Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Our day trip starts poorly but ends with memorable encounters

Monday, April 17
Call it random serendipity if you want. Call it the hand of God working through indirect events. The end result was another fantastic experience in our Tuscan paradise, accompanied by my brother Roger and his wife Rosemary. Initial plans for a day trip to a ‟little-known” coastal resort were thwarted, and yet we ended up with a magical day, complete with spectacular views of high mountains and lush green valleys, a guided tour of a medieval fortress and even a chance encounter with a distant relative.
The Appennini of Tosco-Emiliana, taken from Verrucole.

Roger, Rosemary and the Alpi Apuane.
Roger and Rosemary are experienced Italy travelers, and they don’t feel the need to pack their one-week visit with excursions to must-see places. They only had a couple of items on their wish list, and those sites were not the typical American tourist places. One was the beach-side city of Tellaro, which is advertised in the tour books as more beautiful and yet less known than the five Cinque Terre towns. ‟You won’t be overrun by foreign tourists,” one web site said. ‟You’ll be all alone on the walks, and the beaches are far better than anything on the Cinque Terre.” Tellaro is about an hour from Montecarlo, so we set off mid-morning to see for ourselves.

But we made one mistake. We did it on the Monday after Easter, which in Italy is a national holiday called ‟Pasquetta.” And Pasquetta is a holiday specially designed for family activities such as having picnics or group dinners in the mountains and beaches and at little-known places. Like Tellaro.
More of the Alpi Apuane.

It’s true there were no foreign tourists, but there were so many Italian families that we couldn’t find a parking space. We cruised through the town along with another hundred cars looking for that last space. The only one we found was at a restaurant that offered full course meals for either 30, 40 or 50 euros each. I’m sure the meals would have been sumptuous, but we had come to walk on the trails and beaches. We had already planned to go out to a big dinner near Pescia in the evening, so we nixed that idea. We drove back out of town and had lunch at a small local trattoria in Arcola that offered normal-sized meals at reasonable prices.

We like to stop at little cemeteries along
the way. Even though this Alfredo
is probably not related to the one in
our family tree, it makes us feel more
connected to Italia.
We decided to move onto Roger’s second choice, the Fortress of Verrucole of San Romano in Garfagnana. To get there, we had to pass through Aulla, near the head of the Garfagnana valley. Driving through the valley provided breathtaking views of the Alpi Apuane mountains on the west side and the Appinini of Tosco-Emiliana on the east. We also caught views of ancient hillside villages, the peaceful Serchio River, and some special bridges, both old and new. This in itself would have made up for the time wasted trying to see Tellaro on the wrong day. But two events that occurred when we arrived in San Romano made our trip so fully worthwhile that I’d have to classify this as one of our best days here this year.

The first event came at a cemetery on the outskirts of San Romano. We stopped to look at grave markers because we thought we might find the name Donati. Dad’s uncle Jim (Seghiero) Seghieri had married Leona Donati, whose family originally had come from San Romano. Leona’s sister Renata married Alfredo Spadoni, Dad’s first cousin. Surprisingly, we only found one grave, that of Tersilla Donati, but by an unbelievable coincidence, we also found Tersilla’s daughter, who lives near Genoa, visiting the grave. What are the odds that Milena, making a rare visit to her mother’s grave, would be there at the same minute that distant relatives from Gig Harbor, Washington, would wander by, probably for the first and last time in their lives? Astronomical!

Chance encounter with the daughter of Tersilla Donati.
We didn’t have nearly enough information to connect her family line to ours, but knowing there was a likely tie increased our feeling of belonging, and it seemed to mean something to her as well. She had moved away from the area many years ago and had not been in contact with relatives from her home town since. We exchanged information, and we will stay in touch, since now Milena and I are Facebook friends.

Fratelli in montagna
After our encounter with Milena, we drove higher in the hills to the Fortress of Verrucole. We hadn’t realized two things: The fortress is huge, spectacular and has exceptional tour guides and activities. Second, it is only open Friday through Sunday in May and October, with extended hours from June through September. It is closed the rest of the year, including this month, unless a special tour is booked in advance. However, this being Easter weekend, there was an exception. It was open Saturday, Sunday and Monday—today! We realized then how fortunate we had been that we hadn’t spent the day at Tellaro and then tried to visit the fortress later in the week—because it would have been closed.

The fortress visit deserves more mention, and I will surely have to add it to my top 10 list of places to see when visiting Montecarlo. Therefore, I will write a more complete account of our visit and post that in a few days.


  1. Wow what gorgeous pictures of those mountains! And now we will have to go to Tellaro and the fortress on our next visit!

  2. Paul, there are many great stories of the Alpini helping American troops under German occupation. Would be awesome to have some of those stories come to life.


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