Swing into Music: Summer in Tuscany

Late Spring is a season of rebirth, or renewed warmth, enjoying the outdoors as the sun rays gently touch upon everything. A time of discovery, of venturing out and seeing what lies on our doorsteps. 

Late Spring is a season of rebirth, or renewed warmth, enjoying the outdoors as the sun rays gently touch upon everything. A time of discovery, of venturing out and seeing what lies on our doorsteps. An easy task when you call Tuscany your home, blessed with talented artists, then as now, and a potent heritage spanning various millennia: even more so when Mother Nature has donned its best cap, giving it mighty mountain peaks, lovely sandy beaches, ethereal rolling hills and unexpected architectural wonders. Beyond the cultural powerhouses of Florence, Siena and Pisa, several other hidden secrets dot the area: add a series of exciting music festivals without forgetting the ever tasting delicious Italian food and you are guaranteed an unforgettable experience. Let’s explore!

Hidden treasures of Tuscany

Sometimes you do not have to travel too far to come close to a masterpiece. We often venture out in our neighbourhood and enjoy an area surrounded by mountains – the Apuan Alps and the Apennines – chestnut woods and yet are so close to the sea. Garfagnana in the north west of Tuscany hosts many small, quaint hamlets and natural wonders that are just fascinating: Monte Prado, Tuscany’s highest mountains (2,054m) towers here, making an interesting outing for expert hikers. Castelnuovo di Garfaganana boasts the 11th c Rocca Ariostesca in the town centre – the poet Ludovico Ariosto passed from here – and the 16th c. Fortress of Mont’Alfonso.   

Start from here and discover the Parco dell’Orecchiella nature reserve, where many wild animals live, such as wolfs, mouflons, deers and eagles: a garden of mountain flowers shows the best examples of colourful petals, while expert hikers and families alike will find many appealing hiking possibilities. The reserve includes another nature reserve (Pania di Corfino), which includes a rich botanical garden and creates a natural terrace overlooking the area. A short walk from the small hamlet of Verrucole leads to an imposing Fortress: its ownership changed hands across the centuries in a series of typical medieval family feuds. It now offers a splendid vantage point on the lower valley and the Apuan Alps.  Further north, Lunigiana is also a peculiar part of Tuscany as it sits right on the border with Liguria, donning a sense of passage and also mystery: the statue stelea of Luni are so powerfully enticing that a visit to the local museum – located inside the Castle of Piagnaro in Pontremoli - is a must.

Equally, the Roman archaeological museum in Luni provides a glimpse onto the Roman domination. Medieval vibes are tangible at the Fosdinovo Malaspina castle, which now hosts a museum, a contemporary art cultural centre and residencies for artists and writers. A visit will offer insights into the many decorated rooms, including the one where Dante Alighieri spent some time: watch out for the ghost of the young Bianca Maria Aloisia though!
The area is also a stopping place of the Via Francigena along castles, isolated towers and fortresses that crop up all of a sudden: a delightful series of hikes awaits.
And don’t forget to taste some local delicacies such as the DOP neccio flour (akin to chestnut flour), or the IGP Garfagnana spelt, but also the testaroli with pesto, Aulla focaccia, castagnacci and Podenzana panigacci.  

Musical Wonders – Summer Festivals in Tuscany

Tuscany is a land of artists, that’s a given. A mere stroll across any town is enough to secure an enduring love affair with any artistic form. This clearly includes music: after a troubled time when gatherings happened only behind a screen, the new season of summer festivals is ready to kick off across the globe with gusto.

The Teatro del Silenzio in Lajatico hosts a stunning concert with the famous tenor Andrea Bocelli from 27 through 29 July: an unmissable yearly gift that bestows warmth, joy and splendour though the vibrant notes of Andrea’s touching voice, here among his childhood hills. This natural amphitheatre with its beautiful setting is the brainchild by the architect Alberto Bartalini and maestro Andrea Bocelli. A “silent” project that comes to life with national and international artists, captured by the emotional potency of such a magical place: a small landscape jewel of the Volterra hinterland in the heart of Tuscany.

Lucca hosts the acclaimed Lucca Summer Festival in July with a kaleidoscope of talented gems from Bob Dylan to One Republic, Blur to Sigur Ros and many more.Opera lovers will cherish the arias sung at the Puccini Festival, taking place in Torre del Lago Puccini, the place where the famous Lucca-born composer spent most of his life. Get ready to enjoy La Boheme, Turandot, Madama Butterfly and the talented Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia Orchestra. Do not miss La prima estate, the cool festival taking place in Camaiore over two June week-ends: the line up includes Jamiroquai, Alt-J, Kings of Convenience and Bon Iver and you can add yoga, windsurf or sup lessons, plus cycling excursions to visit the surroundings. Florence hosts the famous Firenze Rocks festival at the Visarno Arena in June. Get ready to rock with the Who, Maroon 5 and Tom Morello. The Fortress in Montalfonso in Castelnuovo di Garfagnana will host Montalfonso sotto le stelle in July with big Italian names like Gianni Morandi, Edoardo Bennato and Alice: expect high emotions between the Apuan Alps and the Apennines. Between July and August, the Musicastrada Festival will bring famous artists in smaller, charming towns across Tuscany, from Fabio Concato to Niccoló Fabi, Guido Catalano to Marina Rei. And then it’s again Florence with MusArt Festival, Prato with the Festival delle Colline, Pistoia and Pistoia Blues, the Viper Summer Festival in the Arena in Cinquale, close to Forte dei Marmi for a summer of fun!

Gardens of Delight

Not only the acclaimed Boboli and Bardini Gardens in Florence or the many Medici villas in the countryside: the enduring passion Italians have for landscaped gardens shows well and truly across the entire region of Tuscany. Wherever you’ll lay your hat, a manicured garden will not be far away, courtesy, among others, of the illuminated Florentine banking family and the many other learned dynasties of the Belpaese. Lucca, the quintessentially romantic city surrounded by medieval walls and boasting a showpiece of a square – piazza Anfiteatro – is surrounded by stupendous villas and gardens. Capannori hosts the Villa Reale di Marlia, a lovely historic residence that was once home to Elisa Baciocchi, Napoleon Bonaparte’s sister. Visit its 16-hectar garden, still displaying its 17th c. structure, the Green Theatre, made up by yew hedges, where the violinist Niccoló Paganini sometimes played, the Lemon Garden, with over 200 plants, the Water Theatre, the art deco Spanish garden, the Camellia walkways and the fish pond.  Villa Bernardini in Vicopelago hosts a lovely heart-shaped lawn where you can still see two mid-19th c. sequoias. Built by the 17th c. ambassador Bernardino Bernardini, its gardens boast 350 species of flowers, a secret garden dating to the early Settecento, leading to the Limonaia, which conserves a large Carrara marble tub. Harmony and simplicity are the keywords of the Renaissance Villa Grabau in San Pancrazio: balance is created by dividing the space between the garden and a terrace, decorated with mosaics. The Limonaia is perhaps one of the most impressive in the region and hosts over one hundred citrus plants, still kept in their original terracotta basins. The same hamlet on the hills around Lucca is home to the mannerist Villa Oliva, showcasing Florentine influences in its loggia and porch. The garden is made up by enchanting grottos, fountains that resemble works of art and is dotted with trees planted in an evocative fashion. Graceful gardens also adorn elegant 17th century Villa Mansi in Capannori, made up by fountains, fishponds and statues, in addition to the over forty types of trees coming from all over the world. The romantic garden of Villa Torrigiani in the same hamlet also features elegant statues and fountains, with a splendid cypress-lined road leading to the imposing mansion.

A Haven for Artists

Graced with a potent artistic heritage that defies the test of times, Italy is the home chosen by many living artists who find inspiration on its soil. Among the many pretty borghi in this country, Pietrasanta holds a special place: deep within merrymaker Versilia, home to concerts and parties, this small town vaunts an attractive centro storico dotted with many artists’ studios. From Botero to Joan Miró, Pietro Cascella, Niki De Saint Phalle, Igor Mitoraj to Arnaldo and Gio Pomodoro are among past and present residents who found that the small Tuscan town offered them an ideal place. Over the centuries, local craftsmen perfected their knowledge of bronze casts, with many foundries located in the area, as well as labs specialised in the production of terracotta and mosaics: it’s no wonder that the American artist and teacher Romolo del Deo, famous for his bronze statues, opened a studio here, Studio Romolo Atelier.  Growing up in a family of artists, it was only natural for Romolo to have a genuine interest in art, especially the production of what he calls “tangible poetry”, sculptures. Adding a “contemporary twist” to classical sculptures, Romolo has won awards globally, most recently at the 2022 Venice Biennale.  His interest in the environment and the challenges it faces are seen in his Long Art Movement, which advocates the use of time-consuming natural materials as a way of reducing the carbon footprint. Romolo has studios in Pietrasanta and Provincetown, MA, and offers courses for artists of all levels, to discover “the sculptor within”. Here is your chance to follow your inner inspiration.

The Immortal Wings at Il Bottaccio

A property that could well be described as an artwork itself, Il Bottaccio is a boutique hotel that sees art at its core, from its decor, the varied art treasures that discreetly adorn it to the fabulously delicious meals prepared by the creative chef Nino Mosca. Celebrating precisely the property’s enduring affection with art, the exhibition Immortal Wings will open on 10 June here. Showcasing sculptures by Romolo del Deo, here wings acquire a new meaning. Appearing in many artworks across the centuries, wings primarily feature in the depictions of angels – think the many Annunciations depicted by Simone Martini, Beato Angelico, Botticelli or Orazio Gentileschi, and the equally numerous altarpieces portraying winged angels. Here, however, wings acquire an unconventional meaning as they are attributed to figures that usually do not have them, such as mythological ones. Romolo believes that wings are often associated with holding “great qualities”, but even those who do not possess them can inspire and incite. Wings can also add grace and stability, and the works presented in the exhibition aim at reinterpreting famous figures, forging new visual ideas and messages. A talented artist that seeks to leave a potent meaning, hosted in an astonishing property where art leads the way. 

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