Tuscany’s Hidden Treasures: Isola Santa Atop the Appuan Alps

Isola Santa, Garfagnana, Tuscany

Village of Isola Santa

High in the Appuan Alps National Park region in the area called Garfagnana (in the province of Lucca in northern Tuscany) lies the fairy tale village of Isola Santa.  It is a village of stone houses amidst the lush greenery surrounding a small lake.  A lovely church with a bell tower is silhouetted against the mountains and cliffs that form the Turrite Secca river valley.

Historical records from the 1200s show that this village was a small hospice throughout Medieval times where pilgrims and the sick could find shelter on the road between Garfagnana and Versilia coast. In the 1500s, the hospice was torn apart and later rebuilt as the Church of San Iacopo (in 1608).  The bell tower was added in 1899. The church still stands today.

In 1949, the power company constructed a dam for electricity on the Turrite Secco River that forever changed the makeup of the village: The dam submerged a part of the village buildings, damaged others and created the lake that is now a part of the scenery. More buildings were constructed higher up the mountain and there are still a few inhabitants, a B&B, a Bar/Restaurant and some tourist activity as people come to picnic by the lake in the summer. On many days you can still see the part of the village that lies submerged in the lake like a ghost town. There are walking trails in Isola Santa that will allow you to explore the town and the lake area and also hiking trails throughout the national park area..

How to reach Isola Santa:

  • From Lucca: through Castelnuovo di Garfagnana (58 km
  • From Forte Dei Marmi (about 30 km from the ”Versilia” Toll Road excit
  • From Massa through the “Del Versilio” Pass (about 28 km)

Per Forbes Magazine, Lucca Tuscany is One of the Most Idyllic Placess in Europe

Lucca is one of my favorite towns in Tuscany.  Apparently, I’m in good company as Forbes Magazine has declared Lucca the second most idyllic place to live in Europe.

Lucca is full of old world charm minus the tourist crowds and its prices are lower than Florence or Venice.


Lucca is an idyllic place to live in Europe

Lucca is an idyllic place to live in Europe

Zuppa Di Farrro: Farro Soup from Garfagnana, Lucca

Farro soup from Garfagnana, Lucca, Tuscany, Italy

Comfort soup from Tuscany

Having just returned from my native Tuscany, I am busy cooking recipes that bring back wonderful memories.  As we head towards colder weather, there is nothing so comforting as good, fresh and very healthy Tuscan soups.  Those from the Lucca area are especially close to my roots. Plus my husband enjoys being used as a food guinea pig!

Buon Appetito!

Ingredients for 4-5 servings:
Farro – best if farro from the Garfagnana area near LuccaBorlotti beansOnion

Canned, peeled tomatoes, chopped

Pancetta, chopped or diced

Carrots, chopped

Celery, chopped


Tuscan kale, chopped
salt, pepper, peperoncino or pepper flakes, garlic (finely minced), sage, extra virgin olive oil.

 200 gr.250 gr.250 gr.

200 gr.

30 gr.

80 gr.

50 gr.

3  quarts

1 small bunch


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Lucca: Capturing the Spirit of a Beautiful Area

Below is a lovely article on why Lucca is a great destination for A Tuscan Holiday:

An untrodden take on Tuscany: Looking beyond the Italian obvious in lovely Lucca Read more:

Lucca, Tuscany

Forbes Reports: Lucca, Tuscany is one of Europe’s most Idyllic Places To Live

A historic city within a city, it’s difficult to find a house within the old, Renaissance walls of Lucca, but apartments are more plentiful. Its handsome centro storico (or historical center) is little changed since local son Giaccomo Puccini served as church choir master, according to Schultz. The shaded three-mile path atop the city walls is a favorite bike ride or passaggiata for the lucchesi, she adds, and Lucca is the epicenter for Tuscany’s world-class olive oil, so you know food and wine are revered here. Living outside the city, in the surrounding hillsides, is just as idyllic. “To live in the city in the winter and come into the hills in thesummer, that is heaven on earth,” says local Realtor Sarita Vincent.


Click here to read the full article.


Living with passion – Halloween in Tuscany, Italy

Halloween in Italy? Although absolutely not a traditional Italian holiday, Halloween has been catching on in Italy where American movies and marketing have a strong influence.

In Tuscany, where people are very curious about new things and love to celebrate, Halloween is quickly becoming popular. Places like Florence, Borgo a Mozzano (near Lucca) and Viareggio are celebrating Halloween with increasing zeal each year.

The beginning of November is already a long public holiday week-end in Italy: November 1 is “All Saints Day,” November 2 is the “Day of the Dead” and November 4 is the “National Unity and Armed Forces Day”.  People are off work.

On “All Saints Day,” practicing Catholics attend church mass to celebrate all the saints. On the “Day of the Dead,” families and friends head for the cemetery where most graves have been cleaned and decorated with flowers to honor loved ones who have passed away.  This is also a time for people to gather with family.

Typically, people take a “bridge day” between November 2 and 4 to have 4 or 5 days off work.  This is the perfect set-up for an additional festivity.

Italian children have caught on to Halloween very quickly; they dress in costume and walk from store to store asking, “Scherzetto o Dolcetto?”  (Trick or treat)?  The treats in questions are not limited to candies but may also include traditional pastries.

Adults have jumped on the bandwagon as well with costume parties, night club events and pumpkin carvings.

In my home town of Viareggio, site of one of Europe’s largest 3 ½ week winter carnivals or Carnevale  celebrations, Halloween has really taken off; store windows are decorated, pumpkin pies are baked and Halloween is being fully embraced.  It will be interesting to see whether Halloween merchandise sales surpass carnival sales.

The bottom line for Tuscans is this; the more celebrations, the better!

Contact Serenella




Insider’s Lucca, Tuscany – You know you’re in Italy when…

Lucca is a beautiful city and province in Northwestern Tuscany

As part of the “You know you’re in Italy when” series, I am delving a little deeper for those of us who particularly love the town of Lucca and the surrounding areas. 

Lucca is a beautiful city and province in Northwestern Tuscany.  It is rich in water and natural beauty has a rich and varied architectural, religious political and artistic history. Lucca was the birthplace of world-famous opera composer Giacomo Puccini.

The inhabitants of the town of Lucca have always been famous for being astute and successful business people and are endlessly teased for their reputation of being very tightfisted with their money (I say this lovingly, of course). 

So, with no further ado,

Read more

What do Serenella and Debbie Phelps have in common? Chico’s Clothing Catalogue and Website!

I am very excited to announce that I will be featured in the September 15, 2008 Chico’s catalogue and on the Chico’s clothing chose me as the female business owner to highlight in their travel series segment on Lucca (Tuscany), Italy.Chico’s website http://www.chicos.com.

Chico’s clothing chose me as the female business owner to highlight in their travel series segment on Lucca (Tuscany), Italy.

I am in great company: Chico’s is currently featuring Debbie Phelps (also seen on The Oprah Winfrey Show), mother of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps. Michael Phelps won 8 Olympic gold medals for team U.S.A. – a feat never before accomplished. Michael Phelps is the gold medalist all others will look up to as the ultimate athlete.

My own experience with Chico’s was fantastic.  They chose me because we have the same views: Chico’s believes women should be encouraged to follow their dreams and reach their full potential – at any age. Their choice of models is a tribute to all women; they look real and approachable, not like the disinterested walking skeletons seen in other publications! Yes, they are beautiful but also women we can identify with. Read more

Ultimate Tuscany Villa Rental – What To Do With That Extra €200,000.00 (Circa $320.000.00) You Have Laying Around!

If you have been on my website www.toscanamia.biz in the Italy villa rental section, you may have seen the ultra-luxury villas of the Coselli collection.If you have been on my website www.toscanamia.biz in the Italy villa rental section, you may have seen the ultra-luxury villas of the Coselli collection. These are very impressive Tuscan villa rentals situated on two hillsides near Lucca. They have been restored with the utmost care: each bedroom is painted in a different color, the walls are hand-decorated, the latest high-tech equipment is available, there is a chef available for each property and many 5 star services are offered for guests.

These villa rentals in Tuscany are truly luxurious and range in price from €11,000 to €45,000 per week (depending on the time of year). All of this was made possible because Mr. Fanucchi (the owner) who made his fortune with mozzarella had the vision and means to convert some crumbling estates into luxury resorts.

Needless to say, many of the rich and famous have crossed these thresholds.

The villas and grounds are truly beautifulWith this in mind, you may imagine how curious I was to see the new villa being added to their collection that will rent for €50,000 per week, for a minimum of 4 weeks!

I spent about half a day with Nicola Fanucchi (one of the owner’s sons now CEO of the Coselli business) going through all the villas again to see the latest upgrades for myself. I must say the villas and grounds are truly beautiful and the maintenance is top-of-the-line.

The last villa we viewed on our tour was Villa Lenka (named after Mrs. Fanucchi, Nicola’s mother) which is the actual family home in the winter. The family has decided to offer this property for rent during the summer.

The outdoors could not be more breathtaking.So what does €50,000/week for four weeks get you? The grounds are amazing. The park spreads over 13 Hectares (around 32 acres) of manicured grounds, beautiful trees, two large ponds (they call them lakes) and a pool. The outdoors could not be more breathtaking.

The villa itself is beautifully restored and is a classic Lucca “Villa Padronale.” (Villas occupied by rich landowners of the past centuries). There is antique furniture, signature paintings, beautiful ceilings and floors, custom draperies and high-end finishings. I noticed both a Maserati and another car with the “Diplomatic Corps” emblem on the back parked under the car port. This is not a place for the faint of wallet!

The villa is incredibly beautiful and the surrounding area unparalleled among any properties in Italian Villa rental portfoliosNow for my honest opinion: While the villa is incredibly beautiful and the surrounding area unparalleled among any properties in Italian Villa rental portfolios, I am hesitant to say it is the best of the best. If I had my choice of high-level villas in the Coselli Group, I would be looking at Villa Controni or Borgo Bernardini. Why?

While this is a very subjective opinion, the main villa felt “lived in.” I did not feel like I was stepping into a space that was prepared specifically to welcome me. All through the villas were signs of the family that occupies it – pictures, closed-off armoires, and, to be honest, a bit of clutter. This is very different from the other properties Coselli offers.

This takes away nothing from the fact that Villa Lenka is an amazing property and is my own personal reaction. If you like the idea of stepping into the home of a very wealthy family for a few weeks, then this may could be the property for you.

As always, I welcome your comments, reactions and opinions.