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Italy in miniature

The little-known region of Lunigiana offers all the ingredients for a classic Italian holiday – sparkling coast, authentic food and pretty hill-top towns – but without the crowds
The fishing town of Tellaro, perched on a cliff above the Gulf of La Spezia, has been a lure for poets and artists for centuries

YOU MAY NOT HAVE HEARD OF Lunigiana. A historical territory that straddles Tuscany and Liguria, it is – like its name – an anachronism. A landscape of Apennine peaks leading down to the Magra River valley, filled with forest, meadowland and over 100 castles. Standing sentinel over narrow villages, these castles show that Lunigiana was historically fought over, though it now feels somehow forgotten. It hasn’t been a fashionable place to visit since the 19th century, when Romantic writers in residence – such as Shelley and Byron – earned its coast the nickname the Gulf of Poets. Neither was this region ever intensively farmed. Its power lies in its greenness and immense quiet, and in its imagination with local ingredients like chestnut and nettle. Every homegrown thing here is cherished: from dried sage leaves the size of book pages to kumquats turned into liqueur. Such techniques born of frugality have, with the slow-food movement, seen a return. Back, too, are Lunigiana’s people, after a century of emigration – renovating old farms into agriturismi, bringing new visitors to a place that still seems a little lost in time.

A stack of ‘amor’ pastries, a speciality of the Pasticceria degli Svizzeri, in Pontremoli.

Feast on Italian cuisine (with a twist)

BREAD, OLIVE OIL AND WINE ARE AS revered in Lunigiana as elsewhere in Italy, but here this culinary holy trinity tastes different. The bread might be made of chestnut flour, or with water from hill streams. The oil has a dark damp-greenness, and the white Vermentino wine is distinctively dry: the clean taste, perhaps, of volcanic rock. Lunigiana was the first region in Italy with DOP (local origin guaranteed) status, and people here distrust food of which they do not know the provenance. Local dishes, while essentially Tuscan, reflect Lunigiana’s geography as a border region. All the armies, merchants and pilgrims who passed through are to be found in its food – pesto with pine nuts in the Genoese style, or the devoted curing of hams from Parma.

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Find the complete article and many more in this issue of Lonely Planet - September 2016
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