The heart of the Alpi Apuane (Apuan Alps) might be the most visually stunning in all of Tuscany. Roads marked by constant hairpin turns wind around precipitous, jagged mountains.
Cool mountains air tempers even the sultriest summers. Most of the major cities and towns can be found along the Serchio, Italy’s third-largest river, that runs north-south.
The Val di Lima (Lima Valley), formed by the Lima River, has for centuries been known for its curative thermal waters.
San Marcello Pistoiese
This little town has a church, San Marcello, that dates from the 12th century. The interior was redone in the 18th century, and most of the art inside dates from that period. The main square, right along the road, has plenty of caféS. It’s a good stopping point if you’re on the road.
• 19 km (18mi) northwest of San Marcello Pistoiese in Pistoiese, 65 km (40 mi) north of Lucca, 90 km (59 mi) of Florence.
Abetone is one of the most-visited vacation spots in the Appennines, where Tuscan, Emilia-Romagnans, and others go to ski.
It’s easily accessible from Florence and offers a number of trails, mostly for beginner and intermediate skiers (expert skiers might be somewhat deterred by the fact that the entire area offers only two expert slopes).
In summer, there’s ample opportunity to trek or mountain bike in and around its beautiful hills and mountains.
OFF THE BEATEN PATH
San Pellegrino in Alpe
If you’rre driving from Abetone to Castelnuovo di Garfagana, San Pellegrino in Alpe will not be off the beaten paths but rather right on it.
Do stop and enjoy the staggering view. The story has t that a 9th-century Scot, Pellegrino by name, come here to repent. Thought that doesn’t really explain why he would trade in windswept moors for windswept mountains, don’t dwell on that.
The Museo Ethnografico Provinciale (Provincial Ethnographic Museum) is mostly devoted to farm objects; check out the vista by the wooden cross.
• Southeastern boundary about 35 km (22 mi) northwest of Abetone
Parco dell’Orecchiella (Orecchiella park), some 52 square km of it, is protected parkland to preserving the local flora and fauna.
It’s a pretty 30-minute drive on winding two-lane roads from Abetone (20 minutes from Castelnuvovo di Garfagnana to San Romano in Garfagnana, the main entrance point of the park.
For the avid hiker, there’s a lot to do here, as there are many trails marked out along with the times that they take to do them—-anywhere from 2,30 to 5 hours.
Castelnuovo di Garfagnana
Castelnuovo di Garfagnana might be the best place to use as a base while exploring the Garfagnana, as it is more or less centrally located with respect to the other towns.
During the Renaissance, the town’s fortunes were frequently tied in with those of the powerful d’Este family of Ferrara.
The writer Ludovico Ariosto (1474-1533), author of the epic poem “Orlando Furioso“, among other words, served here briefly as commissar general for the d’Este.
During Napoleon’s supremacy in Europe, Castelnuovo di Garfagnana became part of the Cisalpine republic.
In 1814, it once again became a possession of the d’Este.
In Piazza Umberto I , dates from the 12th century and has a plague commemorating Ariosto’s tenure. The Duomo, dedicated to St.Peter, was begun in the 11th century and was reconstructed in the early 1500s.
Inside is a crucifix dated from the 14th to 15th centuries. There’s also an early 16th-century terra-cotta attributed to the school of the della Robbia.
• 13,5 km (8 mi) southeast of Castelnuovo di Garfagnana, 37 km (23 mi) north of Lucca, 111 km (69 mi) northwest of Florence.
Barga is a lovely little town with a finely preserved medieval core. It produced textiles—particularly silk–in the Renaissance, and wool in the 18th century. And though there’s not a lot to see, it’s a a lot of fun to wander the narrow streets and sip a cappuccino.
Do drop into the Duomo, dedicated to St. Christopher. It’s an oddly shaped structure that saw four separate building campaigns; the first began in the 9th century. Inside, there’s an intricately carved pulpit by an anonymous Lucchese sculptor dating from the second half of the 12th century.
From the Duomo you can enjoy the beautiful panorama of the surrounding countryside. It makes the effort to climb the steep path well worth it.
Bagni di Lucca
• 18 km (11 mi) southeast of Barga, 27 km (17 mi) north of Lucca, 101 km (63 mi) northwest of Florence.
Pretty Bagni di Lucca was certainly a fashionable town in days of yore—in part because of its thermal waters. The 16th-century French writer Montaigne (1533-1592) came here twice to take the water, and on each occasion recorded in great detail the effect that bathing and the waters had on his digestion.
The Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) installed his family here during the summer of 1818. He wrote to a friend in July of that year that the waters here were “exceedingly refreshing”: “My custom is to undress and sit on the rocks, reading Herodotus, until perspiration has subsided, and then to leap from the edge of the rock into his fountain”.
Bagni di Lucca was probably equally as refreshing for the Brownings who, in the summer of 1853, summered in a house on the main square.