Giovanni Pascoli wrote the words In the Valley of the Beautiful and the Good, “Nella Valle del Bello e del Buono”, to describe the Serchio Valley in northern Tuscany; specifically the Middle Valley (la Media Valle).
Pascoli (1855-1912) was a famous Italian poet, and a famous “son of Barga“, although not by birth. He moved to Castelvecchio in 1895, to live in a rented house which he later bought by selling his literary medals, and spent some of the happiest years in his otherwise tragic life. Although he died in Bologna his body is buried in the chapel adjoining his former home. His sister lived on in the house and gifted it, and its contents, to the Commune of Barga in her will. It is now a museum and scene of literary festivals. The village of Castelvecchio was renamed Castelvecchio Pascoli.
For me, his description is apt not only for the Media Valle but beyond, into the area of the Serchio Valley known as the Garfagnana.
Where is the Serchio Valley?
You may well ask, as I once did and, but for a book on Tuscany given to me many years ago, might still be asking. That book planted a seed of interest in this “tucked away” corner, and a holiday there resulted in the start of a “love affair” which grows daily.
The Serchio Valley lies to the north of Lucca; between the Apuan Alps to the west and the Apennines to the east. In many ways it is atypical of the “Chiantishire ” image of Tuscany. I have heard it described as an area where the mountains are too high, the valleys too narrow and the slopes forested with pine, chestnut etc forests rather than draped with olive groves and vineyards. It is an ethereal and mysterious area where folklore and tradition survive in hidden, and not such hidden, places.
As you are reading this online, you obviously have access to, and can use, a computer; Google-search the Serchio Valley, whether in general, specific places or general categories such as accommodation or places to eat. If you like the sound of the area, read on; maybe you will even consider coming for a visit.
The main route into the Middle Valley (the S12 and then the R445) winds up from Lucca, following the signs for the Garfagnana. It’s the only viable road and is, by no means, perfect; in fact, it can be a bit of a time warp compared to the motorways, but it gets you into the mood as you step back in time, perspective, perception etc. There is also a single track railway from Lucca to Aulla but, beware, a number of the stations are not exactly where you expect them to be!
After driving through the five road tunnels near Ponte a Moriano, the “real” valley begins i.e. you are surrounded by the steep slopes of the hills and mountains. The best route from here is across the “almost a Tyne Bridge” (it looks like a miniature version of the Tyne Bridge in Newcastle-upon-Tyne) on the R445, and so up the valley on its western banks.
After the little town of Borgo a Mozzano, with its Devil’s Bridge (see a previous article of mine about this bridge), the River Lima joins the Serchio River from the easterly side. Without its flow the River Serchio changes character. For the most part the Serchio is a placid river which meanders lazily downstream through the Middle Valley; scarcely filling a fraction of its river bed – in the dry season that is. In spate it is something quite different again; fast, fearsome and full.
The valley now begins begins to open up and you have reached the “essence” of the Middle Valley. The valley floor is wider, holding not only the meandering river, but also some settlements and industrial areas, all of which are “guarded” by its sentinel mountain ranges. There is even a choice of which side of the river to drive along.
By now you are in that “different” Tuscany, with forested mountain slopes, settlements perched precariously on hill tops with little obvious means of access. Its timelessness pervades, despite signs of modern times.
From the Middle Valley you can follow the now narrower River Serchio upstream into the Garfagnana region. Many guide books etc. often call the whole area from Borgo a Mozzano upstream the Garfagnana but, please, not in front of the locals! Local identity is very important to the people, both historically and today.
The whole of the Serchio Valley has a long, and often illustrious history, but it became something of an “economic backwater” with time and, by the 19th century its biggest export was probably people! People who emigrated throughout the world in order to survive, and whose continued association with their roots, or whose return to them, have diversified and enriched the area in many ways; culturally and economically.
The valley has a myriad of facets, geographical, geological, economic, traditional; an area shaped not only by nature but by man – man living with nature.
If you like breathtaking scenery, peace and quiet, good food, small communities, nature, tradition, lovely people etc, then this could be the place for you. It was for us; We came. We saw and we were conquered!
By Jenny M Want
For Jenny, living in Italy is a dream come true. A retired teacher, she now lives in scenic Barga in Tuscany with her partner David.
Immersed in Barga life, Jenny passes her time writing, researching, observing and learning.
Jenny has written a fun book for children set in Barga, Tuscany – The Bat of Barga.