Barga September 2012

Photo: barga church. Helen Rose Hill Diary

When I was young, the local cafe was owned by a lady from Lucca who said she would take me there but never did so it became a dream to go to Lucca in Tuscany. A walking holiday based in Barga attracted me as it also included a day visit to Lucca. Barga is a very pretty mountain town in Tuscany on the east side of the northern Apennines from the coast. It has the old town with the cobbled streets leading up to the Cathedral at the highest point. There is also a new town adjacent at the bottom of the old town but even it is fairly old.

In the past, Barga and the surrounding area were very poor and the main diet was bread made from chestnut flour as the area is surrounded by chestnut woods. Many of the local people came to Britain initially selling small sculptures but later opening cafes selling ice cream for which Barga is famous. Most of the Italian population in Glasgow descend from people who came from Tuscany. Many have gone back to Barga and for a small town it has many Scots Italians.

Photo: barga mountains. The restaurants have delicious food and dinner usually lasts 3 or 4 hours as Italians enjoy their food and it is a convivial affair. The local wine is low in sulphites so does not keep but does have the advantage of not causing a hangover the next day. The food is healthy and beautifully cooked. We ate out all week but I can honestly say I never had a bad meal. On the contrary it was all lovely. Often dinner would be preceded by a glass of Prosecco so every night was party night.

Some of us were in an apartment with fabulous views over the wooded hills with gorgeous sunsets. We had breakfast with the others staying at the Casa Fontana and Ron and Susie made sure we had good food to set us up for each day's walk. We had five days walking but mostly in the chestnut woods to higher villages on mule tracks. I did find the mule tracks quite painful to walk on as my ankle has not fully recovered yet from the broken leg but the discomfort was worth it as the woods were so beautiful to walk in and shaded from the sun. As soon as we returned from the walks it was straight to the gelateria for an ice cream.

On the walks we came across disused mills which had been used for milling the chestnut flour. They looked very charming in such a beautiful location. One of the walks took us up to Sommnocolonia, a very high village with fabulous views over the hills to the Apennines with their rocky tops. This village had been badly bombed in the war as it had been a German strategic position but it has been rebuilt very sympathetically. There are many painting schools in this area and my friend Maggie, the artist, regularly takes out groups to Barga for painting instruction based in the Casa Fontana.

Photo: lucca. On the non walking day we travelled by bus to Lucca less than two hours away. Lucca is a walled city and has many interesting historical sites. You can walk around the city walls but with only a day we limited ourselves to visiting the Cathedral which dates from 1070 and has an interesting inner sanctum with the Tomb of Ilaria del Carretto (1406-13) by Jacopo della Quercia. We also visited the circular Piazza dell?Antiteatro, the Basilica of San Frediano with its13th century mosaic facade and the Torre Guinigi with views over Lucca. The day was very wet and we sheltered in cafes as being Italy we had to eat regularly! I loved the visit and Barga and Lucca exceeded my expectations. I returned home somewhat heavier but happy and healthy. There is so much to write about Barga and Lucca, I could only give you a taster in this article so make sure you visit it and see for yourself.

Coming attractions; Buttermere and Forth and Clyde Canal.

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