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  • Writer's pictureDiann Schindler, Ph.D.

Day trip to Barga, from Lucca, Italy.

What a treat! Barga,located in the Sechio Valley, is a calm, peaceful community, full of alluring sights, scenes and very pleasant locals. A simple forty-minute train ride from Lucca to this sweet little, virtually untouched, city of 10,000 residents; then a leisurely hour walk, four kilometers, up the hill to Barga proper, past impressive private homes, all behind ornate walls and fences.

Nearly every gate was adorned with a sign saying "beware of the dog," but, happily, only one proud pooch approached from behind his gate to protest our presence. Bernard and I were undeterred and pressed onward and upwards.

Bernard, my British friend who I had met a few days previous at a Puccini Opera performance in Lucca, was the impeccable companion. He took care of all the niggling details...the train, the tickets, the trek, the restaurant, and especially, the fine wine...while I simply enjoyed myself, snapping incredible photos all along the way.

First, a brief history, followed by a description of the day.

HISTORY: Barga lies 35 kilometres (22 mi) north of the provincial capital, Lucca. It is overlooked by the village of Albiano, a località of Barga, which in the 10th century was the site of a castle protecting the town. Pania della Croce, a mountain of the Apuan Alps, dominates the surrounding chestnut trees, grape vines and olive grove, is a magnificent backdrop for this ancient community, named "The most Scottish town in Italy, " reminiscent of Scotland.

In the 9th century, Barga is mentioned as a family feud of the Lombard family of Rolanding. Later, in the 11th century, Barga was obtained from Matilda of Tuscany. She was one of the few medieval women to be remembered for her military accomplishments, which allowed her to dominate all the territories north of the Church State. She founded one hundred churches. However, formally, Barga was still subordinate to Lucca.

Collegiate Church of San Cristoforo is the greatest attraction to Barga today. Built during the 11th to the 16th centuries, it is the main example of Romanesque architecture in the Serchio Valley. Of the original church, built in local limestone, only parts of the façade remain. The interior has a nave and two aisles. It houses a large (3.5 m) wooden statue of St. Christopher, patron of the city. The pulpit (built in the 12th century) was designed by Guido Bigarelli da Como, and has four red marble columns resting on lion sculptures. The campanile, or bell tower, contains three bells, the oldest of which dates to the 16th century.

When Matilda died, she left all her properties, including the Serchio Valley, to the Church. Unfortunately, leaving all properties to the Church was not a very a popular decision and caused a war. As a result of the war, the diocese of Lucca was abolished and split between several parties, including Pisa. Barga took advantage of this relationship with Pisa, became allies, and in the 13th century, together fought Lucca. Finally, in 1236, Barga was subordinated to Lucca.

Later, Barga became an important trade city. The city developed as a castle surrounded by a line of walls. Through all of this history of changing hands and wars, two gates (Porta Reale and Porta Macchiaia) managed to survive.

The town was well known during the Middle Ages for the manufacture of silk threads which were exported to major centers such as Florence. In thea Middle Ages, Lucca and Pisa battled frequently to conquer the wealthy town and the surrounding territory, and for a time, Barga was part of the Florentine dominion, and later, a part of the Duchy and Grand Duchy of Tuscany. Barga has been a part of the province of Lucca since 1923.

The region was part of the Gothic Line in World War II, and was the scene of fierce fighting between the Allies and Germans from October 1944 until April, 1945.

OUR TOUR: It was a self-guided tour, of course, which always makes for sweet surprises...including a red telephone booth transformed into free library, yellow and orange hibiscus, roses bursting coral and red, and tiny charming shops that always pepper the Italy.

After walking up the steel hill and a general exploration throughout Barga, we stopped for lunch at Ristorante Capretz, on Piazza Salvo Salvi, at the top of the city. We had Chianti, perfectly prepared vegetables, and a luscious veal steak. The view was breathtaking through the restaurants potted herbs and brilliant red, yellow and orange flowers perched on the rod iron railing, framing the colorful town below, completely surrounded by magnificent blue-green mountains.

We were in Barga for just over four hours and, therefore unable to take advantage of the Opera and Jazz festivals, or even the weekly Friday night Jazz. Timing is everything, isn't it?

A quick bus ride allowed us to skip the hour walk down to the train back to Lucca. Incidentally, the Barga train station office was closed and the ticket machine was out of order. That didn't stop us from boarding, of course. We expected a conductor to collect our money for the return. But, alas, no. No conductor, at all! The dreamy free ride back to Lucca was a perfect ending to a lovely day.

I encourage you to slip away to Barga whenever you are near Lucca, Pisa, or Cinque Terra. It's a breath of fresh air and a well deserved break from all those pesky tourists.

Click HERE for a pictoral view of Barga.

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