For those who want to experience the Italy of yesteryear, where one can stroll quietly on twisting cobblestone pathways, there is a charming niche of Tuscany that provides all that and more. Exploring the nearby province of Lucca, visitors walk through the tiny town of Barga, as well as the medieval walled towns of Castiglione and Castelnuovo di Garfagnana.
Hiking in this lush, mountainous region is a popular pastime. At 20 minutes from the property, La Grotta del Vento is the deepest cave in Europe. Mount Forato is a huge, perfect natural arch connecting two peaks along a mountaintop crest. It is a unique, spectacularly beautiful panoramic view 30 minutes from the hotel.
While any trip to Italy naturally involves gastronomy, this region takes its cuisine very seriously. It is famed for such dishes as pasta made of chestnut flour and ribollita (country-style bread, cabbage and vegetable soup.) Desserts might include such delights as “castagnaccio con ricotta” (chestnut-flour cake with ricotta cheese) or “semifreddo al croccantino” (crunchy nut parfait.)
Cheese lovers might choose a visit to the family-owned Bertagni Cheese Factory, just 20 minutes from the hotel in Castelnuovo di Garfaganana at La Pieve. At the market, I sighed over the brilliant tomatoes and the tissue paper-wrapped oranges—beautifully bright and beckoning.
This is what Italy feels like when it is not thronged with tourists; it’s a place where life is slow and food, friends and family are relished and savored. Family and friends are honored and embraced, and everyone greets others with not one, but two kisses. Go, and you will slow down too—con gusto!