Spring has suddenly arrived in Tuscany - rather later than usual. The sun has real warmth now and the cool wind from eastern Europe has stopped competing with it. This seems very unfair when I’m packing up to leave. I hate packing and this time it’s an impossible task - there’s so little you can take on a Ryan Air luggage allowance. So I have to decide what I need immediately, and what can be stored to bring back in the car in a couple of months time. Then there’s the house to clean and restore to its original pristine state before the summer visitors arrive ....
So yesterday afternoon, with temperatures of 24 degrees, we played truant. The nearby Lucchese Pass, which goes through the Alpi Apuane to the Garfagnana, has been closed since 2001 because of landslides. But recently, after a lot of work by the Commune, it’s been opened again and we decided to go exploring.
As the crow flies the distances aren’t great - we probably travelled no more than 15 miles or so inland - but the roads wind up and down the hills in endless hairpin bends and it seems to take forever to reach the other side.
We found a little hillside village called Convalle - a typical mountain settlement in the chestnut forest. You have to park your car outside the village and walk. Inside the original cobbled pathways lead you around a maze of alleyways and courtyards, always upwards, to the church at the top.
Many of the houses are empty and shuttered. They are summer retreats for wealthy owners in Florence or Rome. Recently they’ve been bought up by Germans, Swiss, and people from eastern europe. Most of the permanent residents we met were elderly. Young people don’t want to live so far out. There’s no shop here and no bar. The residents are ‘contadini’ - country people who live by harvesting the chestnuts and cultivating the narrow hillside terraces with the help of study mountain ponies.
On the way back we stopped at Pescaglia, only three miles further on, and found the six hour clock on a very old bell tower. Then we went to the little bar for a much needed prosecco - which probably explains the photograph below!