Verrucole, a fortress on a hill

The magnificent Fortezza delle Verrucole sits 600 metres above sea level above the village of Verrucole. It is 3 kilometres from the town of San Romano in Garfagnana. The fortress offers spectacular views over the Garfagnana valley and the Apuan Alps.

The fortress was built by the Gherardinghi family in feuding times around the 11th and 12th centuries. It was originally 2 buildings, Rocca Quadra and Rocca Tondo on each side of a hill and surrounded by a wall. It fell into serious disrepair until a 6 year restoration brought it back to life and open to the public. It is a wonderful glimpse into medieval life.

We visited on a cloudy spring day and walked up the path from the village.

There is a quaint ticket office at the entrance. A costumed attendant sold us our €5 tickets.

We walked up the steep steps to the tower, which had been very well restored. The first floor has been set up as if the original residents were still there.

The kitchen is particularly well done.

The top floor of the tower has information and history and great views from the outside terrace.

The toilet built into the outer wall might leave you a little exposed in winter.

We ventured to the other end of the site. There is a very good cafe that serves coffee and light meals.

We were able to have a little archery practice for the tiny sum of €3. Our friend Moira proved to be a natural and hit the target almost every time.

Jim tried too, but probably should keep his day job as an accountant. I am useless at things like this, so I was happy to watch.

We walked back through the village past an old church to the car park below…a last look at the Fortezza.

Fortezza delle Verrucole is very well presented and an interesting place to spend a couple of hours. The drive up to Verrucole is through gorgeous scenery. It is an easy day trip from Bagni di Lucca.

http://fortezzaverrucolearcheopark.it

Chestnut polenta

I have revisited Il Totto in Elio Sassi in nearby Garfagnana to enjoy their version of cucina povera again. The restaurant famously served chestnut polenta and ossi salati, which translates as salted bones.

Once most of the meat has been removed pork bones are soaked in brine for a few days then boiled.

Il Totto

There was a large table near us and their polenta was delivered on a board and cut using a special tool.

Il Totto

Il Totto

Il Totto

Il Totto

Il Totto

Il Totto

Il Totto

They serve other things as well. I had ravioli with ragu and fried chicken a rabbit…delicious.

It is a lovely drive up to Elio Sassi. The views are glorious from the village. I highly recommend a visit.

Grotta del Vento

The Grotta del Vento, wind cave, is a cave in a mountain in Garfagnana, an area in the Apuan Alps in northern Tuscany. It is near the towns of Fornovalasco and Vergemoli. (About 35 minutes from Bagni di Lucca) The cave has 2 entrances, one at 642 metres above sea level and another on the other side of the mountain at 1400 metres.

It is a wind cave because air is able to blow through the cave from one entrance to the other. The direction of the wind depends on the temperature outside the cave. In summer, when the air outside is warmer, the air is drawn through the higher entrance and out of the lower entrance. In winter the reverse happens and the air flows upwards. If the temperature outside is the same as inside there is no wind. The temperature inside the cave stays at around 10.7degrees C all year. A heavy door has now been installed to stop the flow of air, but you can certainly feel it once the door is open.

The cave is open for visitors. There are 3 guided tours available. The first is the one I did. It takes about 1 hour and explores the part of the cave lined with limestone formations. Fascinating stalactites and stalagmites glisten as you walk along the narrow path which takes you deep into the cave.

The entrance.
Grotta del Vento

Grotta del Vento

Grotta del Vento

Just for fun a large skeleton of a bear has been installed near the entrance.

Grotta del Vento

Grotta del Vento

Grotta del Vento

Soon the door is opened and we enter the cave.

The narrow paths are lit and you can see the stalactites and stalagmites and pools of water. There are steps occasionally, but it is not too strenuous and there are hand rails for safety.

Grotta del Vento

Grotta del Vento

Grotta del Vento

You can see some tiny ones beginning to form. It would be necessary to come back in a few hundred years to see much of a difference. Most take about 1000 years to grow 10 centimetres.

Grotta del Vento

At one point the guide turns off the lights so that you can experience total darkness. It is quite an eerie feeling.

The second tour takes 2 hours and a descent is made into an area without limestone formations but interesting forms of erosion on the walls. The third one takes 3 hours in a vertical shaft which is climbed from the bottom to reach a final chamber at the top, followed by a short underground tunnel.

The cave was first discovered in 1989 by children exploring the area. The only one small enough to climb through the entrance was a 4 year old girl. The others opened the entrance a little, but were too frightened to go further than 20 metres into the cave.

The first expedition for research purposes was organised in 1929 by the Florentine Speleogical Grouo of the Italian Alpine Club which stopped at about 60 metres from the entrance by water.

The Bolognese Speleoligical Group got further in 1961 after a prolonged dry spell. Other expeditions followed until 1975 when the explorations extended to 2470 metres and the cave was opened to tourists. Now there are 4 galleries known with at least another 20 branches to be explored.

The guided tours are well organised and the guides are very knowledgeable. There is a shop and a restaurant nearby, so it would be easy to spend several hours here.

See more on the Grotta del Vento website…grottadelvento.com

Beautiful trees

Spring has been odd this year, but finally everything is turning green. Frassino, or flowering ash trees don’t flower every year, but this year they are spectacular.

It is possible to see the beautiful white flowers dotted all over the hillsides around Bagni di Lucca.

Frassino trees

Frassino trees

Frassino trees

It has been interesting to watch the developing leaves and flowers.

Frassino trees

Frassino trees

Frassino trees

Frassino trees

Frassino trees

Frassino trees

Frassino trees

Frassino trees

Frassino trees

Spring is a delightful time to be in Tuscany.

Liberation Day

Giorno della Liberazione or Festa della Resistenza is celebrated in Italy on 25th April. It recognises the end of the Italian Civil War and the end of Nazi occupation of Italy in WWII in April 1945.

The liberation led to a referendum on June 2nd which resulted in the end of the monarchy and the creation of the Italian Republic.

April 25th was designated a national holiday in 1949 by Alcide De Gaspari, the last Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Italy.

There are celebrations all over Italy to mark the day. There are marching bands, parades and political rallies.

We attended an event in Vergemoli in Garfagnana. It seems difficult to believe that this tiny town with a population of about 100 people was caught up in the conflict, but the most northern of the fortifications the German army built across Italy, the Gothic Line, went right through the area.

Old army vehicles assembled in front of the comune.

Inside there was a collection of old photos. The tiny village saw lots of action and the village itself was bombed.

The photos are by Attilio Viziano.

Here you can see Vergemoli being bombed.

The people in front of this air raid shelter look remarkably cheerful.

Vergemoli

This is a photo of Vergemoli. It is interesting to note that there are no forests around the town as there are today. All the land was cultivated in those days. The hills were planted with wheat, grape vines and vegetables. No doubt this helped the people survive the horrors of war.

I can’t imagine having to live through what these people did. What a pity we don’t seem to learn enough from past conflicts.

A book has been put together by Andrea Giannasi and Moreno Maffucci about the Gothic Line in Garfagnana where these photos and more have been included.

We bought it even though it is in Italian. It will be good practice to try to read it.