From Longoio there are two main routes to Florence: the less interesting one and the more interesting one. The less interesting one takes you down the Serchio valley to Lucca where you can join the Autostrada del Mare and get to Florence within an hour (traffic permitting). The more interesting one takes you on the high road through the Controneria and the main borgo of San Cassiano, down through the stretti di Cocciglia, a dramatic gorge cut through by the Lima river, exiting the province of Lucca just beyond Lucchio, passing through Popiglio, now in Pistoian territory to La Lima, where the road bifurcates, with the left branch climbing up to the Abetone pass and the right going to San Marcello Pistoiese where, with two alternatives, you eventually descend into Pistoia’s valley and only have to do a short stretch of motorway before reaching Florence. This is the route I generally prefer as I believe the journey is at least half the fun in getting anywhere in life.
Popiglio is, in my opinion, a somewhat grey and grim place: the borgo is cut in half by the traffic from a road busier that its narrowness would proclaim and would greatly profit from a by-pass, but how and where in this difficult terrain? Popiglio does, however, have some fine buildings, its own theatre and some graceful churches, the best of which is its proud Pieve dating back to the thirteenth century. Although mainly Romanesque in style it has some interesting baroque additions including a magnificent coffered (a cassettoni) ceiling and a pompous side chapel with a Bernini marble! It also has a fine organ which I heard played in a duet with a violin back in 2005.
Next to the museum is an interesting collection of ecclesiastical apparatus including rich chasubles, statues, scourges and hair shirts for penitents.
The tourist authorities in Pistoia province have got onto a good thing; instead of having a smattering of museums and sites here and there they have connected them up in themed itineraries e.g. “iron-smelting” itinerary, “faith” itinerary, “chestnut” itinerary etc. The Pieve and the museum are just two features of a local faith itinerary which takes in pilgrim routes, chapels, pack-horse bridges and the rest of it. I think this is an excellent idea and should be implemented more in Lucca province where similar themed types of itinerary could be introduced and tie a day together in a more meaningful way.
Popiglio, as a border town, saw several battles and skirmishes – indeed it had to be rebuilt twice in mediaeval times – but stayed resolutely on Pistoia’s side! Part of its warlike legacy can be seen in two fortified towers standing on a hill above it. Our museum guide said there were three. But I replied I only saw two. “Where’s the third?” I asked. “Why the Pieve bell-tower, of course.” he answered. Since these photographs were taken the towers have been nicely restored and serve as a backdrop to open-air theatre events in the summer.
There is a nunnery in Popiglio and I discovered they make “Popiglio” biscuits (nuns are particularly good at making tasty biscuits, or cookies, as I recollect from one instance in Sicily). As a biscuit addict I must try to get some next time I pass through Popiglio on my way to Tuscany’s capital, Florence, the city of the Lily.
Another event I have never attended (must try to next year…), although I have talked about it in a previous post is the local “Maggio”, which takes place on the last day of April when local groups of singers go around Popiglio proclaiming the arrival of spring and wishing an auspicious harvest in exchange for eggs and wine (they would have had a hard time convincing the Popiglians this year). Evidently everyone can join in the singing (and presumably in the eggs and wine too).
I should also add that we had thought of buying a property in Popiglio but are glad we didn’t. It’s not very near to any town in particular and until they sort out the problem of the busy road dissecting it won’t have much street life – the danger of being squashed by a heavy articulated truck negotiating its tight bends are too high!