Monday, November 26, 2012

The Many Landscapes of Tuscany: Garfagnana

Many people around the world associate the word “Tuscany” with the typical Chianti landscape of rolling hills, vineyards, olive groves and of course cypress trees. Not everyone is aware that Tuscany is a region of Italy covering an area of 23,000 square kilometers that offers many very diverse landscapes, and it is precisely this variety that makes it so incredible.

The entire western border of the region is coastline, bathed by the Tyrrhenian Sea, and there are also seven beautiful islands that belong to the Tuscan Archipelago. Though hills make up nearly two-thirds of the region, mountain ranges account for 25% of its territory, with the Apennines, which run through the center of the region, being the highest.  The remaining areas are plains and river valleys. All of this geographical diverseness results in many unique and extraordinary landscapes.

I will try to take you on a virtual tour of some of these incredible places – one at a time – to help you discover all the nuances of this famous “triangle” of Italy called Tuscany.

Let’s start in a lesser-known location, the amazing mountainous region in the northwest that belongs to the province of Lucca, called Garfagnana. This beautiful area is situated between the Apuan Alps and the Apennines in the upper Serchio River valley, which makes the scenery particularly striking as it is incredibly verdant with an abundance of forests. As a result, it looks almost nothing like the “typical” image of Tuscany that most people have.

Famous for its lakes, grottos and natural park preserves, this area is a nature lover’s paradise. However, it is also known for its history, boasting impressive fortresses, castles and charming hamlets known for the hospitality of their residents and the delicious cuisine based on local ingredients. 

Medieval villages like Barga and Castelnuovo di Garfagnana, the area’s capital, are definitely worth a visit. Also not to be missed is Bagni di Lucca, a spa town famous for its thermal springs, often referred to as “the Italian Switzerland”.

As in the rest of Tuscany, there are plenty of seasonal events, fairs, and tourist attractions in the area (although they remain rather low-key). One of the strong points of Garfagnana is that it has yet to be discovered by the majority of travelers, so it offers the opportunity to sample a more authentic taste of Tuscan life.

The proximity of LuccaPisa and the coastal area of Versilia (famous for its beach resorts Viareggio and Forte dei Marmi) has brought attention to this stunning natural paradise. Also, Tuscany’s best ski resorts are under an hour away, making Garfagnana a draw in every season. Visitors can easily enjoy the more mundane lifestyle of the beach or the slopes, as well as the historic charm of the cities and also escape to experience the natural unspoiled beauty of this extraordinary mountain valley. 

photo credits: Frank Andiver

Thanks to Paradiso...Toscana for the beautiful photos.

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