Rogue Carver on the Loose in Italy
Part 20, Lunigiana, Valley of Enchantment
In contrast to my ‘Quiet Week in Rigomagno’ I found myself hardly still for a moment during the week I recently spent roaming the sparsely populated, bold and dramatic landscape of Lunigiana, Tuscany’s most northerly province. In fact, if truth be told it’s somewhat of a stretch to refer to Lunigiana as Tuscan since the place was merely ‘acquired’ by the great and powerful investment banker Cosmos Medici during the 16th Century, for not only does it look strikingly dissimilar to the rest of Tuscany with its wild and rugged mountainous terrain, moist climate and lush green vegetation… the people themselves almost physically recoil at such a notion. They even refer to ‘Tuscany’ as the land immediately to the south of them, and ‘Tuscans’ as the people who inhabit it. For they are Lunigianans, and perhaps if Garibaldi had not succeeded in (rather unwisely) uniting a distinctly disunited Italy in the mid-18th Century this formerly prosperous valley linking Parma to the Mediterranean could conceivably have re-emerged from the struggle as a separate entity, a principality not unlike the status of San Marino, with all the wealthy connotations that go with it. As you may have guessed I really enjoyed myself during my week crisscrossing and charging around this compact and enchanted landscape in my rented Fiat Panda – a newer and spiffier version than the trusty ‘Bee’ that served me so well in Tuscany ‘proper’ a few weeks back. While this one lacked the oomph of The Bee’s ferocious 2nd gear, so nifty in rounding those endless hairpin bends, this ‘GTX’ version however came with a throaty little roar that, if there were no real sports cars around to dispel the illusion, could momentarily convince me that I was in fact behind the wheel of a souped-up little rally car. And what roads they were! My, my… they were fun. Fun and almost completely deserted. Empty. In fact it was the unfolding discovery of these beautiful, sublime roads completely devoid of traffic that had me gallivanting here there and everywhere for practically the entire duration of my stay. They were such a joy to explore and to navigate. Now, I must admit that while I don’t usually wax lyrical on the joys of driving a car I have to say that the mountain roads of Tuscany, and particularly those of Lunigiana have served to re-awaken the intrinsic joy of automobile touring. For there can’t be too much to be said in praise of the sort of driving people are faced with today: endless commutes, stale and familiar environments, chock-a-block roads and tailbacks measured in miles! No, this was something entirely different, this was a return to the glory days of the car as a means of discovery, exploration and the pure simple joy of driving; and drive I did… thrilling at the sheer liberation of it all, marveling at the vast panoramas that opened up at regular and yet unpredictable intervals. I never really knew what was about to reveal itself next: a medieval village, a spring or waterfall by the side of the road, an amazing little restaurant or bar in the middle of nowhere. A village of books! A castle, a church, or a heard of beautiful horses grazing around the picnic tables. Perhaps, when I found myself way high on a mountain pass I would be enveloped in a colossal thunderstorm with lightening stabbing all around, or, I would track the flight of a pair of eagles riding thermals directly overhead. Or, as in one quite terrifying instance… find myself fending of five snarling, howling, huge great vicious Italian sheep dogs as I backed my way down the steep mountainside. Believe me, these were not your trusty collies, they meant business. I think it’s safe to say the there was hardly a dull moment to be had! So as you have probably gathered, all in all it was an eventful week in Lunigiana, and with the roads so darned empty, and ‘The Bee Two’ ready willing and perfectly able, I saw quite a lot of the place. And so will you too if you are following the blog as the next few posts will retrace my various excursions around the length and breadth of this most enchanting valley. But while the landscape was amazing enough I cannot conclude this introduction to Lunigiana without a mention of my incredible Airbnb hosts Francesco and Eugenia who contributed so much to the quality and enjoyment of my stay. From the comfort of il Ciliegiolo, their delightful and fully restored farmhouse cottage, I enjoyed their seemingly endless hospitality as they laid on breakfast after breakfast fit for a king. Throughout my stay they went to great lengths to not only ensure that I was welcome and comfortable while I was at their home, but they also arranged for me to dine at a neighboring cottage on several evenings – which was a culinary delight in itself, as well as inviting me to dine with them on a memorable Saturday night. Furthermore they constantly came up with ideas on places to visit, things to see and proffered background information about the region that brought the whole experience to life. It was a joy to spend time with such lovely people in such a magical place as they have lovingly created just a few short miles from Pontremoli, and it is my fervent hope that over the next few posts you too will feel inspired to book a week or so at their wonderful farmhouse so that you too may receive the sort of one-of-a-kind experience that serves to reignite a lust for life that all too often tends to get snuffed out in our day-to-day modern and increasingly corporate world. Until next time, when we’ll take a look at the ancient gateway town of Pontremoli and surrounding area of the valley floor, before heading to the hills and mountain passes later in the week… take care, have fun and thanks for dropping by.