By Bob Tracy
The Wall in Lucca has its rhythm; early morning walkers, runners and bikers, all of the “afters” crowds – be they clusters of teens and parents with young kids in each other’s after school company or the after work or after dinner movers and strollers, or the Sunday passeggiata crowd.
The day’s rhythm is not so pronounced in our little village of Petrognano. Located in the Mt. Pizzorne hills about 15 kms northeast of Lucca, the daily flow of activity has proper names and distinct identities. There’s nothing crowded about it.
Until it comes to spring. Until it comes to Sunday.
The population of this hamlet of 90-some residents clustered around chiesa Pietro Apostolo and Villa Fattoria Gambaro explodes – it more than doubles — for a few short hours during the Sunday afternoons surrounding Easter.
Whether my husband or I are speaking with people who have lived in and around Lucca for a long time or the new or forever stranieri, we frequently get puzzled looks when we deliver our “Petrognano” response to the “Where do you live?” question. For many, our answer becomes more clear after we note the village is nestled in between San Gennaro and Tofori, about 1 km to the east and the west on either side. For those who know the place, we are always surprised by the heartfelt embrace of the area’s simple beauty when their words recognition flow as, “Bellissimo, bellissimo!” or “Buona panorama.”
We came to Petrognano through a few good and an equal number of ill-considered decisions. We didn’t know enough then to appreciate why resident Italians come to Petrognano on Sundays during the Spring.
The Panoramic View
At an altitude of approximately 350 meters (1,150 feet), the south-facing view spans the valley from Montecatini and Monsummano to the east, all of Capannori and the valley that spans to Mt. Pisani and beyond down below, and Lucca and a glimpse of the Ligurian coast to the west. It’s a perfect perch for anyone who likes to pinpoint their location on the live map of a geographic span laid out before them. From the parking lots of the church or the Circolo ACLI Petrognano bar, or the tiny village park below, there is a view to consume at least an hour of “isn’t that . . ?” questions or “Look over there” observations.
If You Can’t Stand Still
Two-wheelers make the climb to Petrognano on springtime Sundays, as well. Actually, the weekend cycling in the area is pretty much a year-round occurrence. The moderately-difficulty road and mountain-biking create the closest thing to traffic jams we experience driving the hills around Petrognano. I love my bike, but am still mostly a ride-in-the-plains kind of guy. While e-bikes are making the mountainside more welcoming for more riders, the weekend visits to Petrognano on bike still are not for the faint-at-heart.
If standing in place and mapping the view is not your idea of a payoff for a half-hour’s drive from Lucca, then lace up some sturdy shoes, leave the car parked along the road, and give yourself an hour, or two, or four to trek out on one of the trails that lead up or down this part of the Mt. Pizzorne hillside. Fair warning: The trail that starts in the village at the church will give your heart beat an invigorating pump, but it eases into a mostly tree-covered flow that can take you right up to the village of Pizzorne if you want to make a day of it. Alternatively, you can loop your way down the hill through San Gennarro, around the vineyards of Fubbiano and Fattoria di Petrognano, and off to the hamlet of Tofori. The road less traveled is the “Gelli,” which hugs the mountainside and stretches to the east toward the villages of Duomo and Villa Basilica and provides views of Collodi (Check out the Comune of Capannori’s Trekking Trails of Pizzorne).
A Simple Welcome to Spring
But wait, most of those parked cars that line via di Petrognano on springtime Sunday afternoons did not deliver trekkers or bikers. They delivered couples, and families, and groups of friends, and people looking for a little solitude in the hills for a simple stroll. Mura Ubane is always there and never disappoints, but a passeggiata surrounded by unassuming, yet exquisite natural beauty that has the added effloresce of spring is a simple, Lucchese seasonal rite of passage that makes Sundays in Petrognano more than just another walk in the park.
Just another reflection on the minutia that fill the days and lives of an expat in Lucca.