Hidden away from the rolling hills and cypress lined roads lies another, lesser known, Tuscany: Garfagnana and Mid Serchio Valley. Towering mountain peaks and dense forests are not the first images that come to mind for many when they hear Tuscany, but this area nestled in the northwestern tip of the region holds a special charm, setting it apart from the typical Tuscan countryside. Best of all, it's packed with sights to satisfy the most adventurous of active travellers.
The Garfagnana region is a valley dotted with charming towns that lie between the Tosco Emiliano Apennines to the Northeast and the towering peaks of the Apuan Alps that divide the area from the shores of the Mediterranean just a short drive (or bike ride) away. These rocky, jagged Apuan peaks tower over 2000m above sea level and are the highest in Tuscany providing a stunning backdrop for an active getaway.
Hikers, cyclists, and runners exploring the roads and extensive network of trails will be in awe of mountain views around each bend in the road or trail. The mountains are reminiscent of the most majestic Dolomite mountain peaks, so much so that travellers may scarcely believe that typically Tuscan cities Lucca and Pisa and the Mediterranean are less than an hour away. In other words, it’s an ideal place for a long weekend getaway in the mountains to stretch your legs and get out into the wild and largely untouched mountains.
Like many places in Italy, the rivalry between cities and towns in Garfagnana go back centuries, and while there are no more literal back stabbings between rival feudal lords, townspeople speak with pride about their hometowns. From a travellers point of view, each town offers its own flavour of this region, sometimes quite literally. Garfagnana is known for its production of castagne (chestnuts), farro (spelt), and porcini mushrooms and uses these ingredients masterfully in local cuisine. The towns throughout the region will have festivals throughout the year where travellers and locals alike taste roasted chestnuts, farro soup, and each town’s local take on regional dishes using local products.
While Castelnuovo di Garfagnana and Barga are the largest and most well-known towns in the area and make ideal bases from which to explore the area, the smaller towns around the area are fantastic places to visit by foot and by bike where you know a locally cooked meal awaits you at the end (or middle) of your run, hike, or ride.