Castiglione di Garfagnana

After I left Pieve Fosciana I drove a little further on to Castiglione di Garfagnana which sits at 545 metres above the Esarulo River, a tributary of the Serchio River.

Castiglione di Garfagnana

The town dates back to a Roman Castra, called Castrum Leonis (Lion’s Castle), built to oversee the valley that leads to the San Pelligrino Pass. The castle was built between1170 and 1227. It became Lucca’s most important garrison in the Serchio valley. In 1390 the “Rocca” or castle was extended and towers were built.

Some of the Rocca remains and you can walk through the narrow streets of the town to the top.

There is a road around the edge of the town outside the wall, offering excellent views of the castle and the surrounding countryside.Castiglione di Garfagnan

I entered the town through the Porta del Ponte Levatoio. It was mid afternoon and the town was deserted, leaving me to wander alone.

Castiglione di Garfagnana

I went up into the old castle for some gorgeous views over the town.

Castiglione di Garfagnana

Coming down from the top I came across the Church of San Pietro which was built in 723 by 2 Lombard brothers, but was rebuilt in the 12th century by Bishop Guido of Lucca.

Castiglione di Garfagnana

Castiglione di Garfagnana

I walked on through the pretty streets as it began to rain.

Castiglione di Garfagnana

Castiglione di Garfagnana

I will return when the town is a bit busier, I am sure there is more to discover.

 

 

Il Pozzo

Bagni di Lucca is on the edge of the Garfagnana. The area lies between the Apennine and Apuan Alps in the upper valley of the Serchio river. It is almost entirely mountainous and heavily wooded.

It is also dotted with pretty villages, which will take years to discover. I recently visited Pieve Fosciana. It is tiny, with a cluster of houses around the church of St John Battista, one of the most ancient in Garfagnana.

Come for a little walk through Pieve Fosciana…

There are lots of narrow cobble stone laneways and pretty gardens, the usual interesting doorways and building decorations.

Pieve Fosciana

Pieve Fosciana

I was impressed with this house in particular. The residents have gone to some trouble with the facade.

Pieve Fosciana

Pieve Fosciana

The main reason for my visit to Pieve Fosciana was to try restaurant Il Pozzo. I have heard it is one of the best in Garfagnana.

Il Pozzo Pieve Fosciana

They have an indoor dining area and a very big terrace. I was the first there for lunch, but it soon filled up, mostly with local workers. You know a restaurant is good when the locals arrive in number.

Il Pozzo Pieve Fosciana

Il Pozzo Pieve Fosciana

Il Pozzo Pieve FoscianaThe restaurant prides itself on using fresh, local ingredients served in a traditional way, with a slightly modern twist.

Il Pozzo Pieve Fosciana

I ordered the pasta with lobster.

Il Pozzo Pieve Fosciana

Followed by guinea fowl with truffles…they were both excellent.

Il Pozzo Pieve Fosciana

The service was very friendly and I could see that most of the other patrons were regulars. They also do a workmans’ lunch for a set price…I will try that next time.

If you can drag yourself away from the very good restaurants in Bagni di Lucca, try Il Pozzo, I’m sure you will like it.

Antique market in Lucca

If you are looking for antiques, or interesting old things for your home, garden or wardrobe head off to Lucca on the third weekend of each month for the Antique Market.

The vendors are spread over the streets surrounding Piazza San Giusto, Piazza Antelminelli, San Giovanni and more. There are around 230 vendors in the second oldest market in Italy you can find all kinds of treasures.

Lucca antique market

Lucca antique market

Lucca antique market

Lucca antique market

Lucca antique market

Lucca antique market

Lucca antique market

Lucca antique market

Lucca antique marketLucca antique marketLucca antique market

Quite a few great things have found their way to my house from the Antique Market.

 

Honey and more

The area around Bagni di Lucca and the nearby Garfagnana produces delicious honey. In spring and summer the mountains are filled with flowering trees bees love, especially acacia, tiglio and chestnut.

My friend Heather Jarman took me to visit delightful Francesca, who keeps bees on her agriturismo, Al Benefizio near Barga, to see the busy little bees in action. Chestnut trees were coming into blossom and the bees were out collecting nectar.

Each beehive has between 40,000 and 60,000 bees working to produce honey. Once they have filled their own hives with honey to feed the community the beekeeper puts more levels on top and the industrious creatures keep working to fill those too.

Al Benefizio

Al Benefizio

The nectar is loaded into trays of wax honeycomb. Each of these trays can be filled within a day. There are scout bees who fly out and find suitable flowers. They fly in a 3 kilometre radius of their hives and like to take nectar from the most numerous blossoms. When the nectar from these blossoms is exhausted they will move onto another type. This is how it is possible to have honey from a single blossom. The beekeeper needs to watch to see when the blossoms they want honey from are at their most prolific.

Al Benefizio

Al Benefizio

Al Benefizio

Once the filled trays are collected they are put into a machine which scrapes the wax off.

Al Benefizio

They then go to a centrifuge which spins the honey out of the frames. Francesca uses no heat to process her honey. It is allowed to settle slowly to allow sediment and wax to go to the top or bottom of the honey.

Al Benefizio

Wax from the honeycomb is melted down and collected in blocks. Francesca then sends these books to be melted and turned into new bases for the bees to work from to build new cells for the honey. The bees could do this themselves, but having a good start allows them more time to do other things. There is one group of bees whose only job is to flutter their wings in front of the wax cells to evaporate the water from the nectar until it is the right consistency for honey…they are a very organised community.

Al Benefizio

Al Benefizio

Al Benefizio

Francesca took us to one of her gorgeous old wooden tables under the cover of strawberry grape vines to sample her delicious honey. She drizzled acacia, tiglio and chestnut honey on pecorino cheese for us to try.

Al Benefizio

La Benifizio

La Benefizio

The acacia honey is light and almost clear. The chestnut honey is much darker and has a much stronger flavour. Tiglio, or linden, is somewhere in between.

Francesca’s bees work hard on her gorgeous property which overlooks Barga…what a spectacular view. Guests also get to enjoy the view and the lovely gardens which surround the cottages. I would love to stay here and pick the cherries from the trees. Soon there will be plums and figs ripe for the picking. There are also olive trees and a prolific vegetable garden.

La Benifizio

There are 3 apartments to rent at Al Benefizio.  La Stalla has 2 bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen and a wonderful private terrace with a spectacular view.

Al Benifizio

Al Benifizio

Il Fienile has a bedroom, bathroom, living area, kitchen and balcony.

Al Benefizio

Il Governo is a double room with bathroom. It was not available for me to see, but I’m sure it is just as lovely as the others.

Guests are free to wander in the terraced gardens, swim in the pool, meet Jubi the donkey, say hello to the chickens and tiny wildlife and delight in this gorgeous part of Tuscany.

Al Benifizio

Al Benifizio

Al Benifizio

Heather and Francesca work together to introduce visitors to a part of Tuscany they might not otherwise see. I visited Al Benefizio in late spring, a wonderful time to see the area. I think spring and autumn are the best seasons to see our beautiful area, you avoid the crowds and the countryside is at its very best.

Al Benefizio is a great place for weddings…and wedding photos. I think the old bed filled with hay is brilliant…these photos came from Francesca.

 

 

 

Al Benefizio…www.albenefizio.it

Heather Jarman…www.sapori-e-saperi.com

 

 

 

 

Faces at the Carnevale

On Sunday I wanted to be in 2 places at once. There was a mini Carnevale at Fornoli at the same time as the one in Viareggio. I went early to the one in Fornoli hoping to get some photos, but there was nothing happening so I unfortunately I have nothing to show you.

It was the last day time parade in Viareggio and it was a gorgeous day, so I headed off with a group of friends to join in the fun. I took hundreds of photos and have done a couple of posts. In this one I will concentrate on the people who dress up to take part, either as part of the exhibition or the enthusiastic audience. I love the way people get involved and make the event the exciting happening that it is.

Viareggio Carnevale 2015Carnevale Viareggio 2015.Carnevale Viareggio 2015

Carnevale Viareggio 2015

Carnevale Viareggio 2015

Carnevale Viareggio 2015

Carnevale Viareggio 2015

Carnevale Viareggio 2015

Carnevale Viareggio 2015

Carnevale Viareggio 2015

Carnevale Viareggio 2015

Carnevale Viareggio 2015

Carnevale Viareggio 2015

Carnevale Viareggio

Carnevale Viareggio 2015

Carnevale Viareggio 2015

Carnevale Viareggio 2015

Carnevale Viareggio 2015

Carnevale Viareggio 2015

Carnevale Viareggio 2015

Carnevale Viareggio 2015Carnevale Viareggio 2015

Carnevale Viareggio 2015

 

Carnevale Viareggio 2015

Carnevale Viareggio 2015

Carnevale Viareggio 2015

Whole families go along to have fun. It is a great day…the result of huge amounts of work by many people. I’m sure next year is already being worked on. I hope I will be there to see it.

Go to Bagni di Lucca and Beyond to see more on the floats in the parade.

The Gorgeous Garzoni Garden

Garzoni Garden CollodiIn the nearby village of Collodi is the Garzoni Garden and Butterfly House. The garden was originally begun around 1652 by the Garzoni family when they converted an old castle into an impressive Baroque style 4 story house with belvedere tower and roof statues.

At the entrance is a delightful series of photos of past guests.

Garzoni Garden Collodi

Garzoni Garden Collodi

Garzoni Gardens Collodi

The garden was originally in the Italian style. In the 18th century it was embellished with the addition of terraces, balustrades, mazes, waterfalls, fountains, grottoes and statuary. It was designed by Ottavio Diodati. The garden’s reputation spread all over Europe and influenced many others.

Garzoni Garden Collodi

Garzoni Garden CollodiGarzoni Garden CollodiGarzoni Garden CollodiThere are some marvellous decorations.

A lovely feature of the garden is the Butterfly House. It is a fairly recent addition. The estate was sold by the Garzoni family in the 1920s. It passed through several owners in sequence and its existence became precarious. Thanks to the current owner in collaboration with the Fondazione Carlo Collodi and the Sviluppo Turistico Collodi Ltd, it gained back its former glory, and the butterfly house was added.

I braved the awful heat and humidity and wiped the steam from my camera lens to take photos of the flowers, birds and butterflies.

Butterfly House Collodi

Butterfly House Collodi

Butterfly House Collodi

Butterfly House Collodi

Butterfly House Collodi

Butterfly House Collodi

Butterfly House Collodi

Butterfly House Collodi

I visited the garden on a sunny autumn day.  Garzoni Garden is open all year, but the Butterfly House closes in winter.

It is a relatively easy drive from Bagni di Lucca. Take the road to Benabbio and keep going down the other side of the mountain towards Collodi. There is a big car park outside Pinocchio Park and the gardens are a short walk from there.

Ski at Abetone

Our trusty reporter Belinda has been out and about again, this time skiing at Abetone.

15. DSCN0289

I will hand you over to Belinda.

We decided to go skiing when we heard there had been a dump of snow at Abetone. The weather wasn’t the best but we headed off along the 40 kilometres of narrow and winding road up the mountain from Bagni di Lucca. Those who suffer from car sickness might like to take precautions.

Once you reach the Abetone main village car park you are about 1400 metres above sea level. At this parking spot you get yourself ready for the day.

Obligatory coffee shop…

ski at Abetone

Ski hire shop…

ski Abetone

Ski school, if you are looking for lessons…

3. SKi school Abetone

Information centre where you can get your ski pass for $26 per person for the entire day – quite a bargain really.

4. Ski pass and info  Abetone

A tabacchi and bar…if needed.

5. Tabacchi and bar Abetone

Then pack the car with your equipment and drive a further 2 minites to park close to the main gondola lift that takes you up to Mt Gomita. It is much easier to park right next to the lift so you only have to walk up a few stairs.

Ski lift Abetone

Take the time to check the ski runs.

6. Abetone Ski Map

We arrived at the top to find pretty bad weather…everything had frostbite.

ski Abetone

9. DSCN0279

7. Antique ski lift AbetoneDespite the weather we managed some good runs.

ski Abetone

ski Abetone

ski Abetone

ski Abetone

…followed by a stop at a Rifugio for a much deserved Bombardino, a very special hot drink to be enjoyed on the slopes. It contains cream, zabaglione, brandy and coffee…highly recommended.

17. Rifugio Abetone

16. bombardino at Abetone

If you were looking for somewhere to stay, Hotel Regina looks quaint.

18. Hotel Regina in Abetone

Thank you Belinda and friends for sharing you day of skiing at Abetone.

I have a tip to add to Belinda’s words. Don’t go to Abetone on weekends. It is very crowded and you probably won’t get anywhere near the carpark. On weekdays it is much better and you get the slopes pretty much to yourself.