Even the most seasoned of travellers needs some time to disconnect and I was so happy to have some in this incredible trip through this area of Tuscany, still unknown by the majority of tourists. Tuscany is much more than just Florence, Pisa or Siena. This region has a lot to offer: charming villages, a lot of history, medieval castles, fortifications and hidden villages.
Tuscany offers you the possibility to explore valleys and mountains, to see the landscape's changing colors of autumn, to enjoy the company of animals from cows, to sheep and horses, learn about Italian cuisine that's so much more than just pasta and pizza. This is an off-the-beaten-track tour of the Lunigiana area.
Lunigiana is an area located in the north of Tuscany, between the Apennine mountains and the Apuan Alps, half way between Florence and Genoa.
The name refers to the moon because it was said that the beauty of this place stood out among the Apennines. However, others say that it's because the old inhabitants worshipped the moon. In any case, the beauty of this area and the surrounding valleys is undeniable.
This area is full of traditions, including the production of chestnut flour. The chestnut flour in this area has obtained the DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta). All products that are DOP must be produced and packaged in their specific place of origin and nowhere else. It's not surprising that Italy is the European country with the most DOP products.
The flour is obtained from an old process of drying and grinding the chestnuts. First, the fruits are stored in a metato, which is a small stone or brick building for drying the chestnuts, where a fire is lit with chestnut wood.
The chestnuts will remain here for 25-30 days and once that time has passed, it's time to remove them, as they're already dry enough to be turned into flour.
They're removed through a tube and put into a machine called a battitore, through which the skin is removed. This machine separates the skin on one side and removes the skinless chestnuts through a hole. In old times, this process was carried out through a ballatura, an operation that consisted of stepping on the partially peeled chestnuts in order to remove the skin completely. It was a celebratory occasion and people danced over them accompanied by popular songs.
Once all the chestnuts are peeled, they're taken to a local mill like the Mulino di Vico, one of the few mills in the area that is still in operation. This mill in particular dates from the late 15th century and works in part thanks to the Acquetta River, which comes from the mountain and provides the energy to grind the chestnuts.
Once in the mill, the process begins in order to turn the chestnuts into flour. This flour has a nutty, sweet and smoky flavor that is unique and to get the DOP they have to follow a series of rules, including being gluten free, having a specific consistency and having a maximum humidity of 7%.
Chestnut flour from Lunigiana is used for both sweet and savory recipes: pasta, crepes, bread or castagnaccio, an Italian chestnut flour cake that also has orange, nuts and pine nuts and is usually accompanied by ricotta cheese.
One of the funniest things to do in Lunigiana is to be able to go on a guided e-bike tour. A tour called the "Bicycle Tour through the Middle Ages" includes visiting castles and medieval villages of the Apennine National Park and the Unesco reserve in Lunigiana.
Electric bicycles are much easier to cycle because they include an electric motor that helps with pedaling. They have several positions and gears which you can change manually but the bicycle requires less strength to ascend. Many companies offer this type of tour so to pedal through beautiful villages like Filattiera, Caprio or Cantiere-Ponticello.