Garfagnana is the area occupying the middle and upper stretches
of the Valle del Serchio, surrounded by the Apuans
and the Appennines. It was already inhabited way back in prehistoric
times. Much later it was subject to the rule of the bishops of Lucca and
Luni. From 1429, a large part of the territory came under the dominion
of the Estensi, who nominated the poet Ludovico Ariosto as governor.
We can start exploring this valley by visiting the village of Borgo a
Mozzano, close to which there is the asymmetrical Ponte della Maddalena,
better known as the Ponte del Diavolo ('Bridge of the Devil').
On the other side of the river Serchio there is the ancient thermal
baths centre of Bagni di Lucca. Its greatest period of prestige
was in the 18th and 19th centuries because Charles I of Bourbon opened
the first casino in Europe here, attracting many well-known figures including
Byron, Shelley, Dumas père, Rossini, and Puccini.
As you travel towards Barga, you come to Coreglia Anteminelli,
where its main claim to fame is the Museo della figurina di gesso dell'emigrazione,
a museum of plaster figures, housed in Palazzo Vanni.
Barga is the most important town in the Valle del Serchio and today
is a commercial and industrial centre. There was already a flourishing
production of valuable fabrics here in the 12th century. The medieval
town centre with its partially-intact walls lies on a spur above the
modern part of the town called Barga Giardino. The ancient Duomo
is at the topmost point of the historic town centre in a grassy piazza,
from which you get an extensive view of the surrounding mountains.
Castelnuovo Garfagnana, the capital of this mountain area, has
origins dating back to the 8th century. Nowadays Castelnuovo is an industrial
The cultivation of farro (spelt) has been an economic resource
for the Garfagnana since Roman times. Recently rediscovered, it can now
be found in restaurants throughout Italy. Spelt can be served hot
or cold in a variety of different recipes. Besides the traditional
soup, in the Garfagnana there is also a recipe that mixes spelt with rice;
they are cooked separately then mixed together and flavoured with salt,
pepper, nutmeg, cheese, and lemon rind. Other exquisite ingredients are
the vegetables grown in the area, in particular the erbi (grasses)
that grow spontaneously in fields and which can be eaten either
raw or cooked; they are also excellent as a basis for a tasty frittata
Picture by Sandro Santioli