The Garfagnana Valley is a verdant valley of outstanding beauty a few kilometers north of Lucca, in Tuscany, Italy.
Located between the green Apennines and the more rugged Apuan Alps, Garfagnana is a captivating place. A valley of dense forests and tranquil lakes, all mostly undiscovered by international tourism. The mountains and valleys are dotted with small, out-of-the-way stone hamlets where the rhythm of life has been unchanged for centuries. The main towns of Barga and Castelnuovo Garfagnana provide the best opportunities for entertainment and accommodation.
The Garfagnana is perfect for travellers who love the outdoors, and people looking for off-the-beaten track destinations. There are remains of castles perched on hilltops, ancient churches and quaint fortified small towns that are far from the spotlights of more touristy areas. Its sights have evocative names that reflect the mysterious atmosphere: the Devil’s Bridge, the Cave of the Wind, and the Holy Island.
People come to the Garfagnana valley for the natural beauty. It’s a perfect place for walking and cycling, and you’ll find rivers and lakes and nice spots for picnics. Medieval stone bridges and secretive churches provide plenty of photo opportunities and a chance for relaxation.
Highlights of the Garfagnana Tuscany
BARGA – lively centre with an interesting link to the UK (there’s a fish and chips festival in July). Barga boasts the artistic highlight of the area: a splendid Romanesque Cathedral that also surprises visitors with gorgeous views of the valley. Technically, Barga lies in the Media Valle del Serchio, to the south of Garfagnana. But it’s always been a focal point of the area, and a good base for visitors as it offers the most tourist services.
CASTELNUOVO GARFAGNANA – this town doesn’t have any major sights, but like Barga, it’s a good point from which to explore the area. It has good accommodation choices and restaurants, and a lot of walking and hiking itineraries depart from here.
CASTIGLIONE GARFAGNANA – a scenic small town. Highlights include an imposing fortress that dominates the town, Medieval walls and the church of San Michele.
CAVES – Two impressive caves are to be found here in the belly of the Apuan Alps: Grotte del Vento (Cave of the Wind) and Antro del Corchia.
Verrucole Castle – A great destination for fans of the Medieval, and a fun place to go if you are travelling with children. The recently restored castle is an impressive sight with long crenellated walls. Its traditions are kept alive with historical reconstructions and dedicated tours. Breathtaking views.
The Verrucole Castle is near San Romano in Garfagnana. While you’re there visit the quaint Borgo di Sambuca (perched on the rock spur over the Serchio river).
Orecchiella Park – a splendidly kept Nature Reserve (50 sq. km.) in the Appenines. It has a botanic garden and a small well kept wildlife park. It’s a perfect destination if you’re travelling with kids and a good spot for relaxing picnics and walks.
The Devil’s Bridge – Ponte del Diavolo is the first sight you find on leaving Lucca driving up to the Garfagnana. As you follow the Serchio River you’ll see the Devil’s Bridge near Borgo a Mazzano. This impressive 12th century stone bridge has a legend attached to it: the man commissioned to build the bridge made a pact with the devil to have it finished on time. But in return the devil wanted the soul of the first person to cross it. To mock the devil, the man let a pig cross the bridge first. The scorned devil jumped into the river and disappeared.
What to eat in the Garfagnana Tuscany
Typical local products include honey, pecorino, biroldo (salume made with pig’s blood, tongue, lots of spices. It has a soft texture and a savoury taste), bread made with grain and potatoes, spelt, chestnuts and mushrooms.
A bit of history: A “land of wolves and outlaws”
“Land of wolves and outlaws”, wrote a famous Italian writer to describe this land five centuries ago. The poet Ludovico Arioso was sent to the Garfagnana as Governor by the Estense family for whom he was working. He wasn’t very convinced by the isolation, or the fact that it was teeming with bandits and smugglers who were difficult to control.
Today the turbulent past has made its way into legends and stories. Something of the secretive still hangs in the air here, in the villages and castles surrounded by tall oaks and beeches, and the river Serchio murmuring in the background.