This post in a big thank you – grazie mille – to my lovely friend Annette who invited me to spend the last few days of my week in Tuscany at her home in the Italian mountains.
Comano is a village of just 700 residents in the Lunigiana region of the National Tuscan-Emilian Apennines Park, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2015. Although in Tuscany, it closely borders both Emilia and Liguria.
Travelling from Lucca, after my 24-hour stop there, a regional train took me through the mountainous Garfagnana region to Aulla Lunigiana where Annette would pick me up by car for a roughly 20-minute journey to Comano. As she’d promised, the train journey – 2 hours and stopping frequently – would take me through beautiful and dramatic scenery. Having stayed near Lucca once before I was quite excited to recognise the Ponte della Maddalena (known as the Devil’s Bridge), which I’d crossed 20 years ago, just before the train came to a halt at Borgo a Mozzano.
My friend was waiting for me on the platform to welcome me as the train pulled in and we set off up the mountains with a couple of stops on the way to show me some local sights – and collect some potatoes from the local greengrocer!
After a few days in busy – albeit beautiful – cities it was lovely to enjoy the tranquillity of the mountains. And everywhere I looked the views were spectacular.
In the evening Annette and her friend Danny took me to one of their favourite local restaurants where we ate a mixed antipasto of local meats and specialities and I had a pasta dish of trofie with pesto and prawns.
The following day was a bit cloudier to start but this didn’t deter us from setting off across the mountains to Fivizzano. In this mountainous region you don’t cover the miles quickly for there are steep narrow roads to pass, often with sharp bends and sheer drops to the side. We stopped for a walk and gelato in Fivizzano.
On the way back we stopped again. On a clearer day, I was told, one could see Comano across the divide and on the mountain opposite.
Cows wander with large bells around their necks and our drive was briefly halted as we waited for some to move off the road ahead.
In the evening we walked down to another level of the village and another of their favourite places to eat – which I’d heard about back in London from Annette. It was busy with locals and lots of chatter and laughter. The menu was simple – you could have either pizza or Tagliata. Having heard about the good pizzas (and having eaten Tagliata in Florence), the choice was simple. We all ate Pizza Napoli. It was excellent pizza with a great topping. The base was fairly thin but the crust round the edge retaining a nice chewy softness.
The following morning the sun shone brightly. Some horses passed through the village. Comano is famous for its horses and there is a Horse Festival each year. Apparently horses wander the mountains much like the cows and sometimes also have bells around their necks so they can be found if they wander far.
From the house, Annette took me on a walk into the surrounding woods full mainly of chestnut trees. Chestnuts are used a lot in the region’s cooking and Annette told me when the Nazis invaded in the Second World War and took everything from the locals – all the food and animals – they managed to survive on chestnuts, which can be cooked to eat and also ground into flour for pasta and bread.
On the day I was to leave we took a drive down to the centre of Comano for the vegetable van – selling fruit and vegetables brought up from Calabria – was due for its weekly visit.
After lunch – a set menu known as Menu pranzo al lavoro for workers with just a few choices according to what’s in season and available – at the same restaurant as my first night, it was time to set off for Pisa where I was to catch my flight back to London. Annette had offered to leave early enough to take me to the sea and we stopped at Lerici where Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) lived for a time, as did other Romantic Poets and DH Lawrence, and where he died, drowning in a nearby bay during a sudden storm.
And of course there is always time for a gelato in Italy.
We sat to eat some delicious ice cream – Annette told me the Italians always sit; ice cream is too serious to eat on the go – and then it was time to head to the airport and soon I was homeward bound after a brilliant week in Tuscany.