When you think of Tuscany, you tend to think of San Gimignano, gelato, cypress trees and endless crowds.
That place is Barga. Bellissima Barga. It takes my breath away just writing those words.
(No, I’m not there now. Am currently at home for Christmas in between Wanderlust Junkies marathons but thinking back to past travel adventures and wanted to share this particular gem.)
Barga is a medieval walled city in the North West of Tuscany, in the Garfagnana region, in the province of Lucca. It has about 10,000 inhabitants and stands about 410 metres above sea level. And it’s stunning.
It has (quite rightly) received an award as “One Of The Most Beautiful Villages In Italy” and, bizarrely is called “The Most Scottish Town In Italy”. Why? Because in the 19th century many Tuscans were suffering as a result of the decline in the silk industry, which hugely impacted the economy. They left to go to America to find their fortunes but by the time they reached Scotland, a lot were weary of the arduous journey and chose to stay there. Some were even tricked into believing they were actually in America. As a result Scotland became full of Italians who began successful businesses selling ice cream and fish and chips. Fortunes were made and many chose to return to their native homes in Tuscany, of which Barga is one. It’s so strange to hear Italians with broad Scottish accents.
Barga boasts a limestone cathedral (duomo) which was built between the 11th and 16th centuries and it houses some pretty amazing art. (For years I plotted how I could steal the crucifix without anyone noticing.)
There is a Bruno Cordati gallery – and if as yet you have not come across Bruno Cordati, you are in for the biggest treat imaginable. HIs grandson runs the gallery and will happily show you around the house where Cordati lived and take you to the beautiful top floor, which has the most beautiful murals painted by Cordati as well as eye watering views.
It has the one of the best restaurants I have ever had the privilege to eat at, Scacciaguai, which has wines that make Amarones seem rough and truffles are liberally grated over fillets of beef, pasta – in fact, most things.
There is both a jazz and opera festival in the summer.
There is a chocolate and ice cream shop called Theobroma which truthfully makes you not give a fig about calories and is absolutely the food of the gods.
That is all in the old town. The new town is full of lovely bakeries, wine shops, coffee bars.
And best of all, it’s basically deserted. For some reason the tourists seem to stop at Firenze.
I stumbled upon this jewel many many years ago as friends owned a house there – and several years later I was lucky enough to buy my own place there in a village called Fiattone, high in the hills with the best views in the world. Honestly.
Barga was my nearest town and I couldn’t get enough of it. But there are other incredible treasures in the area as well.
My all time favourite was the Eremo di Calomini, a divine monastery literally carved into the hills at the top of a very windy road. It’s so worth the effort to get there and you are doubly rewarded as there is a gorgeous restaurant up there too, Antica Trattoria dell’Eremita serving fresh trout and homemade wines and the local wines.
And if you find yourself for some reason missing the crowds, Firenze is only an hour and a half away. If you do go there, make sure you go pay a visit to Sileno at AquaFlor which is the most exquisite perfume shop you will ever find anywhere. The place itself is a work of art, and Sileno is a magician when it comes to creating the most unbelievable fragrances. He will even create a personal perfume for you, which comes in a stunning bottle with your initials engraved on it. I can’t think of a more indulgent or wonderful gift.
Lucca is close by too and if you are lucky to be there in the summer you can listen to wonderful artists like Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Burt Bacharach and a myriad of others performing in the tiny main square. It’s the most intimate way to see the world’s best musicians. But if pop is not your thing and opera is, you are also blessed as Puccini lived in this city and there are so many performances of his works all year round in the many churches as well as a huge festival every summer in his former home.
Even roadside cafés serve food that is comparable to the finest restaurants anywhere. Local specialities are pasta with wild boar (you see them everywhere, as well as Disney-like families of porcupines!) and pasta fritta which is deep fried pasta dough – yes, it sounds pretty disgusting but actually it is nectar! The best in the area is to be found at Al Barchetto in Gallicano, a wonderful family restaurant where you can watch men fishing for trout as you eat.
Wine lovers must go to visit Gabriele at Podere Concori who will happily give you a tour of his vineyards and winery and tastings are available. His Melograno (meaning pomegranate and called thus because amidst the vines are pomegranate trees and the essence of them seeps into the soil and creates a particular taste in the wine) and PInot Noir are simply the best.
I sold the house in 2014. I miss it. But still make a yearly pilgrimage to Barga to get my fix. What I love about not owning a house abroad though is having the freedom to travel to so many other places. Which will make better reading for you too!