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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Serchio Valley- a secluded and unknown hideway

There is still a very mysterious and secluded yet uniquely seductive place in Tuscany, right between the Apuane Alps and the Apennines: it's the Serchio Valley. Its name comes from the Serchio river, that crosses the entire valley with its thousands streams, creating deep canyons. Hidden in the valley are many villages of great historic content and splendour far away from any form of tourism, and it has slowly become a destination of food lovers and those who look for unique local dishes.

The Serchio Valley is part of the province of Lucca, and stretches from the North Western part of Tuscany, North of Pisa and North-West of Florence to the South of Lucca, and proudly gathers together an exceptional number of gastronomic excellences, and Slow Food Presidio products. In particular, this valley has three Slow Food Presidio products: the Biroldo, a black pudding of long tradition, produced with pork and spices, the Pane di Patate, a potato bread that is typically done with boiled potatoes, that are then smashed and added to the bread dough and oven baked, and the Prosciutto Bazzone, realized in a long shape of intense aromatic flavour.

But there are many other specialties of the region, such as the Mondiola, a spiced-up pork salami with the best meat selection; the famed porcini mushrooms that grow under the chestnut tree; the organically grown spelt and the trout as this part of the world belongs to the best trout cultures in Italy.

But the Serchio Valley also stays for culture, nature, art and history and is the perfect summer week-end or vacation hideaway for couples, families or friends.

At the center of the Serchio Valley is the romantic village of Barga, where the well-known poet Giovanni Pascoli chose to live, where he got inspired for many of his works, and where his home and museum stands today and is well worth a visit.

There is also Borgo a Mozzano, known for the Devil Bridge (Ponte del Diavolo), built in the 14th century and famous for its beautiful arches; or Bagni di Luca appreciated for its hot springs that already the Romans had appreciated. This city was an important hang out in Renaissance times, and saw a wide development in 1800 when many distinguished artists, such as Pascoli, Carducci, Montale, Dumas, Byron, Shelley and Puccini, among others spend time there.

The Teatrino (little theater) at Vetriano a Pescaglia is another destination: built in 1890, it measures only 71square meter (it was, funnily enough, included at the Guiness record book as the smallest historic public theater in the world) but is by all means a true theater. Also worth a visit is Castelnuovo Garfagnana, with its memorable districts and the Rocca Ariostesca, the symbol of the city, the Fortezza delle Verrucole at San Romano, and Ghivizzano a small medieval village.

Proposed Itinerary for a weekend (2/3 days) in the Serchio Valley, or for everyone who is coming on purpose or touring Tuscany:

1st day:
- visit Barga. A stop to the former house, today museum of Giovanni Pascoli is a must, and also the Porte del Castello and the Barga Jazz Club
- tasting of some biodynamic wines at the Podere Concori which belongs to Gabriele da Prato a Gallicano

2nd day:
- visit Ghivizzano, one of the very few medieval villages in the Serchio Valley that is still in almost perfect conditions. The castle with its tower and the building of Castelluccio as well as the church of Holy Peter and Paul are worh a visit.
- visit of Borgo a Mozzano, the Ponte della Maddalena, also known as the Ponte del Diavolo (the Devil's bridge, that crosses the Valle del Serchio in three asymetric arcades and was wanted by Matilde di Carossa)
- visit Pescaglia and its tiny Teatro di Vetriano, open to the public each first and third Sunday of the month, on all other days only upon request and reservation
- tasting of Biroldo, a Slow Food Presidio product, and also Mondiola and Prosciutto Bazzone at the Antica Norceria, the towns old specialty store

3rd day:
- visit Castelnuovo Garfagnana, to the Rocca Ariostesca its typical neighborhoods, the Teatro Comunale Vittorio Alfieri and the Fortezza di Mont'Alfonso
- in the very center of the Apuane Alps, the village of Isola Santa is worth a visit, and also the walk to the (artificial) lake with its green waters and trouts
- visit to the Fortezza delle Verrucole at San Romano, considered the most important medieval ruins of the area and since it has been built at an altitude of 600 meters, it dominates over the Apuane Aps, the Appennini and most of the valley bottom.;
- tastings of spelt beer at the artisanal brewery of La Petrognola which belongs to Roberto Giannarelli (he produces two types of spelt beer: dark and amber-coloured)
- tastings of potato bread (Presidio Slow Food) at the Piazza al Serchio by Paolo Magazzini.