Versilia is one of the best places in Tuscany to spend your Christmas holidays for shopping and visits, according to Serena of Wish Versilia, who says, "On the Versilia Coast, the riviera boardwalks become a perfect setting for Christmas markets and its pedestrian areas and squares buzz with music and people strolling up and down in a holiday mood." In this article, Serena shares the best things to do on the Versilia Coast of Tuscany, in Lucca and in the Garfagnana (the hills north of Lucca) during the Christmas season.
Christmas Markets and Shopping on the Versilia Coast and in Lucca
In Viareggio, don't miss a stop at Pasticceria Patalani, 183 Via Giuseppe Zanardelli, for a hot chocolate with the typical bomboloncino con crema, fried donut filled with English cream and topped with confectioner'sugar. Forte dei Marmi is the top-notch spot for luxury shopping and relaxing while looking at shop windows, sometimes unusual like the Forteshire shop, Via Stagio Stagi 30, a perfect matching of Italian and English taste. In Pietrasanta the magic of Christmas is expressed through the decorations, lights, and concerts in the main square in front of the Duomo. Taste the famous singly wrapped up Fortini biscuits flavored with chocolate, raisins, almonds in their shop at via della Sipe 10.
In Lucca, the historical city centre becomes a perfect place for shopping, culminating in Piazza San Michele and in Borgo Giannotti with more than 70 stands selling crafts, food and wine, Christmas decorations, toys and candy. In Piazza Napoleone, kids and adults may enjoy ice-skating under the trees dressed up with thousands of glittering lights.
Traditional events in Cinque Terre and Garfagnana
Among the traditional events, I recommend a visit to Manarola in the Cinque Terre, located between Tuscany and Liguria, to see the unique ecological presepe (nativity scene) powered by solar energy - 300 characters using 15,000 lights scattered over a hilltop overlooking the sea, a project developed by a retired railroad worker. If you happen to pay a visit during the week at sunset time, ring the bell and Mario will light it up for you.
On Christmas Eve in the Garfagnana area north of Lucca, along the Serchio River Valley many fires are lit, dotting the landscape with bright lights, as ritual bonfires that in old times were intended to assist the strength and vigor of the sun. The Nataleccio is the local name for a cylindrical construction made by planting the trunk of a chestnut tree in the ground and weaving around the base, with the help of a cage of wire netting, an enormous quantity of juniper branches. The ceremony is only for boys and men, women do not take part. Food and drink are brought to the site as every ritual includes the consumption of food shared in company. During the lighting of the bonfire, shouts go up to bring good luck and extol the praises of the fire.