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: 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!

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!

Rainy days can still be fun days

Not all our walking tours are always under the Tuscan sun!  Tuscan rain happens here, especially in Lucca. Lucca has a wonderful Meditteranean climate.  However, Lucca can also be very rainy.  I think the reason for our rainy days is a combination of being close to the mountains to the north, but still close to the sea. Whatever the reason, we benefit from the rainfall and it doesn’t do much to dampen the city’s charm. Our city is so green all year round and we have plenty of sun to enjoy as well.

I try to keep an eye on the weather forecast so that I am ready in case of any rain.  I keep my little umbrella buried in my purse, just in case.  And it has happened a few times that I got caught without one as the rains came down. My hair gets spoiled, my shoes are soaked, and I feel the dampness all over while doing a tour! That is not as pleasant as it should for both me or the guests that are on my tour.

Take a look at the photo. It was a wet rainy day, but we prepared ourselves for the rain.  The photo is of myself and the tour escort. You can see from our smiling faces that taking a tour even on a rainy day that Lucca is still beautiful! In fact, it can be a great day for a tour because we will get you out of the rain into our amazing churches, museums and shops. There is no reason to let a little rain spoil a great vacation!

Take a stroll to authentic Tuscany

“You don’t need to go far from Lucca’s historic center to find the beautiful countryside that comes to mind when first think of Tuscany. Olive groves, vineyards, cypress trees, soft rolling hills, and magnificent villas surround the city.  With a very short drive, or a long pleasant stroll beyond the city and you can be in the middle of this country paradise. But be careful. It’s true that many fall in love at first sight!

Tuscany’s hillsides are home to wonderful vineyards and olive groves. Many places welcome visitors for tastings, just as many roadside trattorias offer wonderful local food. This is place to experience Tuscany!

20180602_092026

If you would like help arranging a tour, please contact me. I’d love to help you travel like a local! And after you’ve fallen in love with Tuscany, you may want to rent or buy a place of your own. We can help with that, too!

I look forward to meeting you the next time you visit. Be sure to take a little side trip to Lucca’ss most beautiful countryside.  You too will feel like I do!