Our first Saturday in northern Tuscany we decided to do some more expansive exploring of the region. My guidebook had mapped out a driving route of the region that toured into small towns in the mountains. Driving north of us, the area becomes more and more remote. Our GPS took us through local roads to reach our first stop, Fivizzano, a village known to be beautifully preserved in medieval style. We walked around briefly and had our first regional snack, a “calda-calda.” We did not know what this was when we ordered it from the pizzeria where no one spoke any English. Essentially, it is a roasted thin and round chickpea pancake that is cooked under the pizza oven. It comes out from the oven bigger than a large-size pizza and slightly resembles cheese. It is then cut up into little triangles and served warm between foccacia bread. Absolutely delicious!
We continued our journey around twisted, narrow roads through the forest. We barely saw any cars (thankfully, because it would have made driving more stressful), but it was beautiful opportunity to enjoy the foliage. We did notice quite a few bikers in uniform who toil up the hills in determination. Serious bikers are a regular sight, and I commend them for biking through all of the hills as well as braving alongside Italian drivers. About an hour into our drive, we made it to a designated a rest-stop with miraculous views of the Apuane Alps.
We then had lunch at Castelnuovo di Garfagnana, a village known for being a gourmet destination home to many food festivals. The restaurant our guide-book recommended was called Vecchio Mulino, a butcher-like shop with a couple of shared wooden tables lined in one row. There is no menu- only a tasting of the day’s specialties. We were still a little full from the calda-calda, so we chose to share a tasting for one. This ended up being the right choice, because the amount of food that came out could have fed four people. Baskets of bread, a large plate of meat and cheese, tastings of spreads, vegetables, and farro (indigenous to the area), followed by a heavy plate of sweets. And who ever said Italians eat smaller portions?
Out of the entire day, however, our most interesting experience was our drive home. The GPS took us on a route that literally spiraled up a mountain (again, no one on the roads), until you reached the peak of a marble quarry. Seeing the gleaming white marble up close was truly spectacular, and helped us gain an appreciation for such a beautiful natural resource. The road down the mountain zig-zagged back and forth but provided us with tremendous views. I highly recommend the drive if you can stomach the turns!