Garfagnana: the greenest Tuscan island! Don’t worry, this is not an error, nor are you in the wrong section of toscanainside.com. Garfagnana in Italy is not an island yet it clearly has an insular character: partly because of its history, partly because of its location, this area has always remained closed in itself. This closure is definitely a positive feature, enabling it to retain a strong and unique identity made of traditions, customs and even of mysterious legends. Even linguistically Garfagnana stands out from the rest of Tuscany for having its own dialect: the 'garfagnin'. As you are most likely to notice, the inhabitants of Garfagnana don’t pronounce the ‘c’ as softly as in the rest of Tuscany – especially in the highest part of the region. Its nature is also much greener, annually producing luscious fruits such as chestnuts and mushrooms. These are just a few of its qualities: spending your holidays in Garfagnana Tuscany means diving into a rich territory, particularly from a naturalistic point of view. Just think of the 'Orecchiella Park' or ‘Grotta del Vento’; an endless amount of outdoor activities to enjoy ranging from classic trekking up to the more elitist sports like golf; villages and small towns to calmly visit, such as Vagli di sotto and its lake, the ancient village of Isola Santa, now a very pleasant resort, Castelnuovo Garfagnana, Barga and Coreglia Antelminelli! In short, there are thousands of things to do in Garfagnana villages. Last but not least: Garfagnana for children – there are as many as three adventure parks in Garfagnana for youngsters to have fun in!
WHERE IS GARFAGNANA: entirely crossed by the river Serchio, it expands between the Apuan Alps and the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines, bordering Lunigiana, Versilia, the province of Massa, Media Valle del Serchio and Emilia Romagna. It is within reachable distance from some of the most important cities of Tuscany: Florence (120 km); Pistoia (80 km), Pisa (60 km), Lucca (46 km), Viareggio (80 km). How do you reach Garfagnana? The shortest way is from Lucca along the Florence-Pisa (A11). Once having exited the motorway, follow the signs for Castelnuovo Garfagnana along the Strada Statale 445 which crosses the whole area up to Aulla. If you are in Versilia, say in Forte dei Marmi, it is faster to follow Strada Statale 12 and subsequently SS 20. It takes about an hour and albeit a twisty journey, the panoramic views are definitely rewarding. You will arrive in Castelnuovo Garfagnana passing through places such as Borgo a Mozzano with its Ponte del Diavolo and Bagni di Lucca. If you choose to arrive by train, the Lucca-Aulla railway line crosses the entire Garfagnana region of Tuscany. There are eight stations in its major centres, whereas if you wish to reach the most isolated villages, take a bus - or if you are real athletes, opt for the ‘train + bike' solution.
GARFAGNANA TOSCANA, HISTORY: Garfagnana, being located near the Apuan Alps, was inhabited by the proud and combative Ligurian-Apuani population. In 180 BC they were deported by the Romans, who by then had taken the area under their domain. Some managed to escape deportation and contributed in preventing a waterfront connection between Pisa and Luni. Only Julius Caesar, in 56 BC, managed to build one: the still-remaining ‘Sarzanese’. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the area was conquered by the Lombards who settled in Montignoso. Following the victory of the Franks, the Garfagnana area of Tuscany was divided between a number of powerful families. From the fourteenth century onwards Garfagnana was disputed between Lucca and Ferrara and was virtually split into two: the municipalities of Minucciano, Castiglione, Gallicano and Fasciandora have always been under Lucca. When the power of the Estense family was transferred to Modena, Garfagnana became one of the provinces of the Duchy of Modena and of Reggio and had the poet Ludovico Ariosto as a Commissioner, who spent long periods of time in Castelnuovo whose fortress still bears his name. In 1859 Garfagnana became part of the Province of Modena, then passed to Massa-Carrara and, since 1923, has been included in the province of Lucca. From the early years of the 1900s the area was heavily depopulated due to migration flows mainly to the United States and Australia.
GARFAGNANA AND ITS NATURE PARKS: If you decide to spend your holiday in Garfagnana, the area will offer you three nature parks. Excursion routes are therefore abundant in Garfagnana, but what are these parks? Let's proceed in chronological order. The first one, born in 1960, is Orecchiella Park. It is divided into three reserves: Orecchiella, Pania di Corfino, Rosa Lama. Here you will find, depending on the altitude, forests of beeches, chestnut trees and conifers. The highest mountain of Tuscany is also included in its territory: Monte Pardo (2054 m). As for fauna, the presence of birds of prey in particular is very conspicuous: the kestrel, the buzzard, the sparrow hawk and the majestic golden eagle. The woods are populated by wild boars, deer, Roe deer and mouflons. The Regional Park of the Apuan Alps, established in 1985, has one of its own visiting centres in Castelnuovo Garfagnana. It can be visited on foot, horse riding or by bike, as long as you take weather, time of the year and physical strength into account. Here you will find unspoiled landscapes where the Apuan peaks will enchant you with their sharp rocks silhouetted against the sky. Finally, the newest member, the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines Park created in 2001 and that, on the Tuscan slope, extends in the Garfagnana area over Giuncugnano, San Romano and Villa Collemandina.
GARFAGNANA ACTIVITIES. It is perhaps easier to list the only two or three things that you can’t do here before diving into the long list of things you can instead dedicate yourself to in Garfagnana. Sports enthusiasts will certainly not be disappointed. Since much of the landscape is mountainous, we will start with mountaineering that can be enjoyed in all seasons, albeit in different ways. In Garfagnana you will find all kinds of routes, from classic to modern ones with levels of difficulty from medium to hard. Plan your trip in Garfagnana by choosing the opportunities that C.A.I Garfagnana hiking trails offer in the area. In Garfagnana, trekking is truly one of the most all-rounded activities: there is even a circular route starting from Castelnuovo that you can complete over a few days. And in winter you can also go skiing: did you know that Garfagnana ski is a combination of as many as three ski resorts? If you are not yet experienced skiers, or if you have children, in Casone di Profecchia there are courses where you can improve your technique with experienced and patient teachers. A few cross-country trails connect Casone di Profecchia with Passo delle Radici where you can find four km of ski runs served by two lifts. And finally Careggine, where, surrounded by the Apuan landscape, you will experience a real and exciting contact with nature. For those who prefer cycling, crossing Garfagnana by mountain bike will set your imagination free and you can even emulate great cyclists by putting yourself to the test climbing the Tour of Italy climb that extends from Castelnuovo up to San Pellegrino in Alpe. It seems that at Taverna del Pellegrino, if you are successful, you will be awarded a certificate. Make sure you don’t cheat! In the square in Castelnuovo there is a 'bike-sharing' service to rent electric bicycles: naturally, this would not grant you a certificate. Yet don’t worry, there is still a glass of wine and a succulent snack waiting for you at the top! And if you prefer motorbikes, Garfagnana by motorbike will be fantastic to visit. Looking for something more adrenaline-filled? In Garfagnana, rafting is definitely an experience you will want to try! This activity takes place in the Lima stream. At Bagni di Lucca there is also a 'Canyoning Park' where, with safe suspension bridges and ropes, you will pass over the blue waters of the stream. Everyone above 10 years of age can do it, so you can get the more adventurous children involved. Yet there are many other options for activities in Garfagnana for kids – starting from as many as three different adventure parks! Whether to visit them all or focus on one of them is up to you, but it is undoubtedly an unmissable experience. To name them, the Garfagnana 'Adventure Park Buffardello' in San Romano, the ‘Parco del Levigliese’ in Firenze, the 'Casone di Profecchia Adventure Park' at the tourist centre of Casone and the Parco del Battiferro in Fornovolasco. Another experience that will fascinate young and old is a visit to the Grotta del Vento in Garfagnana, precisely in Fornovolasco: you can choose between routes that range from a minimum of one hour to a maximum of three!
VILLAGES IN GARFAGNANA. Let’s start from Castelnuovo Garfagnana, the easiest to reach. What is there to visit in Castelnuovo? Firstly, the ‘Rione del centro', corresponding to the old fortified village where there are some of the most interesting monuments: the Ariostesca Fortress, the Cathedral and the Town Hall. The Ariostesca Fortress owes its name to the poet who stayed there from 1522 an 1525 as a Commissioner. The fort seems to date back to the eleventh century but was expanded by Castruccio Castracani, who commissioned towers and castles across the whole of Tuscany. In the fortress, now an exhibition venue and seat for cultural events, you can visit the 'Archaeological Museum of the territory of Garfagnana'. The Cathedral, dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul, dates back to the 1500s and holds 'The Altarpiece of St. Joseph', a splendid Robbio pottery piece, the 'Black Christ', a wooden crucifix of the 1400s, and a marble frame attributed to the school of Lucca. If you want to take a nice walk, make your way to the Monte Alfonso Fortress, built in the 1500s as a defensive stronghold of the Duchy of Ferrara. You can easily walk along the city walls which boast a fantastic view over the Pania of Corfino and the Apuans. Among the events held in Castelnuovo, I recommend going to the Castelnuovo Garfagnana 'Treno dei sapori' which takes place the first Sunday in December: a steam engine train with vintage carriages that starts from Viareggio. Once in Castelnuovo Garfagnana you will taste the products of the area: first of all those obtained from chestnuts such as the 'necci', a chestnut cake and pancakes. Another place to visit is Castiglione Garfagnana, fortified village that still retains all the charm of the past: the best way to visit it is by entering one of the gateways of its walls. The fortress can be visited by small groups upon reservation, whereas the churches of St. Peter and St. Michael can be visited freely. Among the events taking place in the town, the procession of the 'Crocioni' (crucifixes) which takes place every Holy Thursday. Garfagnana tourism is full of other small villages worth a visit: go to Camporgiano with its 15th century fortress and to Gallicano with the fortified Perpoli village, where the medieval re-enactment 'at dinner with the Este family' takes place in August, an excellent opportunity to taste the best products as the area, such as the renowned Garfagnana spelt. If this topic takes your interest, go to San Romano in Garfagnana, where there is even a museum dedicated to this grain. It is the 'Museo del Farro e dell’olio'. Since you are there, take a walk to the Medieval Verrucole Fortress. Also visit Minucciano, enclosed between the peaks of the Apuan Alps and therefore offering breath-taking views. In the nearby Gorfigliano, the evocative celebration of 'Natalecci' takes place: one of the most famous Garfagnana events. It consists of wood towers and fir branches as high as 25 meters that are burnt on the evening of December 24th. I would conclude this review of Garfagnana with the village of Vagli that overlooks a large artificial lake, periodically emptied letting the village of Careggine resurface.
One last recommendation: Garfagnana is frequented by rather peculiar tourists, namely aliens! They seem particularly fond of Mount Padolina… so if you see 'lizards' two meters high, grey little men or strange flying objects, do not worry, it is all under control.. This is the so-called Area 51 of Garfagnana!
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