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