On the road up to the Fosdinovo castle, I spotted a peculiar place I had to check out on the way back. Pizzeria il Selvatico, has numerous motorcycles, mopeds, and bicycles, all mounted atop pedestals of church bells and torpedoes leading toward the entrance and parking area of the restaurant. Not being sure if it was a scrap-yard or kooky monument like Carhenge, my curiosity was piqued so I had to check if it was really an eating establishment. It was indeed a pizzeria and focacceria, and to my surprise, it had a vintage motorcycle museum inside!
I lost count of the many motorized two-wheelers, such as a 1916 Terrot, several 1920-1940 Moto Guzzis, some with sidecars, 1930’s Benelli and Gilera, old MV Agusta, Parilla, BMW, and numerous Vespas and Lambrettas. I was truly blown-away at the depth of this vintage collection upstairs from the restaurant, and free to visit!
The delightful restaurant serves wood-fired thin-crust pizzas, bakes its own buns, and has a large rustic veranda that accommodates busy Saturday nights and many special events, including moto d’epoca (vintage motorcycle) gatherings. (via Fravizzola 3- Caniparola –Fosdinovo)
I couldn’t get it out of my head, and was curious-as-a-kid about the prospect of staying overnight in an ancient medieval castle. I pestered my wife about leaving the kids with my in-laws so the two of us could have some medieval-time together. She checked with a family friend who operates Domani Tours (DomaniTours.com). The owner, Loriana, suggested another castle with such accommodations a few miles inland in the Lunigiana region. Castello dell’Aquila, (Aquila meaning Eagle) is one of many castles in the Lunigiana region, known as the land of a hundred castles.
Loriana, who organizes customized tours of Tuscany and has a U.S. based agent, made the required phone call to the private gated castle. The short notice and busy summer season weren’t working in our favor for a room that night, but she arranged a tour and we set off for a ride into Lunigiana.
This region, which takes its name from the moon, is where prehistoric carved stone idols were discovered, witnesses to an ancient civilization dating back two thousand years before Christ.
Getting here requires a brief departure from the Autostrada A12 onto the A15 to Parma, and exiting at Aulla puts you at the gateway to the Lunigiana region. Winding through picturesque country roads, we make a left turn in the town of Gragnola, and up the concrete-and-gravel switchback road to the gated castle. It’s prominent watch-tower in view, we ring the bell at the automatic gate and are invited in. My excitement was building at this point, what a thrill it was to ride up to a private castle on a Harley!
We’re soon greeted by the owner, who tells the story of her renovation from near rubble when she acquired the property, into the splendor and historically significant structure we see before us. Historians postulate that its location initially controlled ancient trade routes from Rome to Central Europe. Historians and scholars were thrilled when the renovation uncovered the grave of a mysterious 14th century knight, who was murdered by a crossbow arrow through the mouth.
Today, there are nine large rooms in the Great Tower (or “keep”) that start at 200 euro per night. There is a library and two living rooms that guests can use to gather or relax. The inspiring tour has definitely placed this on my list of places to return to, and explore the medieval hamlets and romantic country churches of the Lunigiana region.
WWII and the Gothic Line
The idyllic and picturesque Tuscan countryside faced further momentous historical events during the Second World War. Many hilltop villages were used by German troops for the obvious advantage, and there are often memorials or tributes to their liberation by Allied troops, as well as denouncements of Nazi fascism.
One of the most noteworthy, and sobering memorials in this region is in Sant’Anna di Stazzema, high in the Tuscan hills near Pietrasanta. In 1944, Nazi SS soldiers were searching for Partisans (Italian resistance movement opposing Mussolini and fascism) who were attacking German troops. In their scorched-earth retreat from the advancing Allies, the 300-strong SS division rounded up and massacred 560 villagers, including children and pregnant women. The horrific events inspired Miracle at St. Anna, a novel by James McBride and epic war film by Spike Lee, chronicling the 92nd (Buffalo Soldiers) Division’s contribution here during the Italian campaign.
The Gothic Line, was the last German defensive line that ran across northern Italy from the Adriatic Sea on the east, through northern Tuscany on the west. Remnants of the fortified concrete tank barrier bordering Tuscany and Liguria, are still visible on the plains running from the foothills to the sea, near the ancient ruins of Luni. Interestingly, when Hitler realized the Allies’ rapid advancement would soon breach this barrier, he changed the name to the more timid Green Line, to lessen the impact of the negative propaganda that loomed.