During your stay at the Villa, you have the opportunity to do what we call a mountain villages tour.It’s essentially another way of getting off the beaten track! Just like in a safari, we are going to drive around our district to explore small hamlets, villages, historical landmarks, castle ruins and artistic jewels such as the “pievi” that normally get unnoticed by travelers taking “different” roads.
Additional optional choices include mountain bike tours if desired. Mountain bike is sometimes the most appropriate means of transport, going through historical villages on dirt roads and ancient mule tracks stopping for lunch breaks during the ride. Tours can be tailored according to everyone’s fitness.
We can also drive through off-road trails to admire the local flora and fauna and visit the breathtaking canyon of ‘Orrido Di Botri’ where it is possible to have the rare opportunity to see the eagle in its natural habitat. You can access the canyon overcoming big rocks partly on foot or by wading through chest high deep pools of crystal water for a couple of hours to complete the whole track. Helmets will be provided at the entrance. It is also possible to admire the “Orrido” from above, hiking on a one hour and half loop trail
If it’s very hot we may end up for a super refreshing swim in the pools of the Lima creek and a enjoy a good ice-cream at the end of the tour.
Lunch breaks included .This tour almost takes the whole day, say from 9,30 am to 6pm.
(from New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/21/travel/21italy.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0. )
Here’s a short description and history of some of the villages worth a visit we may visit during the tour:
Pieve, San Gemignano and San Cassiano are the three most important villages in the Controneria. Their origin dates back to documents of the VIII century. The name Controneria means that these hamlets are situated one in front of another and they are all located at the foot of the green sloped mountain “Prato Fiorito”, one of the poet Shelley’s favourite haunts during his stay in Bagni di Lucca.
In the past many people lived in Controneria as its inhabitants were active farmers and industrious artisans. Very often the people of these villages were at war with each other because of boundaries disputes or simply because some of the families picked more chestnuts than they were allowed to.
Until the first half of the XVII century San Gemignano and San Cassiano made up a whole community. By 1637 the Republic of Lucca was forced to divide them because of the many conflicts among the inhabitants.
San Cassiano church dates back to the X century and it was erected on the site of a pagan temple devoted to the goddess Diana. In the XII century it was enlarged and the beautiful facade was added. If you look closely you can detect nice decorative patterns rich with geometrical forms and animal representations. These elements were typical of the Romanic style. Inside the church there are three aisles with columns decorated with captivating medieval decorations that are worth seeing. The church is also endowed with two statues which represent the Holy Virgin and two paintings showing Santa Zita.
The village dominates the valley extensively right down to the Serchio river. In the past the village held the mansion of the Vicario of the Lima valley, the most important civil authority of the district. Although time has spoiled its main structure, the prisons are still recognizable dating back to 1300. Next to it on the wall there’s the sculpture of a warrior with laurel leaves around its head. People say it represents the famous lucchese captain Castruccio Castracani, but there’s no historical evidence about it.
The village hosts a nice church in Romanic style which attests to the importance that Vico Pancellorum had in the past. It is surely one of the most ancient churches in the valley. During the Middle Ages the village was conquered and destroyed by the Florentine armies and several times the Comune had to intervene to sedate the constant quarrels between the local families, who eventually succeeded in creating a parliament of their own.
The little hamlet of Tereglio was built on the ruins of the medieval castle situated on the top of a hill that controlled the Fegana valley. Along the winding roads that led towards Northern Italy, warriors, merchants and the clergy stopped for a rest in the castle to receive food and assistance before crossing over the steep Appennines. The oldest document which is related to Tereglio dates back to the year 983 and it informs us that extensions of land were given to the Lords of the Castle in order not be dependent on the lucchesi lords that were trying to expand their territories up the mountains. The Pope protected the feud of Tereglio until 1240 when the lucchese armies conquered the castle and administered it together with Coreglia forming the Vicaria di Coreglia. The great warrior lucchese Castruccio Castracani made Tereglio stronger and protected it from foreign invaders. When he died in 1328 the emperor Carlo IV from Bohemia decided to leave Tereglio to the Antelminelli family thus forming a county which lived peacefully for one hundred years.
In 1429 the Florentines conquered Tereglio and destroyed most of the houses and the castle. Niccolò Fortebraccia acted so fiercely and violently that he was reprimanded by the florentines themselves. For three years Tereglio was ruled by the florentines and in 1433 the republic of Lucca tried to win Tereglio back, but it was only in 1441 that all the little hamlets of the valley could peacefully live without being haunted by the fear of new florentine warfare.
At the entrance of Tereglio you can see the way to the old castle. Once it was a stronghold and it was practically impossible to get inside the castle. The ramparts had holes through which soldiers could control the nearby roads.
The church of Santa Maria Assunta hosts a magnificent wooden crucifix by Barone Berlinghieri (XIII century). It was situated in the castle of Bori near Tereglio, but as soon as the castle was destroyed it was brought to the church of Tereglio where it has remained ever since. It represents Christ with two angels and Holy Mary at the sepulchre.
People tell how in the Middle Ages the inhabitants of Vico Pancellorum were defeated by the people from Lucchio a nearby village situated on the opposite slope of the mountain in such a way that they could see each other.
Paolo and Lucio were two brothers. Paolo founded Vico and Lucio founded Lucchio. Soon the two villages started quarreling. Vico was always successful in battles and warfare, but one day Lucio decided to defeat for good his brother. He came up with an idea: he would secure lanterns to the horns of about a hundred goats to deceive his enemies into believing that an assault was under way. At night all the goats wound down the steep path down towards Vallemagna. The inhabitants of Vico were very worried about what was happening and they thought that all their enemies from Lucchio were moving towards them for an assault. So they rushed to grab their weapons and descended the valley to confront and defeat them. Meanwhile, people from Lucchio had climbed up the mountain and reached Vico from the opposite side. When they got to the village they found nobody there and set it on fire and destroyed it. In this way they got revenge over their enemies.
Prato Fiorito is a gentle mountain, not very high, but rich in lore and traditions. A legend explains the meaning of its name: when the deluge came all the peaks of the mountains were submerged. All except one, the Prato Fiorito. This is the reason why all the species of rare flowers can be found there. It is believed that once a year all the witches from the nearby places meet there and fantastic castles and palaces appear in the air while the devil himself plays the violin sitting on a boulder on which today you can still see his footprints. The mountain was visited by the poets Shelley and Browning and also by famous botanists. There is also a story about a man who was coming home late at night and saw many lights swarming around the Prato Fiorito. Since he was a curious man he decided to go and see. He saw many young women dancing around a walnut tree. He sat there for a while and soon started dancing with the girls. He danced all night long and towards dawn a young lady came to him offering him some biscuits. He accepted them and put them in his pocket. When he came home he took out the biscuits but realized that they were actually human bones.
The bell of San Cassiano di Controni – A legend
It was the afternoon of 28 March 1784. It had been raining heavily for two days. Suddenly a huge landslide came down the Prato Fiorito mountain and completely destroyed the two little hamlets of Cerro and Celle. The parish priest was the first person to realize that something terrible was soon going to happen and he warned of the imminent catastrophy by pulling the rope of the church bell wildly so that everybody would understand that they had to leave their homes. In this way all the inhabitants were saved, but one. She was an old widow that was so fond of her house that she couldn’t leave it. Since then, when a storm is approaching and the thunder rolls down the Prato Fiorito slopes, you can hear a mysterious pealing of bells. Nobody knows where it comes from, but it is clear that the sound comes from beneath the ground and if you look around you can see a ghostly lantern swaying among the rocks. It is the widow who is still searching for her house.