Par­liamo Barga Don’t let the Cale­do­nian con­nec­tion over­shadow au­then­tic de­lights

The Herald Magazine - - etc TRAVEL - MAR­I­ANNE TAY­LOR

THE coun­try­side is clas­si­cally – won­der­fully – Tus­can. Steep hill­sides dot­ted with pic­ture-book vil­lages and vine­yards sur­round a val­ley burst­ing with flora and fauna.

You cer­tainly don’t ex­pect to hear lo­cals with broad Glaswe­gian ac­cents dis­cussing how to make a good steak pie amid all this Ital­ian splen­dour, but this is Barga, where Tus­cany and Scotland in­ter­sect.

The Scot­tish link to this charm­ing me­dieval town of 10,000, about 20 miles from Lucca, was es­tab­lished in the late 19th cen­tury when hun­dreds of Bargh­ese left their home­land in search of work af­ter the silk in­dus­try col­lapsed. Many ended up in the west of Scotland – ini­tially run­ning cafes and chip shops in Glas­gow, Pais­ley and along the Ayr­shire coast – and a bond that con­tin­ues to strengthen was forged.

Up to about 70 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion here have Scots ties, while the num­ber of Scots Ital­ians who can trace their her­itage back to Barga is both con­sid­er­able and im­pres­sive, and in­cludes vi­o­lin­ist Ni­cola Benedetti, singer Paolo Nu­tini and ac­tor Daniela Nar­dini. Scots artist John Bel­lany also had strong links to the area. You can buy Irn-Bru and tablet here, and the town even holds an an­nual fish sup­per fes­ti­val. But most Scots vis­i­tors will want to ex­pe­ri­ence au­then­tic lo­cal cui­sine and Barga, with its abun­dance of pro­duce, is a gourmet’s par­adise. In­deed, you can even have a go at mak­ing some of the lo­cal spe­cial­i­ties your­self – but more of that later.

For now, there’s plenty to ex­plore in this beau­ti­ful town, with its nar­row, cob­bled streets, an­cient square and pas­tel-painted vil­las. In sum­mer it can be bak­ing hot, and many lo­cals tell you spring and au­tumn are the best times to visit, mak­ing the walk up the steep slopes of the sleepy old town less stren­u­ous. Re­gard­less of the sea­son, how­ever, the stroll is en­chant­ing; turn one corner and a bust of Garibaldi greets you along­side snooz­ing cats. Walk up an­other street and a statue of sym­bol­ist poet Gio­vanni Pas­coli, who lived nearby, com­mem­o­rates his most fa­mous poem, which evokes the clock of the town’s cathe­dral.

You can still hear and see that clock to­day, and mak­ing it all the way up to St Cristo­foro is a must. The 11th-cen­tury church is square and Ro­manesque in de­sign, al­though its mys­te­ri­ous in­scrip­tions have led his­to­ri­ans to spec­u­late that it may have links to the Knights Tem­plar. The views from the top of the hill, over the town and be­yond, are stun­ning, and you can fully ap­pre­ci­ate why pain­ters such as Bel­lany have been so be­guiled by this land­scape.

The out­look is just as im­pres­sive from the bal­cony of my ho­tel room. The Re­nais­sance Tus­cany Il Ciocco Re­sort and Spa nes­tles on a hill­side above Barga and its ex­ten­sive ter­race – com­plete with out­door swimming pool – is the per­fect place to sip a

Ne­groni while soak­ing up the spec­tac­u­lar sur­round­ings. This 180-room re­sort has

Rooms at Re­nais­sance Tus­cany Il Ciocco Re­sort and Spa start from around £250 a night bed and break­fast.

Fly fr­fom Ed­in­burgh to Pisa, which is just over an hour’s drive away, from £21.99 one way.

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