Redheads and fish and chips – why I felt at home in Barga

February 22, 2010

Barga, a beguiling 10th century hilltop town, sits on the edge of Tuscany’s Garfagnana region, nestled beneath the towering peaks of the Apuan Alps and the Apennines. It’s a champion of ‘slow food’ – think locally grown porcini mushrooms, pecorino cheeses, sublime chestnut-inspired desserts, indulgent black truffles and leisurely lunches – but it sticks in my mind for an entirely different reason. Walking the sleepy, cobbled backstreets of this medieval town, I remember noticing a disproportionate number of fellow redheads. On further investigation, it would seem that Barga has very close ties with somewhere much closer to home…West Scotland to be precise. This Tuscan gem has a Scottish legacy that dates back to the 19th century when many of its inhabitants migrated to Scotland to escape poverty, often opening up ice cream and fish and chip shops. Nowadays, the flow of people has reversed and the town is home to a number of Scots. Barga even celebrates its strong ties with Scotland with La Sagra Del Pesce e Patate – the Fish ‘n’ Chip Festival which is held every August. Paisley singer-songwriter Paolo Nutini is also rumoured to appear at this sleepy town’s modest annual jazz festival – now I know why. Sarah Belcher