Last week we were under the shade of the white-topped marble mountains of the Apuan Alps contrasting against the green steep hills of Candia. Today we find them as background to the blue Versilia seacoast, and move towards the plain, surrounded by rolling hills, of Lucca. This area is known as Lucchesia and boasts centuries of agricultural tradition as well as a wide-ranging landscape made of sea, hills, mountains and valleys, spotted with beautiful historical villas and picturesque old villages.
This road commences in the region between the fashionable Riviera resorts of Forte dei Marmi and Viareggio. But Versilia is not only beaches, night clubs and expensive boutiques, it’s also art towns as Serravezza and Pietrasanta, which for centuries have enjoyed the patronage of artists; it is also Roman and medieval villages such as Camaiore and Massarosa; and it is opera music with Torre del Lago, where Giacomo Puccini lived since 1891 and was buried in a mausoleum. Moving on one reaches magnificent walled Lucca and its “one hundred churches” and lovely towers overlooking the narrow streets. A wonderful town to visit on foot or by bicycle, especially on the pedestrian promenade on the old walls encircling it. Moving through the Plain of Lucca, towards Capannori and Matraia, one encounters an historical-artistic legacy of rare beauty and luxury, a patrimony of villas belonging to the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Of these the most famous is certainly Villa Torrigiani at Camigliano, magnificent 16th-century Baroque villa, perfect illustration of the wealth that once dwelt in this plain. Further ahead, hilltop Montecarlo, with its well preserved castle, overlooks acres of vineyards, while Altopascio, along the Via Francigena, is renowned for its Knights of the Tau, otherwise known as the Hospitallers of Saint James, who assisted the pilgrims on the way to and from Rome.
The main protagonists of this particular food and wine tour are the DOC red and white wines of the Colline Lucchesi, Hills of Lucca, and of Montecarlo and the DOP olive oil of Lucca. Roman Altopascio is renowned for its bread, so much as to belong to an elitist association of Master Bakers and to hold a Bread Fair. Hidden among the chestnuts and pine trees on the hills over Versilia, the tiny village of Gombitelli has for centuries produced cold meats and salami celebrated for the perfect ageing probably due to the location between sea and mountain. The nearby mountains, instead, have an outstanding production of sheep’s milk cheese, semi-hard or hard, depending on the maturing, and with a high fat content.
As for local dishes, obviously the coastline of Versilia hosts many exquisite recipes with fish, among which the famous Cacciucco, fish soup, of Viareggio, a near cousin of the Livorno version. Camaiore instead brags a personal adaptation of the tordelli recipe, stuffed pasta similar to ravioli, so as Lucca does, and an excellent courgette pie, very flat like a focaccia, called scarpaccia. Inland reign emmer soup, the Lucca soup of kale and chard, the delicious necci, chestnut flour pancakes cooked on a cast-iron griddle directly over the fire and generally spread with ricotta cheese, or nutella, otherwise for the more savoury with cold meat or sausage, and then rolled up. The bucellato, a ring-shaped cake with aniseed and raisins, and the short pastry pie with chocolate torta co’ becchi are other favourites of the sweet-toothed.