Versilia is mainly renowned as a fashionable sea resort with long sandy beaches, glitzy cafés, designer-boutiques and a month-long Carnival, and yet dotting the hills at the foot of the Apuan Alps crowning the area there’s a variety of medieval villages.
Boasting a rare combination of sceneries and landscapes – hills, valley, plain, mountains and coastline – Camaiore has an old town centre considered amongst one of the oldest of the province of Lucca. Set along the Via Francigena, the town has an incredibly beautiful Romanesque abbey, Badia di San Pietro, mentioned in documents dating back to 761. Nearby, in the hamlet of Pieve is another Romanesque gem, the 10th-century Pieve di Santo Stefano which houses an extraordinary baptismal font obtained from a sarcophagus of the 2nd-3rd century.
Amongst the hamlets belonging to the municipality of Camaiore (a total of 24), Casoli is renowned for its graffiti. A walk along the steep, narrow streets is a journey back 50 years when the first drawings started to appear on the houses. Today the hamlet is an open-air museum with representations of both mythological and every-day scenes.
Also a hamlet of Camaiore, Monteggiori is the one that boasts a superb position with breathtaking views over Camaiore, Pietrasanta, the whole Versilian plain and its coastline. Outstanding!
Further down the coast, the town of Massarosa is famous for its magnificent lake, Massaciuccoli, and surroundings. The territory of the lake is part of the protected natural area known as the Natural Park of Migliarino, San Rossore, Massaciuccoli, which extends along the coastal strip of Lucca and Pisa. Alongside the lake you can admire the remains of a Roman villa and a monumental thermal complex with beautiful mosaic floor, and many elegant villas, built between the 16th and 19th century, witnesses of the pomp and display of the area. Amongst these villas is the former-house, now museum, of the great Italian opera composer Giacomo Puccini, who here spent most of his life from 1891 onwards.
Up on the hills Bargecchia, a picturesque hamlet in the territory of Massarosa, is renowned for its bell-tower and its four bells because celebrated by Puccini at the end of the first act of his Tosca. The composer, in fact, admired their sound so much he decided to insert it during the duet between Tosca and Scarpia.
Another nearby hamlet worthy of mention is that of Corsanico. This small village houses another jewel of the Versilian hills, the 12th-century Church of San Michele. The church preserves a monumental organ, built between 1602 and 1606 by the Venetian Vincenzo Colonna, initially intended for the Church of San Francesco in Lucca.
This mild corner of Tuscany certainly has much to offer the casual tourist.