The Garfagnana is the area occupying the middle and upper stretches of the Valle del Serchio, surrounded by the Apuans and the Appennines.
The 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 centre.
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 (omelette).