|Photo by Freeimages.com/Guenter M. Kirchweger|
by The Daily Telegraph, May 11, 2016
Close your eyes and think of Italy. A land of bold mountains and silent forests, terracotta towns and medieval hilltop villages, sweet-scented meadows and sweeping vineyards, Roman colonnades and frescoed churches.
And now think of Tuscany. Cradle of the Renaissance, birthplace of the Italian language and home of Dante and Michelangelo, this swathe of west-central Italy centred on Florence is about as quintessentially Italian as you can get.
It is understandably popular with visitors – but if you know where to look you can still find hidden corners where the tradition of centuries continues untainted.
Small-group adventure holiday specialist Explore knows exactly where to look. It offers a week’s walking holiday entitled Trails of Hidden Tuscany, based in Garfagnana, a triptych of lush valleys cradled between the “marble mountains” of the Alpi Apuane and the jagged spine of the Apennines.
You’ll stay in an agriturismo, guesthouse accommodation with traditional home cooking on a working farm. It’s part of a scheme offering financial aid to small farmers and a fine example of the way tourism can help to support traditional ways of life.
The scenery is so varied that no two walks are the same. As one Explore guest put it: “The variety was superb and I felt as if I was on a different holiday each day.”
There’s the Garfagnana valley itself, a national parkland of chestnut woods and lush water meadows that is home to deer, wild boar, martens and eagles; and the Torrite valley, where woodland paths lead past marble quarries to the soaring rock arch of Monte Forato.
The Apennines are magnificent, whether you’re exploring the beautiful beech forests of Orecchiella National Park or scaling heather-clad slopes to walk the main ridge to the 6,700ft summit of Monte Prado.
Work up an appetite: the trip includes a visit to a cheese factory
For many, however, a highlight of the trip is Cinque Terre, the Unesco World Heritage-listed coastline north of La Spezia, where pastel-washed fishing villages and olive-green terraces cling to rocky cliffs above an azure sea.
Technically speaking Cinque Terre is in Liguria, not Tuscany, but no one’s complaining. Liguria’s giddying mountains and cliffscapes extend past Genoa all the way to France and, like Tuscany, it is famed for its fresh produce.
This provides a perfect platform for another Explore holiday, A Taste of Liguria and Tuscany, which combines some of the most spectacular sights of the two provinces with an insight into how some of their signature dishes and wines are created – plus numerous opportunities to sample both.
It begins with three nights at pretty Bonassola in Cinque Terre, where your expert guide will show you the best of the breathtaking coastline and postcard villages. You’ll also visit Levanto’s Laboratorio del Pesto to discover how Liguria’s pungent pestos are made and sample Monterosso’s locally-produced wines and limoncello (lemon-flavoured liqueur).
Driving through the picturesque Alpi Apuane, you and your fellow guests will pause at Carrara’s marble museum before arriving in Garfagnana for three nights at a welcoming agriturismo, where the proprietors will give a cookery demonstration of traditional recipes.
Other highlights include a signature lunch in Castelnuovo di Garfagnana including local meats, cheeses, honey, flans and crostata; a visit to a cheese factory to learn the secrets behind pecorino, cacciotta and ricotta; and scenic walks in the Garfagnana valley and Orecchiella National Park.
Finally there is a day and night in the magnificent walled city of Lucca. It’s a Renaissance gem and when you’ve ticked off your quota of terracotta roofs and towering campanile, you can rest your feet in a cool wine cellar offering the finest chianti, montalcino and montepulciano.
Tuscany also forms a fitting finale to Explore’s eight-night Cycle Italy Coast to Coast trip, a rare and satisfying opportunity to cross an entire country on two wheels.
The trip begins at Pesaro on the golden sands of the Adriatic, winding its way through lush valleys and Apennine foothills, past medieval villages and Roman amphitheatres, and overnighting in the splendid walled towns of Urbino, Gubbio and Spello. A rest day offers the opportunity to visit Assisi, birthplace of St Francis.
Then you pedal through the olive groves and vineyards of Montefalco to the former Etruscan stronghold of Orvieto on the cypress-dotted plains of Umbria.
There’s time for a quick dip in lovely Lake Bolsena before descending into Tuscany to overnight in Pitigliano, a medieval town with an important Jewish quarter.
The final day explores the numerous Etruscan ruins around Sovana, before arriving in Orbetello via the pencil-thin causeway across the sparking lagoon. It’s a fittingly magnificent way to end your epic 260-mile ride.
After this one save up to £100pp on all Summer Europe trips with Explore, or call 01252 883 232.
This article was from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.