The medieval walled hill town of Barga reflects the picturesque beauty of the Tuscany region of Italy.
Red-roofed houses and a centuries-old cathedral perch on a hilltop 410 meters above sea level, overlooking a verdant green landscape below.
The warm colors of the buildings in shades of yellow, orange, pink and red contrast against the mountainous Apuan Alps and Serchio Valley — creating a dramatic panorama.
However, one key cultural distinction makes this small town stand out among the surrounding hilltop towns in the region.
Walk the narrow streets, and you may be just as likely to hear English spoken with a Scottish accent as you are to hear Italian. And if you sit near a large multigenerational family at one of the excellent restaurants in town, you may just hear both languages at the same table.
This fascinating melting pot is the result of immigration. Barga’s residents moved to Scotland in search of work in the early 20th Century. Today, many of their descendants return to Barga to vacation and reconnect with their Italian heritage. It has even become a destination wedding spot for Scottish people with Barga ties.
I happened upon Barga during my honeymoon more by chance, than any sort of long-planned trip. Barga is located in Central Italy in the Province of Lucca. It is within easy driving distance (about 22 miles) of the more popular tourist destination of the city of Lucca. About 10,000 people live in Barga.
My husband and I visited the town after booking a stay at the Renaissance Tuscany Il Ciocco Resort & Spa, located on the Serchio Valley. The resort was located on a nearby hilltop, and from our room we could see the delightful skyline of Barga nearby. Fog often rolled over the town in the morning, making it appear even more mystical and enchanting.
We initially ventured off the resort grounds to Barga, motivated most strongly by a desire to find more authentic Italian food than the bland fare found in our hotel surroundings. My husband drove our rental car down the twisting roads leading to our mountaintop hotel, then drove more winding roads up again toward Barga.
We found a city parking lot located near restaurants and just outside the walls of the medieval old town, known as Barga Vecchia.
We also decided on a day excursion to walk the cobbled streets of Barga. We visited at the end of August, and had just come from strolling the tourist-packed streets of Florence. After feeling a bit overwhelmed by the hordes of people, it was a welcome relief to stroll through a picturesque and truly quiet town.
The architecture was beautiful, but not overrun by tourists. I would describe the town as a true “hidden gem.” With its charming beauty, I find it hard to believe that it will not become a more popular destination in the years to come.
Again, we pretty much felt like we had the town to ourselves!
After wandering around the somewhat deserted cobblestone streets, we began climbing up some pretty imposing steps toward the town’s Duomo (cathedral).
The steps first took us to the Chiesa del Santissimo Crocifisso church, originally built in the 13th century. The facade is framed by statues of Saint John and Saint Catherine, in two niches on each side of the church. According to a history of the church detailed in the Barga News, the gilded wood Baroque altar dates to 1646. There was something quite moving about stepping into a totally empty, beautiful church like this one.
No longer out of breath after a brief stop at the church, we took off on the climb up even more more steps.
My husband led the way.
The final climb up steps led us to the medieval and imposing Duomo, also known as the Collegiate Church of San Cristoforo (Saint Christopher). The imposing cathedral is an example of Romanesque architecture. The facade was constructed from limestone from local quarries in Barga. It was built in four phases between the 9th and 16-17th centuries. The church was damaged in a 1920 earthquake, but restoration work later saved it.
The detailed imagery on the outside of the church is quite impressive. The image below was atop a door along one side of the building.
Inside is quite impressive as well, albeit a bit dimly lit.
Inside the entrance and to the right, there is a painting of the cathedral namesake, St. Christopher. He is the patron saint of travelers (how appropriate). He is depicted carrying a child across a river. It is signed by Nicolao Landucci, a 19th Century artist.
A pillar inside and to the right displays a 14th Century fresco of Saint Lucy.
The church has a large marble pulpit, flanked by two lions.
The overlook from the terrace in front of the Duomo offers an incredible panoramic view of Barga and the surrounding geography. The view is plenty reward for the taxing hike to the top.
We also enjoyed some excellent meals in Barga.
Our first night took us to Trattoria da Riccardo, a homey restaurant where many families were dining. Although we did not have a reservation, we were kindly seated near an open window with a view of the sundown over the nearby hills. In Italy, it is typical to order a pasta “primi” or first course, followed by an entree “secondi” or second course. At this particular restaurant, we enjoyed fantastic second course special of lamb chops (myself) and a pork shank that reminded my husband of Bavaria. We enjoyed a very romantic dinner ordering plenty of vino rosso della casa (house red wine — just remember to request this in Italy and your pocketbook won’t be disappointed). Sadly, I just checked TripAdvisor and this restaurant is now closed. The space is so charming that I have to believe something new must have opened there.
We also enjoyed one of the best meals on our Italian honeymoon at L’Altana. If you visit you must order the homemade pasta with truffle oil and funghi (mushrooms). The pasta was fresh and tender, and the truffle oil taste was delightfully strong. My husband promptly gobbled up half of my plate, after mistakenly ordering the carbonara instead (which was still good). For the secondis, we ordered the very last T-bone steak and a pork cutlet.
If you visit Barga, I would also suggest stopping by a weekend market for an authentic slice of Italian life. My husband bought some wooden kitchen utensils from one vendor, while I bought some shoes. Like elsewhere in Tuscany, there are also shops that sell locally made ceramics.
Although I visited the famous Italian cities of Rome, Venice and Florence during my honeymoon, in my mind Barga felt like my most authentic Italian experience. Devoid of tourist crowds, this was the point during my trip when I felt I was truly able to absorb and appreciate the beauty of the Italian landscape and history.
- “Italy’s little slice of Scotland,” BBC.
- “Travel: Tuscany, Italy,” The Scotsman.
- “Close-up: The Most Scottish Place in Italy,” BBC.
- “Ketchup and chianti: fish and chips, Italian style,” The Guardian.
- “Barga embraces Scottish tricolore,” The Telegraph.
- Barga News (Website).