GARFAGNANA, ITALY – fun among the foodies

Nati Suonati (Born Playing) bring the crowd to its feet.

‘Do you know about food, Richard?’ asks the lady across the table from me.

‘Oh yes,’ I reply confidently, ‘I’ve been eating it for years, several times a day.’

But there’s a huge difference between eating food, liking food and knowing food the way Marzia the cheesemaker, Paolo the miller and baker, Andrea the restauranteur and our guide Heather do.

Heather, who runs gastronomic adventure tours through her company Sapori e Saperi (Flavours and Knowledge) has brought us to the tiny north Tuscan villages of Sant’Anastasio and Petrognola for their annual Farro Festival.

Farro is an ancient grain, grown on the slopes above the Serchio River, which winds through the spectacularly beautiful country of the Garfagnana region, with rocky mountain peaks as a backdrop.

A field of waving farro.

At the stall at the entrance to Sant’Anastasio we buy a book of tickets (a steal at 16 euros), and spend the rest of the day eating and drinking, pausing occasionally to walk the steep narrow streets between the farmyards where tables have been set up and eight successive courses are being served.

Including, but not limited to…

Antipasto on farro potato bread, and glass of red.

Farro with tuna (left) and farro with pesto (the recipe was introduced to the Garfagnana from Genova - see Heather, I was paying attention!)

Warm farro and leeks, followed by...

...the main barbecue course. Excellent sausage, and note temporary switch to water as drink of choice.

The girls kept the food coming... the band took a break from the heat.

Heather took us to see Paolo and check out his farro mill.

Then we called in at Andrea's place in Castelnuovo on the way home.

Osteria Vecchio Mulino (old mill) in Castelnuovo deserves a proper description. It looks like no other restaurant we’ve ever seen, but we’d be happy to live, or at least eat, there forever.

Andrea Bertucci wanted to make a food place where locals could drink coffee or wine for a euro (as we did) or where Michelin-hatted chefs would drop in to learn more about curing ham and other aspects of the trade.

It’s worked. Anybody who knows food comes to Andrea’s. Thanks to his dedication to culinary art, Andrea takes up a lot of room himself, but he can squeeze everybody in.

I took a photo of the antipasto and torta he fed us, but I couldn’t match the photos on his website. For more about the drooling experience, see

Thanks, Heather, for the brilliant day tour and the introduction to food, places and people we would have been unlikely to find for ourselves.

We can’t yet claim to ‘know’ about food, but we’re enjoying getting to know it.

Farro, farro flour, farro pasta and Petrognola's famous farro beer.

For more on Heather Jarman’s Gastronomy Adventures, see


Filed under Italy

10 responses to “GARFAGNANA, ITALY – fun among the foodies

  1. I’ve been to the restaurant in Castelnuovo – I love it.

    • It was a great experience, BdL, as was the rest of the day. Heather tells us Andrea usually does a ‘degustation menu’, introducing his guests to the local produce, which we thought was fantastic. And we loved the casual atmosphere.

  2. Love love love Heather-we are repeat customers of hers-anyone going to Lucca area or hills of Tuscay must take a day with her…love your blog-thanks so much for sharing

    • Thanks for the encouragement, Melonie. It’s not hard to say nice things about a tour with Heather, and I’m not surprised to hear people keep coming back to her for more fabulous food experiences.

  3. All the little foodie festivals dotted around Italia are wonderful…I wish Australia had more of this sort of thing.

    • I quite agree, CHFG, but the problem is that the food festivals in Sydney, or even little Portugal in my home suburb Petersham, are too big, commercial and impersonal.

      They’re fun anyway, but in a huge city you can’t organise sit down courses for whoever turns up in what are effectively people’s backyards. I’m told Petrognola has a permanent population of about 150 so things are different there.

      Or maybe we could run such things. It would be interesting to try it as a sort of progressive dinner in our street. The Portuguese food would be great, and we could get everybody to meet their neighbours.

  4. grazie a tutti voi per i vs commenti sulla mia terra LA GARFAGNANA …

  5. Pingback: THE YEAR THAT WAS 2011 – our travel highlights | Richard Tulloch's LIFE ON THE ROAD

  6. Pingback: A Thread to Hang It On | Slow Travel Tours

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