Hidden Tuscany: Walk and talk

With the arrival of spring, many communities have run/walk events to raise money for good causes or just to have fun. You can see the flyers posted all over, like this one:

These events are mostly non-competitive, great for all ages and a wonderful way to see the surrounding areas of Tuscany. Each is very different, some well organized and others well, not so much! A recent walk in the center of Capanori had people walking around every which way, most with no idea where they were supposed to go! But not to worry, everyone had fun, enjoyed the conversation and the walk and the benefits of the event went to local Lions Clubs throughout the region.

For those who do organized walks or run in the United States, be prepared: These aren’t quite as serious as the ones in the United States. But the good news is they don’t cost near as much either! Typically they are about €3. Just walk up, find a table of local volunteers and get a sticker. You’re in!

The other thing that is very different is true Italian culture is evident throughout. The vendors with booths at the party after the walk include local products from honey to prosciutto or even wine! You won’t find many “energy bars” offered here. Snacks along the way often include lemons, chocolate even fried bread. One event offered a nice bean soup for participants when they finished. The bags for walkers at the end don’t include fancy products. Instead, I’ve seen gifts of pasta and even toilet paper! Yes, very different from America, I’d imagine.

This past Saturday, on a gorgeous Spring day, more than a 1,000 people arrived in Marlia (just 6 KM north of Lucca) for a walk of either 3km, 8 km, or 11 km, that wandered through the villas in the hilly region. Look at these beautiful views and the amazing villas.

 

These walks are a great way to enjoy the local community. You can practice your Italian by listening to the lively conversation. You can experience the mix of generations and enjoy seeing parts of the region that aren’t the normal tourist experience.

And for those interested in seeing the same villas as this walk, should come to Lucca on April 28 for a marvelous annual event repeats this walk with so much more. It’s called the Marcia delle Ville and it will include thousands of people walking the hills of this region. All the Villas offer free admission inside and walkers can go as short as 7km and as long as 28km to tour these amazing structures of historic Lucchese culture.

Whenever you come to Lucca, check out the flyers, find a walk and experience the community like a local! You’ll not be disappointed.

Hidden Tuscany: Baratti and Populonia

Not only does Tuscany have beautiful and important medieval and renaissance cities but it has a majestic coastline. One of my favorite areas of the coast is about 120 km south of Lucca in the Province of Livorno known as Baratti/Populonia. Baratti is the beach area and Populonia is the Etruscan town just 3 km above Baratti along a winding scenic road. Many remains of the Etruscan tombs have been uncovered in the area.

The winter may not seem like the time to post about the beach, but even in winter the sea is beautiful. If planning a trip in the spring or summer, allow yourself a day to travel here and enjoy the Italian coast at its finest.

The beach in Baratti is a gulf of about 5 km. It has a beach with darker sand than that you find in Viareggio, for example.  The reason for this is because the Etruscans worked the iron collected from Isola d’Elba. The water is crystal clear and so inviting for a nice long swim. The natural beauty is mostly undisturbed by very few buildings, only farmhouses that have been around for decades. There are many, many pine trees.

Populonia is a small village on the hill above the gulf. If you go, it might be hard to leave the beautiful sea, but take a trek up to visit the castle of Populonia and of course relish in the views of the area and the Gulf of Baratti.  This is really worth a day trip and maybe even more!

Hidden Tuscany: Yes touristy, but try Certaldo Alto

Recently, I read an article in the New York Times regarding Tuscany. In a few words, the article said Tuscany is overrun by tourism. It suggested other areas of Italy that are just as beautiful. For example, the article suggested visiting Le Marche in place of Tuscany.

“Others are heading to the calf of Italy’s boot, to Le Marche,” the author wrote, “a small, diverse province rising from the Adriatic Sea to the 6,000-foot peaks of the Apennines. In between lies a Tuscan-like rumple of lavender fields, sunflower fields and vineyards spread across hills that hump off toward every horizon like a patchwork quilt on an unmade bed. In 2003, according to the Italian National Institute of Statistics, Le Marche had just 7 percent as many visits by foreigners as Tuscany.”

The article is partially right. Yes, cities like Florence and Pisa have the problem of mass tourism, but it’s not all Tuscany. You just have to find the hidden gems of Tuscany.  Just this past Christmas season, my friends and family had one of these delightful experiences.

We first took our little group to Siena and San Gimignano. Yes, there were tourists (mostly Italians on holiday) but nothing like the spring and summer months. We then decided to go for lunch in a new town which no one had ever seen, including my son.

The place is Certaldo Alto, which is not far from San Gimignano. You will never find it overrun by tourists but you will find the magic of Italy’s medieval era.

My son loved it. It has the same feeling as many of the hilltop towns near our home in Lucca: beautiful landscapes with a medieval village at the top, with magnificent views from all sides. We walked around and found a place for lunch despite many being closed. Everything was traditional. It was an excellent afternoon.

Certaldo Alto is home to one of Italy’s greatest 14th-century writers, Giovanni Boccaccio. His most famous work is Decameron.

Yes, it’s true Tuscany can get too crowded in some areas especially certain times of year. Well, those are times to discover the unknown parts of #hiddentuscany and believe me, there are many!

Hidden Tuscany: The views of Garfagnana

Recently we were asked by good friends if we would go with them to Garfagnana to see Parco dell’Orecchiella, a wonderful regional park. We have visited it many times and we always enjoy beautiful views. The park is located high in the mountains north of Lucca, about a one hour drive. Going past the many medieval towns and villages we reached our destination just in time for lunch. I had made a reservation at La Greppia, a very well-known restaurant located just outside the park. We had a wonderful lunch and then walked around the park to enjoy the magnificent views, the trees, a small lake, and some of Garfagnana’s tallest peaks.  It’s also a hikers paradise with the many marked trails all around.

On our way back to Lucca, I told my friends about Il Castello delle Verrucole. They had never been to this wonderful gem. Even though they realized that there would be a bit of a steep hike up to the Castle, they decided it was worth it. Upon entering the castle (not really your typical castle but a defense system of the 11th century) a guide will take you through the what was the living quarters of the structure and describe the history in a very fun and interesting way. Of course, the views from here are spectacular too. The tour lasts about one hour and it’s interesting for both young and old. Our friends told me that the steep walk was worth every step!

Hidden Tuscany: Let us be your guide

Maybe you’ve heard Tuscany is a very popular tourist destination!?

Of course, you have. Because the magic of Tuscany never disappoints. While it may be popular for tourist websites and publications to talk about the “next” Tuscany or some new place for adventurous tourists, Tuscany remains for many the trip of a lifetime. And many of my clients keep coming back because why not have the “trip of a lifetime” more than once!

Over the next few weeks, we will help stir your spirit of adventure with many posts about #hiddentuscany that include our favorite spots for day trips and more. Come along with us and read about these gems of Toscana and if they inspire ideas, perhaps we can help with a consultation for your next visit. Just click here to get started.

We have many stories to tell you, starting with the beauty of the hilltop town of Montecarlo that welcomes visitors with many local restaurants, several significant historical places to see and magnificent views of the Lucchesia.

Montecarlo played a critical role in the defense of Lucca during the perilous medieval era of rival nation-states, Florence and Pisa in particular. In 1325, Lucca’s famous commander Castruccio Castracani used the strategic position of Montecarlo to direct the army and win the battle of Altopascio against the Florentine army.

According to VisitTuscany.com,  “Montecarlo’s top sights worth seeing include the Collegiate Church of Saint Andrew (Chiesa Collegiata di Sant’Andrea), the not-to-be-missed parish church Pieve di San Piero in Campo, dating back to 846, and the tiny but enchanting theater Teatro dei Rassicurati, which was frequented by the composer Puccini.”

Montecarlo is surrounded by vineyards and olive groves with local products that celebrate the bounty of the region. The city often hosts events that bring local people for a night of leisure and beauty. Be sure to visit around sunset!

Do you have a favorite memory of Hidden Tuscany? Comment here or send me a note. Maybe, you’ll inspire an article here!

 

Warm Tuscan days, pleasant nights

Summer heat has arrived. It’s a beautiful time of the year where sun splashes everywhere. In the evening, the piazzas are full as people mingle, eat outside and stay up late.

A sure sign of this heat is colorful front door protective curtains that you begin seeing. They are made with a very strong fabric that will not allow the sun to “cook” the doors. The traditional colors are yellow and white. Mine is green and white because I had to make a new one this year and was unable to find the original fabric. They last a few summers before you need a new one.

Besides protecting your doors, they help keep the heat outside during the day, which keeps the house more pleasant, especially at night.

By the way, in the picture of my curtain, you will see Pallino our cat, looking for a shady place to hide.

Enjoy your summer!

Be local: Visit a street market

Weekly street markets in Italy! How fun. Anywhere in Italy you visit you will find one. Each community holds these markets on different days. It is best to check with locals for information.

In Lucca the street markets are held on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. Though some may linger, most start closing around 12:30 p.m. By 1 p.m. they are done for the day.

Mind you, they are not “flea markets” or used items. These markets feature new merchandise. You can find anything from the freshest cheese to fancy dresses and garden plants. But there is so much more: kitchen items, home decorating, make-up, toiletries, etc. Each week I try to go one of the two days, usually on Saturday mornings so I can buy the fruits and vegetables I will need for the weekend. And of course, I will always find something else that is “just what I was looking for.”

Prices are good. The merchandise can be on the economical side but sometimes you will find stands that sell high-quality clothing at a very reduced price because they are selling “stock” items they bought in one big bulk and can sell it at a very reduced price.

Italians are used to street markets; it’s part of the culture. So what better way to see the local population than at a street market? I would say the majority are women but many have their husbands tagging along, waiting for the time to get back in the car and go home and have lunch. How typical it is to find someone you know and haven’t seen for a long time. You see people from all walks, the young, old, Italians and non Italians, children wanting to buy everything that attracts their attention, animals to be adopted (I almost brought another kitty home the other day but I didn’t think my husband would be too happy). It really is a fun part of the Italian culture. Next time you are here, make it a point to go. You will be happy you did!