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Montecarlo reveals insider secrets

On a three hour hike, we recently discovered that there is more to Montecarlo – a lovely medieval enclave just east of Lucca – than just its fine wineries and restaurants. Named in 1333 for Charles of Bohemia, who had helped defeat the Florentine troops attacking Lucca’s walls, Montecarlo sits at 163 mt. above sea level and dominates the Val di Nievole on one side and the plain of Lucca on the other. From here one can enjoy beautiful views of hills rich in vineyards and olive groves, and on a clear day even catch glimpses of the Apuane Alps.

These are the views that our guide from Emoziambiente shared with us as we meandered on a gentle path up, down and around vineyards, thru dense forests of oaks, linden trees and evergreens, to the tiny hamlet of San Martino in Colle, consisting only of a 12th century church, a free-flowing water fountain, and no more than three homes. Famed Lucchese leader and military strategist, Castruccio Castracani degli Antelminelli, constructed a fortress here overlooking the Val di Nievole in the early 14th century to help defend the Republic of Lucca from invasion. A Ghibelline, Gonfalonier Castracani was opposed to papal rule and sided with the Holy Roman Emperor. This position left him in the minority against Lucca’s greatest enemies, Firenze and Pisa, which were controlled by Guelphs, allies of the pope, but he scored many victories against them nonetheless. He called the fortress “La Ghibellina” as a tribute to his troops. The fortress was destroyed later to make room for housing, but its adjacent 11th century church still remains.

The Witches' Tree

From here we visited a tree considered a national treasure. Known as the Witches’ Tree thanks to the girth and configuration of its numerous branches, the oak is over 600 years old and a special sight worth seeking out. Legend has it that witches used the tree to sit down, relax and chat together, when they weren’t dancing on top of it!

In fact the tree, a Quercus pubescens, has surreal dimensions: it has an unusually flat crown of more than 40 meters (131 feet) in diameter, is 24 metri (78.74 feet) tall and has a trunk circumference of 4,5 metri (14.76 feet). 

More recently, scholars believe that the tree inspired Carlo Collodi, who grew up in nearby Collodi, to create the scene in Pinocchio where the nefarious fox and cat characters string Pinocchio up on a massive tree and rob him.

Our hike ended with a wine and olive oil tasting at the lovely Azienda Carmignani. Since 1386, the Carmignani family has produced refreshing red, rosé and white DOC wines and olive oil from its own groves. Today it can make for a relaxing end to an enlightening day whether one stays overnight at their agriturismo or simply enjoys their organic products.

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