The hilltown of Careggine stands on the slopes of Monte Sumbra, resting on one of the Garfagnana’s most astonishing vantage points, 882 metres above sea level.
The first mentions of Careggine date back to 720 AD, when a chapel – now the current parish church – was consecrated. In the 1200s the great families of Careggine pledged their fealty to Gregory IX, which was significant, as this aristocracy commanded a large part of the Apuan Garfagnana throughout the thirteenth century, until their eventual decline. The territory was then pulled this way and that between competing powers, and in the fifteenth century passed to the House of Este, where it would remain – apart from a brief Napoleonic interlude – until 1859, the year that Careggine became part of the Kingdom of Italy.
Walking the flagstones of the town centre, the walls behind you, you come to the parish church of San Pietro, one of the oldest Romanesque churches of the Garfagnana and the mid Serchio valley. The building was founded by the Lombards, but its current structure is the result of the numerous interventions that have taken place over the centuries. The church contains some artworks of note, including a stone altarpiece and a statue of Saint Anthony, which has been dated to 1563 and attributed to Vincenzo Civitali.
From the parking spot at Porta al Colle, a dirt track runs down towards Bosa, where you find the Apuan Alps Park Visitors’ Centre and the Fauna di Ieri museum. A gentle path leads you from here to Colle dei Monti, which offers a tremendous view over the Apuan Alps and the Apennines. A large yellow bench – known punningly as ‘Big Bench’ – catches the eye.
Not far from the village you find another small medieval hilltown, this one by the name of Isola Santa, which stands on the banks of the artificial lake of the same name; indeed, it almost looks as if it’s sliding into it. The atmosphere is distinctly eerie, yet it makes Isola Santa a destination for many visitors, who come for the uniqueness of the place. A large part of the municipality falls within the Park of the Apuan Alps, which you can enter via the Passo di Scala road. Do this, and you will find yourself in a breathtaking mountain landscape, bursting with natural beauty. Further up, the Formica Pass is much beloved of winter sports enthusiasts, who spend many a fun day here on the Formica and Vianova pistes.
Lake Vagli lies a few miles from Careggine, and beneath its waters lie the famous submerged town of Fabbriche di Careggine. The village, which was known for ironworking, was flooded at the beginning of the 1940s thanks to the construction of a dam: virtually all of its inhabitants were descendants of the blacksmiths who had come from Brescia in the thirteenth century, and all of them were now displaced. Every ten years or so, though, checks and maintenance work on the dam have to be carried out, and so the lakewaters are drained and Fabbriche di Careggine is visible once more. It’s a haunting, unsettling sight, and one that nobody ever forgets.
The first weekend after Ferragosto (15th August) Careggine celebrates the summer with the Grande Festa del Parco delle Alpi Apuane. Its streets throng with stalls, music and the Palio del Tiro della Forma, a race between teams who attempt to role a wheel of cheese for 30 km, including through the town’s high street.