After our trip to Cinque Terre, my husband and I rented a car from Pisa and drove through the curvy, mountainous roads of northern Tuscany to our resort – the Renaissance Tuscany II Ciocco Resort and Spa. Located on a sloping mountainside of the Sericho Valley, the resort boasts dreamy views of the Tuscan cottages and town of Barga below, a glamorous pool, a wonderful staff, bar service, and a lush spa where we were fortunate enough to spend an invigorating afternoon. In addition to all of the wonderful amenities of the resort, we were upgraded to the Presidential Suite due to an error made in our booking, so we spent many hours basking in the bird’s-eye views of Tuscany from our very generous balcony.
Ja and I don’t usually opt for resort-style hotels when traveling because we know we’ll be spending most of our time exploring, but we wanted this part of the trip to be a relaxing, stress-free time before a busy summer of deployment and traveling. While we did want to dive into the local cuisine and wine, the goal of this trip was to simply enjoy each other’s company and the amenities offered by the resort. While we certainly accomplished this goal and left Italy feeling refreshed and ready to take on our schedules, we did end up falling absolutely in love with the small town of Barga which our resort overlooked.
On the second night of our stay, we asked the hotel to book us a restaurant in town for my birthday dinner. They booked us at a place called L’Osteria which was located in the center of town. We arrived by taxi to the outskirts of the village and were told we had to walk the rest of the way since the majority of the town is a ‘pedestrian-only’ zone. As the sun cast evening shadows on the tight, winding streets and illuminated the building façade’s earthy colors, we became enamored by its charm.
Upon arrival at the restaurant that was located in an intimate town square, we were seated outside towards the edge of the outdoor patio where we watched an older man with a paint-splattered apron and an artist’s mustache order a glass of wine, families saunter through the evening, and the hub of the cozy-lit restaurant hum into the night. My lasagna was fantastic, but what stood out to me the most was the chocolate pear cake. It was simply divine. After dinner, we popped into an intriguing gallery. Although it was small, I was impressed with the collection. They had a Dali limited-edition print that I was extremely tempted to buy because it was a fair price, and some Picasso prints as well. Getting to view some fantastic art after a delicious meal is pretty much my dream of a perfect evening, so our first night in town left a strong impression on me.
Because we fell so in love with the town from our first evening, we decided to spend the next afternoon exploring the narrow streets and small galleries in the daylight. We started with lunch at Caffé Capretz Bistro where we had a unique view of the tiled rooftops and a delicious sampler plate of small finger foods. The quiet charm that infused itself into our spirits carried over into the day after we left the café and perused the cobblestoned alleyways. Every corner had something delightful to see from lush gardens to locally-owned galleries, to antique architecture. On this day we were also able to explore the town’s old church at the top of the hill and an old aqueduct system that is still in healthy shape which really added to the town’s rustic atmosphere.
Later that evening, we dined at Giro di Barga which is a seafood restaurant located near an old bridge. The threat of a thunderstorm had loomed in the air in the late afternoon (but never came to pass), which made for a fantastic sunset that set the whole sky aflame while we ate. I ate this meal in traditional Italian fashion, which is to order an appetizer (Antipasto), a second course (Primi), the main course (Secondi), and of course, dessert. These portions were small and I left feeling perfectly full. I had mussels, ravioli, sea bass, and yet another chocolate pear cake.
On the last night of our stay, we had dinner at Ristorante Scacciaguai which was a place I had been eyeing since I discovered it on Google Reviews. The name comes from a sculpture ingrained in the outside wall of the restaurant of a face with two hollow eyes and an open mouth. While at first glance it may seem a bit creepy, it is actually a place to cast away (scacciare) bad luck (guai) by placing your index and pinky fingers into its eyes and your thumb into its mouth.
While all of the dishes we had in Barga were beyond exceptional, this one was the most memorable. We were seated on a small, backyard balcony draped with white tablecloths and airy curtains that flowed ever so slightly in the fresh breeze and carried a view of the mountains. We were greeted with a small glass of prosecco before the waiter brought out a large posterboard menu situated on an easel. I started with a fried egg and truffle appetizer because the waiter told us that the truffles were hand-picked behind “that mountain over there” where he then pointed to a mountain in the distance. It was kind of hard to deny truffle so fresh and local. Then, I had the spaghetti alla chitarra while Ja ordered the Florentine steak which is a Tuscan delicacy. I was amazed at its thickness and rich flavor and Ja, my steak-loving husband, was in absolute heaven. For dessert, we had decaf espressos and a white chocolate souffle with coconut and strawberry sauce inside. If I ever had to make a list of my favorite restaurants in the world, this place would be in the top three.
Our stay at the resort was a much-needed time to relax and we felt as if we were treated like family there. Spending days lounging by a cliffside pool with views of Barga, then getting to go down and try the local fare at night was a truly unforgettable way to spend a vacation. While Barga may not be as well-known as some of the other towns in Tuscany, it was just what I dreamed a Tuscan village to be like and it will forever hold a special place in my heart.