Does your dream holiday in Italy include a leisurely day exploring the Tuscan hills?
I am sure you want to see all the sights of the Rome, Venice and Florence. Most people cannot resist the call of Sicily, the Amalfi Coast or the Italian Riviera. But I also recommend taking a day to explore the countryside and small towns of Tuscany.
The Tuscan hills near Lucca
We rented our Tuscany villa in Bagni di Lucca, just outside of the pretty medieval walled city of Lucca. This pretty series of villages along the river Lima was the perfect base to explore the hills of northern Tuscany and the Garfagnana region. You can just as easily plan a day trip from Florence or Pisa to this area.
Driving west from Bagni you follow the river south west towards Lucca. In this region of Tuscany towns are built on the banks of several rivers that wind their way through the fertile hills.
Where there are rivers, you also find bridges. The beautiful arched Ponte della Maddalena or Ponte Del Diavolo (Devil’s Bridge) is an 12th century footbridge crossing the Serchio River.
The origins of the dual names of the bridge come from the life size image of the Virgin Mary (Maddalena) that was once found at the foot of the bridge and an interesting legend.
According to local lore the devil helped build the bridge in return for the soul of the first being to cross it. The devil was tricked by clever Saint Julian who saw to it that a dog was the first being to cross the bridge. Whatever the name, it is a very pretty bridge worthy of a visit.
Continue alongside the Serchio through hills and valleys bathed in sunlight. Pass through ancient towns and villages dotted along the roadside.
Notice the grey stone buildings and terracotta roofs typical of the region. Eventually you reach the market town of Castelnuovo di Garfagnana where you can explore the fortifications of Rocca Ariostesca, poet Ariosto’s castle, and the pretty duomo.
Discover local Tuscan produce
Time to stop for lunch and hopefully you made a booking at Osteria Vecchio Mulino to try the local specialties.
Garfagnana is famous for farro and we tried the most delicious salad made from the grain as well as cured meats and cheese paired with local honey. If you are lucky you might see the largest mortadella round possibly ever made.
But the most memorable dish was truffle bruschetta. This dish was so moreish and delicious I can’t bear to think that I may never taste it again. It goes without saying that the wine was excellent also.
After lunch take a leisurely drive through the hills. Seek out views across the densely wooded landscape from vantage points such as the villages of Montefegatesi or Tereglio.
Mountain goats climb the rocky hills below much as they have done for centuries. Here you gaze down on the villages of Bagni di Lucca, once the summer playground of Napoleon and his family.
No doubt the original attraction was the thermal springs and baths known for their health benefits. These days you can find the baths in the village of Ponte a Seraglio.
We preferred to return to our villa for a swim and a walk down to town for (another) simple but incredibly delicious truffle pizza. In the bars and osterias of the villages you ease into local life. The atmosphere is relaxed and the pace is slower.
Why visit Tuscany?
This is Tuscany. Here the hills are quiet save for the sounds of crickets chirping. You wander down sun dappled pathways lined with stone walls, past olive groves and chestnut trees.
You contemplate selling everything to make this your permanent home. Then you drift off to sleep in the warm summer night air.
And there you have it. A perfect day exploring the hillside towns of Tuscany. Bellissimo.
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