Get to know the paradise under the “other” Tuscan sun…
Ahhh, Tuscany… the rolling green hills, endless olive trees, a glass or two of Chianti… it’s hard not to fall in love with this gorgeous region. But did you know there’s another side to this paradise, equally beautiful but with its own special character?
I never did, until Leo showed me.
In the northernmost part of Tuscany, bordering Liguria, lies Lunigiana, blessed with an ideal position between the lush mountains and emerald sea. It might not be (nearly) as famous as Val D’Orcia, Siena, or Chianti, but that gives this area the genuine vibes and authentic warmth that set it apart. You won’t find a tour bus for miles, and you’ll see more mushroom-hunting than wine-tastings. (Don’t even get me started about the AMAZING foods that are typical here – in fact, I’m planning another post just for that right now).
We must admit, our trips here are usually an indulgence – a little escape from the chaotic city life. Especially during sweltering summers, the air here is a refreshing, welcome change, and we relish in the cool, pristine streams. Driving up, you’ll notice the lush, green mountains that will give you a tropic bliss – I swear, I’m always reminded of Hawaii when I look around here (even because waterfalls are a dime a dozen!) We always come home feeling refreshed and rejuvenated – that’s what happens after a week of stargazing and waking up to the sound of birds chirping.
The main “city” in the area is Aulla, but there are other moderately-sized towns surrounding it, including Pontremoli and Villafranca in Lunigiana. Our favorite, however, is charming Bagnone. Castles, bridges, and waterfalls galore, you’ll truly feel like you’ve entered a Disney book (even The Daily Mail declared it one of the top 10 “fairytale” villages in the world). No traffic or city bustle here – life takes on a new, slower tempo. (The only traffic you might come across is a sheep crossing!)
Up the hill from Bagnone are more villages, although some are so small that just a few people inhabit them year-round. Vico (the same name we tend to give to the whole area when we drive up) has several “sub-” villages, including Vico Valle, Vico Monterole and Canneto.
While Vico boasts the only actual bar among these small villages, the others are home to some of the most beautiful trails I’ve seen. They’ll take you to rivers with water so clear we often drink it, panoramic views of the stunning valleys below, and waterfalls that will convince you you’re in Heaven.
A number of agriturismos in the area are beginning to pop up, and you can even eat an unforgettable homemade (and farm-fresh!) dinner right in someone’s living room – or, on a terrace overlooking a stunning vista of the green valleys. (But again, more on that in the next post, since there’s soooo much good food to cover!!)
Even if hiking to see waterfalls and swimming in pristine natural ponds isn’t for you, there are plenty of things to do to keep you occupied (but above all, relaxed). In Bagnone, there are (sometimes) more bars than people – and they’re all adorable, whether you want to enjoy a coffee or sip a spritz in the main square by the river. There are also boutiques and artisan shops, and don’t forget the little markets selling local products including hams, cheeses and wines!
While the peaceful seclusion is part of what makes this place so special to us, it’s also well-connected to some of Italy’s finest gems. We often take the train from Villafranca (a town very close to Bagnone) to the Cinque Terre, a trip that takes just less than an hour. It’s also an easy drive to Lucca or Lerici, and about two hours by car from Milan.
I’ll always be in love with those postcard-perfect, world-famous Tuscan towns in the more southern parts of the region. But I’m so grateful that I got to discover the other side of Toscana, one that now holds a very special place in my heart. It’s still untouched by commercial tourism, so we highly recommend you take the chance to visit this little piece of heaven while Italy’s best-kept secret is still under wraps! Stay tuned for our next post, which will feature our guide to our favorite local foods and restaurants!