Walk up to the village of Rocca
and inspect this mediaeval village of perhaps 30 souls with the remains of a fortress at the top and no modern houses at all.
Go down to Borgo a Mozzano on Friday morning to see the market.
Cross the river Serchio and turn left to reach the Devil's Bridge 500m further up. It was built in the 12th century and you can walk across it. Opposite the car park is an interesting picture framing and gift shop which has plenty of ideas for gifts to take home.
Devil's Bridge to Bagni di Lucca.
On the way you go through Ponte a Serraglio where two good restaurants, one simple, one swanky, may arrest your progress at lunchtime. If not, there are several good ones in Bagni di Lucca itself. To enter Ponte a Serrraglio you cross the river Lima, a tributary to the Serchio, and turn right to Bagni di Lucca. If you turn left instead you will come to the magnificent restored casino after 100m; after another few metres you will see a pipe in the wall on the right out of which flows hot water - this is geothermal water and proves that Bagni di Lucca is a spa town much frequented by the British in the 19th century. They even built their own remarkable Anglican church (now the municipal library) and cemetery (dated 1842 and to be seen from the main road which by-passes the town).
Continue up the valley of the Serchio on the east bank and you will come to Barga which boasts a cathedral
with quite unique architectural features and in the most sensational position atop a hill from whence the views are quite wonderful.
From the centre of the newer part of Barga,
descend to the valley, cross the river and go into Gallicano. Pick up the signs to the Grotta del Vento (if you like grottoes) which is near to Fornovolasco, a thoroughly out of the way mountain village with several very primitive restaurants which are usually full since they serve excellent cheap food.
Castelnuovo di Garfagnana.
From Gallicano you can continue north up the valley on the west bank to Castelnuovo di Garfagnana. There is a road from here across the mountains to Massa and the coast, or you can continue north for an hour or more through beautiful scenery until you reach Aulla, east of La Spezia, a naval harbour.
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. Inside the walls you are in a mediaeval time warp, just like in the village of La Rocca (and dozens of other local villages besides).
Much more famous is the city of Pisa which you can reach from the house in under an hour. Tip: go and view the Piazza dei Miracoli late at night when there are no tourists, hawkers, mendicants and general hubbub, 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.
If you have children, take them to Collodi off the road to Pescia, east of Lucca. Collodi is the name of the author of Pinocchio and there is a Pinocchio park there.
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.
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!).
Halfway to Florence, not far beyond Pescia, you reach Montecatini. The upper town is worth a visit - the lower town is a car park. This is also a famous spa town with architecture to reflect its glorious past.
Most people want to visit Florence which can be reached by car in about 90 minutes, but the traffic and the throngs of people are not restful. Getting into the Uffizi now involves queueing for a considerable time. You can travel by bus (from Piazza Verdi in Lucca) or by train (from either Borgo a Mozzano or Lucca) which solves the parking problem.
Montecatini, Florence, Pisa and La Spezia
can all be conveniently reached by autostrada. If you go to La Spezia (see item 6) it is well worth taking the scenic route (via Aulla) at least one way. The jewel to be visited near to La Spezia is Lerici, a fascinating little fishing village at the foot of a cliff (there is a road down, but parking in the village is severely restricted).
From Lerici, take the boat to Portovenere across the bay
- this is a charming little village with narrow streets to wander through and plenty of interesting shops.
Continue from Portovenere by boat to visit the Cinque Terre. These are five villages at the foot of cliffs which have made them mostly inaccessible by road, but you can go by train. Once again, there is much to enjoy and excellent places to eat good seafood. It is perfectly possible to do all this in a day trip from the house if you leave reasonably early.
San Gimignano and Volterra
Another day trip which is well worth the effort, is to travel south to San Gimignano and Volterra. The former is famous for its towers and is a beautiful mediaeval town; the latter still has large pieces of Etruscan architecture (including a splendid main gateway through the city walls) and is equally fascinating.
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