Welcome to Lunigiana!

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).

The view from one of our favorite restaurants in Malgrate (stay tuned for our post on the best Lunigiana eats!)

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.

Vico is overflowing with nature – bright flowers, lush green hills, and endless beauty.

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!)

The picturesque town of Bagnone, which serves as the “center” for our visits.

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.

Our home base, beautiful Monterole.

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.

Leo taking a dip in the freshwater pools of Vico Valle.

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!!)

Earth’s gifts are abundant here! Many residents can be completely self-sustainable just from their gardens.

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!


The delicious spread set up for us by one of our neighbors, including homemade wine!

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.

Beautiful cherry blossoms line the road leading into Monterole.

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!

Our Favorite Day Trips from Rome

Sure, even an eternity wouldn’t be enough to see everything the Eternal City has to offer. But when you need a break from the traffic and city bustle, try one of our favorite escapes, especially perfect for beating the summer heat…

love living in Rome. I live in one large open-air museum, and it’s basically impossible to grow bored here. But, when the sweltering summer heat comes around and the tourist invasion begins, even the most avid Rome-lovers can appreciate a quick getaway to some of the fabulous hidden gems that surround the city.

Lago di Bracciano – Trevignano Romano

Just about 30 minutes outside the city lies Lake Bracciano, a drinking water reservoir for Rome and therefore one of the cleanest lakes in Italy. Three towns border the lake: Bracciano; Anguillara Sabazia; and, our favorite, Trevignano Romano. Motorized boats are prohibited on the lake, so it’s an ideal place for swimming, sailing, or canoeing. Trevignano Romano boasts some of the cutest lakeside bars and cafes, where you can sip a Pinot Grigio and take in a delightful summer afternoon alongside the resident swans. We’ve spent so many gorgeous spring and summer days enjoying aperitivi and bottles of white wine in these little bars. We’ve even brought our own bottle, a pizza, and a beach towel – the more economical (but also really fun) option. The town is full of adorable boutiques and gelato shops, so there’s something for everyone here.

Sometimes we like to indulge in a nice ham and cheese platter (literally my favorite thing in the world), lakeside…

Sometimes we like a DIY situation. 👌🏼

By far the most convenient way to reach Trevignano Romano is by car. However, if you don’t have one (or any generous Roman friends with cars), Bracciano can be reached by train from Rome in just under an hour. From there you’ll need to hop on a bus to Trevignano. Not the fastest method, but we feel these towns are definitely worth the day trip!

Rome’s Beaches

If you don’t have the time or budget to chase down the dolce vita of the Amalfi Coast or the Riviera, don’t fret. You can still enjoy some fantastic seaside living, on one of Rome’s many charming beaches.

Santa Marinella is a quiet, beautiful seaside gem with a suburban-vibe. You’ll see the local joggers, dog-walkers, and babies in strollers, all out and about, enjoying the sunshine. Clean beaches, elegant beach clubs and bars, and a laidback atmosphere make this one of my favorite spots to chill. Being from California, the beach reminds me a bit of Santa Monica’s sleepy shores.

Kicking back in Santa Marinella.

Passoscuronot far from Rome’s Fiumicino airport, is another excellent choice if you want your feet in the sand and a drink in your hand. We visited Nautin Club just last week, and rented two lounge chairs for the day (14 Euros for the two of us). We soaked up the sun for a few hours, but perhaps the highlight was our lunch at the club’s restaurant. We ordered a perfect Gewürztraminer, before our very knowledgeable waiter brought us a delicious seafood salad laced with avocados. I followed this with a starter, rather than a main course, but this place did not disappoint. My fried calamari and shrimp were exactly what I needed. Leo opted for a plate of spaghetti alle vongole (clams), a dish we’ve both had countless times, but this was really something else. We could try to recreate it, but we would only be disappointed.

At Nautin Club, Passoscuro.

We had originally agreed that we wouldn’t order dessert (since we are at the beach and in our swimsuits, after all) but our waiter’s recommendation we decided to share a delizia al limone from Sal de Riso and it was heavenly.

Castel Gandolfo – Lago Albano

It’s known as the pope’s summer residence, but for us it’s a perfect spot to enjoy a spritz. The shores of this large lake are dotted with bars, cafes and restaurants, and much like Trevignano Romano, you can easily rent a paddle boat for the day or take a swim. Plus, it’s easily reachable from Rome’s Termini station in just around 40 minutes.

Two more of my favorite things: Campari spritzes and Castel Gandolfo.

What is an aperitivo?

In Italy, between around six and eight in the evening, you’ll see them everywhere, in every corner bar or beachside hangout: Italians congregating for the ritual of the aperitivo.

If you love food and drinks as much as I do, then you’ll understand and appreciate the Italian logic of prepping your stomach for food by consuming food (and alcohol – Don’t forget the alcohol!)

Throwing a small one back, especially if it’s comprised of something bitter, usually has the effect of making one hungry – thus, “opening” (“apertus” in Latin) one’s appetite. But, you can’t just be left hanging there with an empty, rumbling stomach until dinner, right? (Especially since dinner time here can start at 8:00 p.m. and on). That’s why there’s no aperitivo without a little something to munch on. In many bars, either more simple ones or, in many cases, more touristy, that something can be as basic (but nonetheless essential) as potato chips and peanuts. In other places, you might be served (what to me is) the equivalent of a small meal – which, as an American, gleefully shocked me. Ain’t no one brining you free food with your Chardonnay at Applebee’s! I could live off some of the pre-dinner spreads I’ve been served here without ever touching dinner.

A tasty spread of pizza squares and small sandwiches to accompany our Campari spritzes, at Mario Tornatora, a well-known establishment just downstair from my apartment in Rome.

What I’ve noticed as an outsider is that, equally important with what’s on the table or in your glass, is who you’re with and how you’re relaxing. Aperitivo time is the break at the end of a day’s work, where one can transition from work-mode to home, mingle with friends, or simply enjoy a moment of peace.

Leo and I have been lucky to sip martinis and spritzes in some of the world’s most beautiful settings. But some of our best aperitivi were found in the least-suspecting places, like the corner bars in our own neighborhood, usually full of gray-haired gentlemen smoking cigars and playing cards. And for our friends who aren’t living on the boot with us, it is so easy to make your own aperitivo at home, and it’s a habit I would strongly recommend picking up. We’ll be sharing some recipes and tips for making your own delicious spread in your own kitchen. Everyone everywhere can join the fun and live the sweet life!

Lakeside, in Trevignano Romano, a more basic spread but one with a heavenly view!

Stay tuned for those recipes I mentioned, as well as travel tips and drink inspiration.