A double page spread in the New Zealand Herald – the largest newspaper circulation of all newspapers in New Zealand, has just been delivered to an extremely pleased Giovanni Togneri from Da Aristo in Piazza Salvo Salvi in Barga Vecchia. The article entitled “It’s the small things that matter” describes the pleasures of visiting small communities. It describes Barga in glowing terms and can be read below:
My daughters and their new Italian friend have absolutely no clue what the other is saying. Doesn’t matter. Within minutes of shy greetings in English and Italian, the young trio happily dash around Barga’s 12th-century Piazza Salvo Salvi in the late afternoon sun, squealing with laughter and shrugging happily when one “speaks funny” to the other.
Language is no barrier for children.
Happy kids mean happy parents, so my husband and I are enjoying another relaxed afternoon on our family holiday. We’re watching the fun from our regular al fresco table at Giovanni Togneri’s Bar Spuntineria – the social hub of Barga’s Piazza Salvo Salvi – and we know we have planned this holiday well. My children call the colourful Togneri “Italian Santa” because of his voluminous white beard and moustache. He theatrically tweaks his moustache tips for the kids as he serves our chianti and juices.
We planned a holiday that avoids tourist traps and big cities like Florence, Siena and Pisa. We chose Barga so our 6 and 4-year-olds get a more genuine Italian experience.
This vibrant Italian town is perched on a hill in northern Tuscany’s Serchio Valley. With about 10,000 people, this is a family-friendly location – no tourist crowds to battle, queue-jostling, or big-city prices. Our kids quietly absorb daily doses of Italian life and enjoy getting familiar with locals like Togneri.
To keep costs down we hired a holiday villa in neighbouring Albiano, called “il Trebbio”. It is much cheaper and more enjoyable than a hotel room and allows us greater freedom and flexibility.
We also leased a diesel “people mover” from Peugeot Eurolease, much better value than long-term standard daily car hire. Our own wheels means we freely explore the many intriguing hillside villages throughout the area.
It’s warm and early springtime in Barga. Abundant wisteria hangs near colourful villas painted orange-yellow or soft pink and sun warms the sea of terracotta rooftops. Barga’s 9th-century duomo (cathedral) provides a panoramic view of mountainous landscape peppered with villages.
Our typical day is kick-started in Barga, ordering macchiatos and hot chocolate so thick your spoon stands in it. The kids are keen on daily explorations so we visit numerous neighbouring villages, including Fornovolasco, a quiet, medieval village built in a narrow valley along two streams. A steep drive up the Apuan Alps leads us to Verni and Trassilico. The latter village provides spectacular views of the alps and has an impressive ancient fortress. Further north of Barga is Campocatino, an eerie former shepherds’ village. Its stone huts are so ancient the kids expect ghosts to pop out and squeak “Ciao!” A walk into its forest leads to a surprising, tiny hermitage built into a cliff.
This region is known for good food. It is surprising how much more cheaply our family can eat here than in New Zealand. A large, three-course meal, including bread and a litre of wine, costs our family about $40. A large, Italian-style pizza is about $10, a glass of red wine costs $2 and a good coffee $1.80. Supermarket food is also cheap and a litre of milk is about $1.50. For $2.25 we get 500g of fresh tomatoes, and a 500g block of pecorino or parmesan costs about $6.
Fresh food is the fabric of life so we all enjoy an Italian cooking class near Barga with chef and restaurateur Rita Lucherini. Our daughters explain to Rita their new love for cheese and authoritatively explain that some Italian cheese “smells disgusting” but tastes great.
In Rita’s kitchen we make four authentic pastas and sauces from scratch, fresh bruschetta, local delicacy Farro soup and decadent tiramisu.
Holidaying in smaller towns is proving easy, affordable and low-stress. Best of all we’re experiencing the real Italy, unmanufactured for tourists. The girls thrive getting to know locals like the barman Togneri, the friendly gelato shop owners and our villa’s Italian owners, Diego and Sonia, whom the children invite to lunch.
Full article article by Kim Chambers can be read here
painter and photographer – started barganews.com, the first on line news site in Tuscany, Italy back in 1996