, with the Brunella tower rising atop the castle, the Church of San Pietro, which dates to the late 12th century, and the Romanesque-Gothic Church of S. Michele, with a typical striped façade. Return to Castelnuovo, where your hotel awaits.
Piazza al Serchio: villages, castles and pilgrims in the upper Garfagnana
Head by car to Piazza al Serchio, where you’ll dedicate the morning to an excursion that double as a stop on the Via del Volto Santo, a route that led pilgrims from the Lunigiana and from the north to Lucca, where a wooden crucifix is located that was particularly important in the Middle Ages. Along the way, you’ll visit the village of San Michele, with its medieval bridge and ancient Gragnana mill, as well as the Tea Pass, with ruins of a historic hospice, a recently discovered building whose size attests to the importance of the pass as a place of transit for pilgrims and merchants alike.
When you’ve arrived back in Piazza al Serchio, visit the Parish Church of San Pietro and take a look at the doglioni, volcanic rocks overlooking the town, and the steam train, one of the town’s symbols, confirming its importance as a crossroads of train transportation even today. A short car ride away is the small village of Borsigliana, with a church that conserves a 15th-century triptych by Pietro da Talada and the Verrucole Castle, which offers a view of the entire valley. Bring the day to an end by tasting the Garfagnana’s spelt soup IGP and Matuffi, layers of polenta alternated with meat or local mushroom sauce.