Barga: Tuscany and the perfect wedding

By Liam McDonagh, a Travel Enthusiast

Read more on Barga.

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Romance, serenity, culture and beauty are just some of the essential ingredients for that ultimate wedding - and we found them all when we tied the knot in the Tuscan hilltop town of Barga

Organising a wedding can be a wonderful but somewhat traumatic experience. That is why more and more couples are saying ’I do' in foreign locations, and the allure of romantic destinations, sunshine and lower overheads is leaving the local parish church or registry office literally out in the cold.

My wife and I recently organised our big day. It was to be a small but very special affair. The guests were our three sons and daughter-in-law. No one else had any idea what was happening. In fact, everybody thought we were holidaying in Portugal when we were actually in the small town of Barga, a hilltop town in northern Tuscany.

With all good weddings, the devil is in the detail, and implementing these details can be as frustrating as it can be challenging - even more so when they involve bureaucratic Italy. That is why you should consider using the services of the experts. We called on the experience of an Italian wedding planner (www.exclusiveweddings.com), who arranged flowers, ordered taxis, booked hairdressers and restaurants, hired the interpreter and organised paperwork and the comune (town hall).

The location

Tuscany was to be the location; Barga we discovered after some research. It looked the perfect setting, just under 100km from mystical Pisa and its perfectly positioned airport; 25 km from the magical town of Lucca, with its amazing walls; and 40km from the beauty that is Firenze (Florence) - all well within driving distance for those must-do day trips.

Barga commands breathtaking views of the Serchio valley and Apuan Alps and is situated in the Garfagnana region. A blanket of red-roof-tiled buildings huddle reassuringly around the tower of its Duomo. The small hamlets of Sommocolonia and Correglia Antelminelli nestle on the neighbouring mountaintops. Terraces of grape and olive groves chequer the landscape, intermingled with small gatherings of trees. In winter, you can ski at the major Apennine resort of Abertone, located in a state forest only 40km from Barga.

Barga itself has two distinct areas: Barga Vecchia and Barga Giardino. Vecchia is the old medieval walled quarter (it was originally founded in the 9th century) and is a collection of small piazzas, timeless shops, art galleries and narrow, cobbled, stepped streets festooned with flowers and caressed by sweet aromas. All the small streets, each so different in its beauty and serenity, lead to the impressive cathedral and its piazza. Small restaurants and cafes sit perfectly throughout Vecchia, unimposing, enhancing its historic beauty.

Aristos (Piazza del Comune; Tel: 0583 723062) the scene of impromptu concerts, is a small cafe serving a piatto freddo (cold platter of local hams, salami and cheese with olives and foccaccia) that is a must have at lunchtime or in the evening. Visit the famous Caffe Capretz (Piazza Salvi 1; Tel: 0583 723001) to sit on its terrazza and consume some of Barga's finest views and pizzas. In the evening, book a table on the terrace at Trattoria da Riccardos (Fosso; Tel:  0583 722345) facing the main gateway into the old town: it's a superb restaurant and the terrace provides an amazing view across the hillsides. Riccardos provide great home-cooked local food. Favourites include their hot seafood salad, the stinco di maiale (shin of pork) roasted in the wood-fired oven, and pannacotta for dessert.

Barga Giardino is the newer quarter and this is where you will you will find shops, banks and a supermarket. It holds a festival to celebrate the Feast of San Rocco (15 August), a three-day event of music, dance and song. Italian families come from far and near to talk as only Italians can, eat some of the finest ice cream and dance the night away. The outdoor market also arrives, a vast selection of stalls selling everything any local Italian could ever want and any visitor would love to have.

Sit and relax on the terrazza at Hotel Ristorante Alpino (Via Pascoli 41; Tel: 0583 723336), enjoying chilled vino bianco and basking in the easy laidback life of Barga. This hotel is very comfortable and offers all that is required for a very enjoyable stay. The staff are wonderfully friendly, and the location is excellent. While sitting on the hotel's terrace do not be suprised to hear an Italian accent suddenly change into a Scottish brogue, as many locals settled in Scotland during the leaner years. In summer they return to holiday -  among them, the singer/songwriter Paolo Nutini.

The accommodation

Our home during the stay was to be Piazza Verzani 4, a 16th-century town house built on the walls of the old town and tastefully restored by its English owners, Andrew and Judith. It is a three-storey, three-bedroom, stone oasis with views from its terrace that can be described in only one word: unbelievable. For further details and availibility on this fantastic property you can e mail: judith.edwards@virgin.net

It is located on a small cobbled street, and its narrow facade only deceived us as to what lay behind the rugged walls. The large old wooden front door reveals a stone stairwell, each step worn down by centuries of laboured footsteps. The stairs curve upwards to three impressive double bedrooms, one of which has its own terrace. The house also has two bathrooms. The kitchen and living area, with exposed beamed ceiling, is located on the top floor and is tastefully decorated and authentically furnished. A small double door leads you on to the terrace and the beauty that is Tuscany. Here, you will spend some of your most memorable evenings, dining al fresco, chatting, eating and consuming quantities of beautiful locally produced vino. And admiring the stunning views that will remain etched in your heart forever.

We were welcomed by the property's housekeeper, Maria, a lady in her eighties and without a word of English. She is as enthusiastic in her willingness to assist as she is when plying you with her home-grown vegetables, fruit and toe-warming grappa.

As we had arrived late, she very kindly introduced us to the owner of the local Osteria Angelio (Piazza d’Angelio 13; Tel: 0583 724547)  It is an informal restaurant with outside terrace. Riccardo and his very friendly staff provide superb, home-cooked food at reasonable prices. For starters, try the pecorino con miele e noci (sheep's cheese, honey and walnuts). The tagliata di manzo (beef steak) and bistecca di maiale (pork chop) are wonderful, as is the piatto dell'Osteria, a selection of local antipasti (hors d'oeuvres).

The wedding

As we were the first Irish citizens to be married in Barga, the regional newspaper published an article on the event and the Irish tricolour was draped alongside the Italian flag. Gifts from the people of the town were also presented to us. In Palazzo Pancrazi at five o’clock on a hot Tuscan afternoon, presided over by the Mayor, Umberto Sereni, draped in his green, white and red sash, the Italian ceremony began. His animated words flowed as freely as the champagne that followed as we posed for photographs with Umberto on his personal terrazza. Office clerks came to watch, applaud and take photos.

On a cloud of euphoria and happiness, our party strolled through the small piazzas, acknowledging the locals as they clapped hands. Old women added to our memories by joining us in our photographs, their joy and best wishes as warm as the evening air. We sipped on more champagne at the Caffé Capretz, sending texts and making calls to Ireland and London proclaiming the grand occasion.

We made our way through the narrow streets to the Fosso. Here, we boarded our people carrier taxi and 10 short kilometres later, we dined at one of Garfagnana's best restaurants, Il Pozzo (Via Europa No 2/A, Pieve Fosciana). On its grand terrazza, a table beautifully decorated and adorned with chilled bottles of champagne awaited us. Showcasing the very best in slow cooking and the finest chianti and prosecco, a feast of courses fit for kings and queens ensued. The celebrations continued long into the night and beyond.

As Giuseppe Verdi once said, ' You can have the universe, if I may have Italy.' Personally, I would happily settle for Barga. Ciao.

Other places to stay

Villa Moorings: a Liberty-style three-star hotel, with great staff, ambience and location. It is blessed with having a superb cool swimming pool, for those long, hot Tuscan days. The hotel is located outside the walls in Barga Giardino.

Casa Fontana: a small and homely b&b in an ideal location within the walls of Barga Vecchia. The interior is tastefully restored and enhances the 18th century building. All rooms (some with balonies) are en suite and are very comfy, with great views. Ron and Susi assure you a very warm Italian welcome and enjoyable stay.

Getting there

Most low-cost airlines now offer services to Pisa. We flew by Jet2 (www.jet2.com) on an afternoon flight that was ideal. Our hire car was supplied by Sixt (www.sixt.com). A small car (Fiat 500) or similar is recommended and best suited for the narrow winding roads in the hills of Garfagnana and the narrow cobbled streets of its villages and towns.
 

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More information on Barga: Tuscany and the perfect wedding :

Author:
Liam McDonagh
Traveller type:
Travel Enthusiast
Guide rating:
4
Average: 4 (2 votes)
Total views:
1729
First uploaded:
30 October 2009
Last updated:
4 years 36 weeks 3 days 23 hours 17 min 48 sec ago
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Budget level:
Budget, Mid-range, Expensive

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Community comments (6)

Rating:
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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Hi Liam

I particularly enjoyed your unique guide as I visited Barga last autumn and I can just picture it all.Barga is definitely as beautiful as you describe it...what a spot for a wedding.

If only I had had your guide to favourite restaurants then.

I was also interested to learn about the Scottish connection as it explained why there were so many Scottish registered cars around.

If anyone is going out of season I wouldn't recommend a fiat 500 We saw lots of signs in the hills for obligatory snow chains. Locals seem to go in for Panda 4x4's.

Boninis Restaurant in nearby Monterpepoli is good too.

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So glad that you enjoyed my guide Joan, hope you get back to Barga some day, I certainly will. Thank you.

Rating:
4
1 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

Liam, thanks for all the changes you made to this piece following earlier feedback - they've definitely helped. You do sometimes phrase things slightly oddly, and I've had to simplify some of your more convoluted sentences. The spelling was a bit dodgy in places too (I'm assuming uthoria was meant to be euphoria), so I'd advise doing a quick spell check before sending in your next guide. But all that aside, I thought this guide worked really well. The wedding sounds absolutely magical from start to finish and I'm sure there will be many readers who'll want to replicate every single aspect of it for their own big day! Many thanks for sharing the experience - it's made for a guide that's both evocative and useful (it would be even more useful if you could give some idea of prices throughout). Great pix, too - it all looks as beautiful as it sounds.

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Thank you Suzanne for your comments. Sometimes I use too many words to say so little. As for my spelling......there is just no excuse for it. I shall be using my spell checker in future.

Liam ... I flicked through to this piece after enjoying your Bayonne item - and found it even better. I though the mix of general and personal worked an absolute treat. Everyone's written about Tuscany - but your evocation of the place was, I thought,mouth-wateringly spot on & given a lovely (& original) focus by the wedding tale. Quite honestly, it's one of the best pieces I've read on the site. How delightful that the locals tipped up with presents. Just one question : did the mayor conduct the ceremony in Italian or English ? And, if in Italian, are you sure you understood enough to be certain you're married ?

Thank you Anthony for your inspiring comments. I can honestly say, hand on heart, that I am well and truely married. At least, that is what Deborah keeps reminding me of. Italian law requires the ceremony to be translated into the spoken language of the newly weds, so hiring an interpreter is a must. Comments about guides is great and most welcome, but coming from a travel journalist of your standing, is absolutely fantastic.