There is a lesser-known part of Tuscany that can be discovered on best private Italy tours: the Garfagnana valley, which stretches in the Northwest of Tuscany, between the Apuan Alps and the Tosco-Emiliano Apennines.
Mostly rural, covered with dense oak and chestnut forests, the Grafagnana valley attracts the adventurous tourists, who like wondering off the beaten path. Many picturesque villages with vineyards, fruit orchards and olive groves are scattered in the area. Minucciano, Giuncugnano, Gallicano, Fosciandora, to name just a few, are well worth a visit. Some of them can only be reached via narrow windy roads but their beautiful traditional architecture, history and spectacular mountain views make them worth the journey.
Castiglione di Garfagnana, one of the “most beautiful villages in Italy” (Borghi più belli d’Italia), offers stunning panoramas. In the village, you can see the magnificent old town with medieval walls, bell towers and ancient castle. Borgo a Mozzano is famous for its spectacular Ponte della Maddalena, or the Devil’s Bridge that, according to a local legend, was built with the help of Satan. The beautiful town of Barga has a thriving international community and hosts a popular jazz festival as well as an annual international opera festival.
The area is popular with nature and outdoors enthusiasts as there are many hiking, cycling and horse-riding trails, as well as several caves open for visits.
The Garfagnana valley is renowned for its excellent traditional cuisine. Typical dishes served in local restaurants are simple, hearty and delicious: farro soup, polenta wild mushrooms and sausage, grilled trout from the mountain streams. Chestnut flour, honey, potato bread and sheep’s milk cheese from the area are well known across Italy. Every year, Castelnuovo di Garfagnana hosts a cheese market (Mostra Mercato del Formaggio) where local producers sell the best local produce and excellent alpine Pecorino made with sheep’s milk.
Photos via Flickr: Matteo Pieroni, Andy Powell, Glen Bowman.