For one precious week, I was a part of the life of a charming village called Coreglia Antelminelli, on top of a mountain in Tuscany. Surrounded by the Apennine mountains, Coreglia Antelminelli has, for over a thousand years, overlooked the Serchio valley from a cliff that turns pink at sunset, in the shadow of a bell tower that reaches toward the clouds.
“Corrilia” is a late Latin word that means “place with traffic, passing-through place,” and “Antelminelli” is the name of the family that inherited control over the village and surrounding area in 1862. It’s not hard to imagine what it was like when the fortress was first built…most likely the same cobblestone foot paths, the houses built into the side of the mountain, the bells tolling every hour, and, from every vantage point, the magnificent view.
The locals gather at the cafe’ in the piazza, where Deborah serves up espresso in the morning, and wine in the afternoon. Thomaso, a retired policeman, chain smokes and holds court.
Up the hill, Luccia and her mother, Toscana, sell bread at the little shop that is only open in the morning. Every day Toscana tells me a story, not noticing that, after the first two sentences, I have no idea what she is saying. (I smile and nod and say, “bene, bene!”)
The Museo Della Figurina di Gesso, the museum of plaster figures that the town is famous for, was opened just for me. I pass the statue commemorating this claim to fame each time I go to my cottage, so I was curious to learn more about the history.
Without a word of English, Foscolo Vanni manages to give me not only an informative tour, but a demonstration of his plaster casting technique in the basement workshop of the museum. He has been working there since he was a teenager, and still makes souvenirs that sit in every shop window in town.
Next door to my cottage is Ristorante L’Achille, which is really more like eating at your neighbor’s house than at a restaurant. Justina serves me whatever she is cooking for her family that evening, her son helping out between frequent mobile phone calls. An elderly woman named Francesca sits at the table in the corner eating the same thing every night, and feeding crumbs to her little white dog, Romani, who waits patiently at her feet.
There’s a kitten climbing through a gate, children blowing bubbles, a parakeet in a pink cage hanging outside a door, a faucet that looks like a dragon, Madonnas in walls, and a pear tree hanging over the side of the mountain. The treasures of a village where life is beautifully simple.
No one seems to mind the blonde stranger wandering the streets in awe and delight.