Best known for its artificial lake, one of the largest in Europe, Vagli di Sotto is also famous for the ghost town of Fabbriche di Careggine, which lies deep below the surface of the water.
This area of the upper Serchio valley (also known as the Edron valley) was populated in the millennium before Christ by the Liguri-Apuani tribes, whose economy revolved primarily around sheep-grazing and agriculture. The Etruscans settled the area in roughly the fourth century BC, as is shown by archaeological finds around Bivio.
In the early medieval period, the Garfagnana was controlled first by the Byzantines and then by the Lombards, who turned it into a heavily militarised zone. It was around this time that town names as we recognise them today started to appear.
In the eleventh century, Vagli was ruled by the nobility of Careggine: they sided with the Ghibellines against the Guelfs, and with Pisa against Lucca. Yet in 1371 Alderigo degli Antelminelli gave Lucca the Garfagnana territory that they had conquered; in 1451 the three districts of Vagli di Sotto fell into the dominion of the Este family, who had been pushing their borders in the area for centuries.
All life in this little town, as well as its mains attractions, are connected to the lake that lies beneath it, Lago di Vagli, which was formed artificially in 1947 when a dam of the river Edron was brought down.
The symbol of the area also pertains to the lake, even if it's a symbol only visible once every decade or more. The village of Fabbriche di Careggine was submerged in 1953, when one of Lake Vagli's dams was made higher, allowing it to hold more water. The towns of Il Pantane and Piari were also swallowed by the lake, and their inhabitants also forced to leave.
Apart from admiring its natural beauty, there is time for fun and games at VagliPark, a large adventure park aimed at the whole family. It includes the Lake Vagli Biopark, which offers a nice long walk along the banks of the reservoir, and a suspension bridge for both walkers and cyclists, whose 132 metres make it one of the biggest in Europe.
More daring spirits can take on the Volo dell'Angelo (flight of the angel): a stomach-churning leap into the void as you soar over the surface of the lake for a distance of 1500 metres, held 350 metres high by a steel cable, and reaching speeds of 150 km per hour. The zipwire is designed to be accessible even for those with disabilities.
The Garfagnana and the mid Serchio valley is a magical place, full of history, tucked away between the Apuan Alps and the Tusco-Emilian Apennines, and bisected by the River Serchio. Nature reigns supreme here, with forests that have escaped the human footprint, and peaks that touch altitudes of around 2000 metres.
The Garfagnana is blessed with must-visit castles and fortresses, ideal destinations for anyone looking to step back in time to the Middle Ages, when this area was a real borderland and warzone that regularly saw skirmishes between rival aristocratic families.
All of the Garfagnana's traditional dishes and flavours taste of peasant and mountain life, where spelt flour (PGI-certified) plays an invaluable role. It is the prime ingredient in minestra di farro (spelt flour soup), which also requires potatoes, beans and sometimes a few leaves of chard.
Biroldo is another of the Garfagnana's hallmark flavours, a spiced and seasoned salami made with meat primarily from the pig's head.