Fornoli has not one but two market days, Tuesday and Friday, for those looking for fresh, local produce. Pop down in the morning, enjoy a cappuccino in the bar, then browse the stalls, perhaps sampling some cheese and meat along the way. Then head home for lunch, followed by a siesta in the garden. Bliss!
The restaurant/bar/pizzeria in Corsagna, 2.8km up the hill (turn right out of Il Mulino) comes highly recommended by the locals for its tasty, traditional dishes. Open weekends only.
Drive up the winding road from Bagni di Lucca to Monte Figatese,
birthplace of Dante. Enjoy a pizza at the pizzeria behind the bar on the right of the village square.
Drive on beyond Monte Figatese to the Orrido di Botri,
a cool haven in one of the deepest gorges in Italy, full of ferns and rushing waters to cool you on a hot summer's day.
Drive up the Serchio valley
to the mediaeval Cathedral at Barga and on to the Garfagnana National Park, home of wild wolves and lush alpine meadows reaching up to the far peaks.
Cross the river from Barga
and go to the underground caverns of the Grotto del Vento with its fabulous curtain stalactites, and 1, 2 or 3 hour explorations of the caves with an English speaking guide.
Dine in style
at the old coaching inn of Locanda Antica in Sesto a Moriano on the way to Lucca, 20 minutes drive away, admiring the asymmetric Devil's Bridge at Borga a Mozzano on the way.
It goes without saying that everyone visits Lucca when staying here. If you don't already know it you are in for a pleasant surprise - it is surrounded by 4km of undamaged walls which are wide enough for avenues of trees, a two lane carriageway (traffic is no longer allowed on it) and plenty of room for walkers, cyclists and joggers.
Lucca Part 2
Walk the walls and then enjoy a well earned drink in a cafe surrounding one of many squares in the town. Lucca is quite simply delightful: encircled by the walls, its network of narrow streets are lined with interesting shops, restaurants, beautiful architecture and glorious churches.
A little gem in Lucca
The Palazzo Pfanner is well worth a visit. For a few euros you can visit the house and/or the beautiful, peaceful garden, with its fountain, statues of gods and goddesses, colourful flowerbeds and terracotta pots containing lemon trees.
Visit the city of Pisa which you can reach from the house in an hour. Tip: go and view the Piazza dei Miracoli late at night when there are fewer people around, so that you can stand and stare in wonder at the floodlit Cathedral, Baptistery and, of course, the Leaning Tower. The white marble under floodlighting is just spectacular.
Torre del Lago
North of Pisa, Torre del Lago is famous for being associated with Puccini. The great composer had a villa on the side of Lake Massaciuccoli, now a museum full of Puccini memorabilia including original scores to his operas. An open air theatre by the lake is the wonderful setting for the Puccini Festival which takes place in July and August. The lake is in the Parco Naturale Migliarino San Rossore Massaciuccoli, and will appeal to bird lovers as there are over 200 species of birds to spot.
Carrara marble quarries.
Highly recommended is the trip to Carrara to view the marble quarries and marvel at the way it is mined. If you then visit Pietrasanta on the way back, you can visit the stonemasons' yards and watch them at work transforming marble into yet another copy of the statue of David in the Piazza della Signoria in Florence (which is itself a copy!).
Country Houses and Gardens
Some of the loveliest country houses and gardens in Tuscany await in the hills around Lucca. To the north at Marlia, Villa Oliva is a wonderful expression of the architecture of Brunelleschian design and the work of local 15th century architect Matteo Civitale (whose seated portrait statue is sitting under the loggia at San Michele in Foro in central Lucca). Villa Grabau is encased in a neoclassical shell and is surrounded by well-tended grounds with formal chapters behind the house and English park planning in front. Likewise, Villa Reale is a marriage of two gardens put together by the Duchess of Lucca and then Empress of Tuscany, Elisa Baciocchi (Napoleon's sister). To the east of Lucca is Italy's answer to Houghton Hall: a veritable baroque homage to Versailles and one of the loveliest rose gardens in Tuscany - look no further than the splendid Villa Torrigiani.
Younger members of your party will enjoy the Pinocchio Park and a rather quaint homage to Cado Collodi's 19th century novel based on a wooden boy who dreamed of being a real boy. Walt Disney certainly softened his character but much remains of our long-nosed children's hero at this hilltop medieval village. Much more interesting is the Butterfly House in the hanging gardens of Garzoni, again in Collodi.
If you want beaches, the Versilia coast all the way from Viareggio to Cinquale offers you miles of sand flanked by modern hotels, houses and shops, a complete contrast to the conservatism of Lucca. You pay for the use of private beaches and take pot luck with the public ones. Prices (especially in Forte dei Marmi) are noticeably higher in these towns.
And if all this fails to tickle your fancy,
why not visit Siena, Greve in Chianti, San Gimignano, Volterra, all between 2-3hr drive of the breakfast table and bring back scrumptious bottles of the best Italian wines from the region to enjoy with your dinner.
Have you visited Il Mulino?
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