Barga: the Scottish dream

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

Barga is a quiet town in the Serchio Valley, close to Bagni di Lucca, the Garfagnana region and the Lima and Selvano Rivers which are small paradises for white water sports enthusiasts.

The history of the town is quite interesting. During the Italian Middle Ages, every Italian city was fighting against its neighbors for centuries, such as the rival powerful city states of Pisa and Lucca. Barga, on the way between the Po Valley and Tuscany, was often in the midst of conflicts. The city simply decided to pay allegiance to Florence, the most powerful city of central Italy and the enemy of Pisa and Lucca. This provided protection, peace and prosperity to Barga, even more so that it negotiated a duty-free zone. However, this all stopped on March 17, 1861, when the Italian unity was proclaimed.

The same year an exodus started from the mountains and countryside where starvation and bandits were the main dangers for mostly illiterate inhabitants in a country that was still divided by language and culture. Many emigrated to Argentina, Brazil, the USA or other European countries. Barga was no exception, and the exodus was reinforced by of the end of the fiscal privilege that impoverished the city. Leonello Castelvecchi, born in Barga in a farmer’s family left his mountains for Scotland like many Barghigianis.

He started a small ice-cream business in Largs, a town on the river Clyde close to Glasgow. His hard work paid off and he expanded with fish and chip shacks, kiosks, small restaurants and pubs to eventually build The Moorings Restaurant, seating 1,000 guests with a ballroom, cafè, ice-cream parlour and lounge bar!

In 1924 the Castelvecchi family commissioned the construction of a massive Liberty-style villa in Barga as a holiday home. No expenses were spared: Carrara marble staircases, wrought iron railings, precious wood fittings, Murano glass chandeliers, Florentine upholstery, Art Deco frescoes… In the Italian tradition, it was all topped off by an impressive tower overlooking the city of Barga and conveying the financial success of the Castelvecchis. Leonello’s story is similar to the ones of many Barghigiani emigrants who sought and found fortune in the USA or in Great Britain. Actually, even today, locals speak a bit of English here with a Scottish accent and the fish and chips festival is one of the major happenings in town, as a reminder of the Scottish dream of many from Barga! Many other Liberty-style villas were built to show off their success, but Villa Moorings stands out and above and cannot be missed as one approaches Barga. The Nazis noticed it too, and this is where they set up their Barghigiani headquarters during World War II. Barga was on the Gothic Line, the German defensive line following the Apennine Mountains where over 40,000 soldiers perished between August 1944 and March 1945 while Hitler’s armies were retreating. Today, the villa remains. Beatrice Salvi, the great grand-daughter of Leonello manages Villa Moorings, that she has turned into a stylish hotel respecting its original atmosphere with its high ceilings, wide windows, decorative frescoes representing natural elements and pastel coloured geometric patterns. Two bullet holes in a painting in the breakfast room are a reminder of the bloody and violent Gothic Line period. The tower still dominates the lower Barga and the view from it on the Apennine Mountains with Monte Forato in the distance with its natural 30-meter arch, the cute village of Sommocolonia, and closer the austere 13th century Duomo towering the old Barga remains one of the best in the city, especially for sunset.

Travel tips:

  • Check out the website of Villa Moorings to experience it for yourself!
  • Check out this interactive map for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area! Here is a short tutorial to download it.

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