Tens of millions of worldwide vacationers overrun Tuscany every year, selecting over the vineyards in Chianti Classico, packing the area’s medieval hamlets, and mobbing the Renaissance masterpieces in Siena and Florence. The summer time crowds can appear unrelenting — till you drive about two hours northwest to the excessive inexperienced mountains and river-crossed valleys of the Garfagnana. This pocket of Tuscany breaks away from the area’s manicured city facilities, rewarding guests with journey sports activities, a romantic bucolic way of life impervious to mass tourism, and rustic mountain fare.
Distinctive river rafting and hikes make Garfagnana a must-do for wilderness seekers, however the microregion is a little-known wonderland for adventurous gourmands too, who traipse between the hilltop cities, refueling at every cease. Meals purveyors forage within the countryside for farro and chestnuts, sheep chomp away on wild herbs, and unbiased wine producers buck rules-bound consortiums to discover uncharted territory. However Garfagnana isn’t completely lower off from civilization; whereas it affords the untouched wilderness of neighboring central Italian areas like Umbria or Le Marche, it receives a gradual feed of tradition from close by cities, significantly Lucca, house of Puccini, postcard-worthy squares, and low-key festivals.
Garfagnana strikes the best stability between distant escape and accessible hotspot, good for vacationers desirous to transcend the picture-perfect Tuscany everybody else sees.
What’s Garfagnanan delicacies?
Foraged components, wild boar, slow-cooked stews, historical grain farro, intensely flavored cheeses from mountain goats and sheep, and heritage sorts of formenton otto file (orange-red corn) and legumes are the protagonists of meals in Garfagnana. A few of the greatest meals may be discovered at agriturismi (farm stays), the place visitors return from lengthy hikes to feast on chestnut honey (produced by bees who feed on chestnut blossoms) drizzled on native cheeses, salumi corresponding to biroldo (spiced head cheese) organized on antipasti boards alongside farro-based breads, and pasta made on-site.
The culinary seat of the microregion, Lucca is house to a handful of Michelin-starred eating places, notable cheese producers, and a few of the space’s extra refined meals, together with preserved metropolis partitions, Puccini museums, architecturally important church buildings, and festivals devoted to the whole lot from comics to paper sculptures. Starting within the twelfth century, town’s tight maintain on the silk commerce made it comparatively rich, and that prosperity paved the way in which for a wealthy delicacies that pulls from Garfagnana’s peasant mountain fare, creating dishes like tordelli Lucchesi: ravioli crammed with meat, accented with wild thyme and sage, and slow-cooked in ragu.
There’s a lot to drink as nicely. With out the advertising energy of consortiums in Chianti Classico, Montalcino, and Montepulciano, Garfagnana was as soon as resigned to churning out low-cost wine in bulk. However starting within the ’90s, a brand new technology of vintners — like Gabriele Da Prato at Podere Còncori — took over established household estates, shifting the trajectory from producing utilitarian wines to specializing in the area’s distinctive terroir. Located between the Apuan Alps and the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines, the excessive elevation, cool and foggy microclimate, and mineral-rich soils create optimum situations for syrah and pinot noir to rival these of the Rhone Valley or Burgundy. A number of wineries have additionally embraced native grape varietals to supply fruity, bubbly, high-acid bottlings.
What to know earlier than you go
Lima, Increased Garfagnana, and Serchio: These three valleys outline Garfagnana’s distinctive historic geographic zone throughout the Lucca province. The Lima Valley is phenomenal for river rafting and mountaineering via medieval cities. Historic sorts of sheep dine on wild flora in Increased Garfagnana, the place native artisans remodel their milk into deeply flavorful cheeses. The Serchio is house to the walled, stone-paved village of Barga, which hosts an annual opera competition, and the realm is well-known for the Ponte del Diavolo, a bridge with a curler coaster-like arch that legend contends was made doable by a take care of the satan.
Agriturismi: Many guests spend their evenings on farms often known as agriturismi, normally strategically positioned near mountaineering trails the place visitors can work up an urge for food. After a day of wine tastings and sizzling springs, there are few issues higher than returning to rustic delicacies at an agriturismo. (Be aware: You’ll must drive to succeed in the assorted farmstays within the area. If that’s not an possibility, keep in Lucca and work together with your lodge concierge to prepare excursions.)
Seasons: Garfagnana usually serves as a cool escape from summer time crowds in Tuscany’s fashionable cities, but it surely’s greatest within the spring and fall, when temperatures are chic for mountaineering. The spring brings contemporary pecorino cheeses, river trout, and dishes heightened by wild herbs, whereas the autumn is greatest for foraging geeks, who’re rewarded with earthy porcinis and buttery chestnuts. The autumn can also be decidedly decadent with wine harvest celebrations, wild honey, necci (chestnut-flour crepes) crammed with mountain ricotta, polenta layered with melted native cheeses, historical grain soups, and pasta dressed with wild recreation sughi (sauces).
The place to eat within the countryside
Al Teatro (Castelnuovo di Garfagnana)
Run by two younger cooks, Alessandro Pineschi and Luca Triti, Al Teatro makes use of regionally sourced components for conventional a la carte dishes and tasting menus with up to date twists. You would possibly see wild garlic, straw syrup, elderberry capers, and mountain ricotta amongst its dishes.
Osteria Vecchio Mulino (Castelnuovo di Garfagnana)
This easy osteria focuses on savory pies, tagliere boards with specialty cured meats, and artisanal cheeses. There are additionally specialty farro- and potato-based breads and a well-thought-out wine listing.
Ristorante Eliseo (Gallicano)
This small bed-and-breakfast features a century-old restaurant outfitted with wooden paneling and luxurious cabin decor. The kitchen prepares contemporary pasta with native porcini, truffles, wild boar, numerous grilled mains with aromatics like juniper, and old-school classics like fried veal cutlets.
Mulin del Rancone (Camporgiano)
Refined Garfagnanian delicacies is the order of the day at this farmstay in Camporgiano. Search for river trout crepes, pestos made out of native wild herbs, chestnut pastas, grilled porcini, and polenta flan.
Il Grillo (Giuncugnano)
This natural farm operates an hooked up restaurant using seasonal greens from its fields in dishes like farro soups with winter chicories, chestnut flour-stuffed piadine (flatbread), and tortino (root vegetable pie), paired with native wines and craft beers.
The place to eat in Lucca
Awarded a Michelin star in 2019, Il Giglio crafts tasting menus combining conventional peasant staples corresponding to snails, offal, or pigeon with luxurious comforts like sea urchin spaghetti.
The Italian model of a greasy spoon, this historic eatery makes a speciality of Luccan delicacies and Tuscan staples, together with stuffed pastas with ragu, zuppa contadina (grain and vegetable soups), chestnut truffles baked with pine nuts and rosemary, and panzanella.
A steakhouse and cocktail bar with classic enchantment, La Griglia di Varrone is superb for anybody with a meaty urge for food. The menu is organized by lower, with breeds sourced from all around the globe like Angus and pata negra.
Set within the hills above Lucca a number of miles from town heart, this biodynamic vineyard and agriturismo can also be house to one in every of Lucca’s extra compelling eating places. Chef Damiano Donati elevates consolation meals like braised beef with the vineyard’s personal bottles and roasts natural potatoes grown on-site.
The place to drink
Podere Còncori appears extra like a nationwide park reserve than a biodynamic vineyard. Gabriele Da Prato took over this humble nook of land within the late ’90s, changing manufacturing from price range bulk wine. He began crafting high quality bottles of syrah, earlier than the operation grew to embody chenin blanc and pinot noir. In the present day Gabriele’s daughter Susanna works alongside him, ageing wines with minimal intervention and incomes accolades from numerous gastronomic wine guides corresponding to Italy’s Gambero Rosso.
Positioned in Borgo a Mozzano within the Serchio Valley, this farmhouse is tiny however mighty. For the final 20 years, winemaker Cipriano Barsanti has garnered a quiet following within the pure wine world, however refuses to scale up the Macea winery to fulfill demand. The rugged plot on a slight elevation sees massive temperature fluctuations, which assure wines with crisp, contemporary acidity much like bottles from Burgundy. The calling playing cards listed here are pinot nero, sauvignon blanc, and pinot grigio. Don’t sleep on any of the releases; they promote out shortly.
The primary enterprise right here is an agriturismo; the small, unbiased vineyard is a pure ardour mission. Positioned close to the Serchio river, the vineyard grows grapes in soil with important ranges of schist (which impacts the wine’s pH and lends contemporary acidity). Whereas a few of the varietals are worldwide, corresponding to pinot noir and merlot, over the past six years the vineyard has gained respect within the wine world for reviving historical native grape varieties (briefly nicknamed Garfagnine till extra analysis is accomplished to correctly classify them). The unnamed grapes are very fruity, with excessive acid, little construction, and excessive alcohol potential, making for excellent food-friendly glowing wines.
Spearheaded by a pair of younger enologists, this winery sits 3,000 toes above sea stage, the place it produces some uncommon high-acid wines with gorgeous terroir. The riesling is particularly nice, much like the elegant variations produced within the Trentino-Alto Adige area of the Italian Dolomites. Like Cantina Bravi Alessandro, the winery is lauded for utilizing native Garfagnine grapes for chilled pink pet-nat sparklers.
The place to refill
This unassuming deli in Lucca, open since 1865, is excellent for the sheer collection of cured meats and cheeses from the area. It additionally has seating inside and behind the store in a small sq., must you wish to crush a meat and cheese board with a bottle of wine from its tightly curated choice. It most likely hasn’t modified a lot because it opened, so it might seem like a kitschy Tuscan vacationer entice at first look, however the look belies the standard of the products. It additionally sells dried pastas, olive oils, dried native grains, honey, and different souvenirs.
Additionally positioned in Lucca, this pastry store is taken into account the custodian of a prized native candy delicacy, buccellato (“candy bread”), a ring-shaped cake crammed with raisins. The deal with dates again to medieval occasions, first documented within the 1400s (earlier than issues like cream custard and butter modified up Tuscany’s pastry recreation). No matter how you are feeling about raisins, it’s a should should you go to the Lucca space of Tuscany.
In a rustic that has at the very least 450 totally different registered sorts of conventional cheeses, some actually particular cheese comes out of the Garfagnana mountains from free-roaming goats and sheep. In comparison with notable counterparts in Siena and Sardinia, sheep of Massesi and Garfagnini breeds frequent in these mountains produce much less milk, however what they do produce is extra extremely concentrated in taste and bacterial funk, with a big tart tang from their weight-reduction plan of untamed grasses. Caseificio Bertagni makes numerous sheep and goat cheese blends, principally goat ricottas and aged pecorinos with sturdy nutty umami notes. It additionally makes chestnut honey and fruit compotes, ethereal pairings for its tacky creations.
When the destruction of WWII left swaths of Italy in desperation, this household turned to cheesemaking for its livelihood. Three generations of cheese artisans later, Marovelli makes numerous sheep milk cheeses from contemporary to aged in conciato kinds stemming from historical Roman strategies, wrapping cheese molds in chestnut leaves and grape should to age in oak barrels. It additionally incorporate spices, native herbs, and cow and goat milks into its creations.
Since 1945, this salumi purveyor has been making native cured and pressed meat specialties conventional to the Lucca province. Hyperregional biroldo (head cheese), mondiola (a neighborhood sort of mortadella salami with sage leaves), and bazzone (excessive altitude-cured prosciutto hams) are well worth the trek to this meat market.
The place to sleep
Born through the pandemic, this lodge is a best choice for adventurers staying in Lucca, since its strong concierge providers assist set up journeys into the countryside. After you’re executed exploring, chill out on the bar’s terrace overlooking town, sipping on bubbles sourced from close by producers (and from zones like Champagne). A double room begins at $350 per evening in excessive season, $235 in off-season.
This five-star lodge in the course of the mountains makes a super distant base for visiting wine producers, cheesemakers, and small cities close by corresponding to Barga. The on-site restaurant affords native delicacies, in-house baked breads, and a neighborhood wine listing — plus the views and concierge service are unbeatable. A double room begins at $300 per evening in excessive season, $145 in off-season.
A small slice of paradise on Earth, this farmstay treats visitors to delicacies produced on-site, corresponding to cured meats, chestnut honey, farro-flour flatcakes and pastas, wild herb liqueurs, and jams. It runs a family-style trattoria the place pastas are crafted with unbelievable ardour — cacio e pepe sauced ravioli filled with roasted meats, tordelli Lucchesi, stranded pastas with ragu — plus fava bean soups with pancetta. That must be sufficient to gasoline the river rafting, mountaineering, and farm excursions the lodge affords as nicely. A double room begins at $100 per evening in excessive season, $80 in off-season.