It is time to meet some of the locals, and our first guest is Francesco Bola from Pontremoli, who runs Turismo in Lunigiana.
Francesco offers a variety of different excursions in Lunigiana, and his knowledge of the area is extensive. He can guide you around the castles, villages and churches of Lunigiana, and take you to places not always open to the public. He can fill you in on the baroque architecture and old palazzi in Pontremoli, and can introduce you to each stele in the stele statue museum. He can walk you along the old pilgrim route – the Via Francigena, take you on museum tours, help you explore the marble mines of Cararra, and let you experience Lunigiana’s traditional foods.
Francesco can arrange personalised itineraries and group tours according to your requirements. He regularly takes groups of school children around Lunigiana. In fact, there is not much he can’t organise given enough time!
Francesco has very kindly agreed to answer some questions for Ciao Lunigiana to give us some insight into what it takes to be a tour guide in Lunigiana.
Hi Francesco, do tell us, what made you become a tour guide in the first place?
There are many reasons why I decided to become a tour guide. The main reason is my great love of history and of art, combined with a love of the region where I was born and grew up. There are also other reasons, some linked to personal choices I have made and others due to lucky coincidences.
Why did you decide to be a tour guide in Lunigiana and not one of the busy tourist destinations?
I originally started work as a tour guide in Parma, a city rich in art with major masterpieces in the Galleria Nazionale. I decided to return to Lunigiana to help develop the tourism industry and to put together itineraries that would help people discover this beautiful region, which is still so little known. A big challenge, I know.
Becoming a tour guide is a big city is very hard, but perhaps in the future I might have to try it if things don’t work out in Lunigiana.
What types of tours do you offer?
I offer guided tours of Lunigiana for groups. I take them to castles, churches and medieval villages. I also do guided tours to private palazzi, the marble quarries of Carrara and Colonnata, and along the pilgrim route, the Via Francigena. I run gastronomy tours that include tasting the best local produce from Lunigiana and visits to farms. I organise customised tours to suit the specific interests of clients, or should I say, my guests!
Tell me, how does one become a tour guide?
There are several ways you can become a tour guide in Italy. You must either have an arts degree or a degree in languages, or you can attend a special training course, although it is hard to get a place. When you have completed your degree or the special course, you then have to sit a very difficult examination.
I have a degree in the History of Medieval Art and am qualified to be a manager of a museum, a specialised tour guide in the Province of Massa Carrara, and to lead tours throughout Italy.
Are your tours only for Italians?
At the moment, most of my guests are Italian. My English is a bit basic, but if there are brave souls who don’t mind that, I am happy to accompany them.
Which of your tours is the most popular?
This year, I am seeing a lot of demand for two tours. The churches and castles tour of Lunigiana that visits Pontremoli, Filattiera, Malgrate and Bagnone is very popular, as is the tour of the marble quarries of Carrara.
Do you have a favourite tour?
There are two tours that I really like, although they are very different from each other. I love exploring the medieval pilgrim route, the Via Francigena because, when studying for my history of art degree, my speciality was the Middle Ages, the time when the Via Francigena was prominent. My other favourite is the tour of the private palazzi in Pontremoli, which enables my guests to discover the wonders of these marvellous baroque mansions that are normally closed to the public.
Will you be offering any new tours this year?
In the autumn, I would love to do a tour dedicated to the local produce of Lunigiana. We would visit artisan food producers and local farms, with tastings of salumi, cheese and the typical food of Lunigiana. We would also investigate olive oil being pressed and chestnut flour being milled. Organising a wine tour of Lunigiana would also be fun.
How do you see the tour business developing in Lunigiana?
Lunigiana has great potential and the region is very appealing to tourists. Unfortunately, the local infrastructure and support is still inadequate. To make a living from tourism in this region, particularly when one focuses on the cultural aspects, is not easy, despite the fact that Tuscany and Italy are famous around the world. There is much room for improvement, but that is the gamble we take!
In the future, I see Lunigiana becoming a great destination. It is beautiful and peaceful, and offers tremendous value for money. It is also has easy access to nearby attractions such as Lucca, the marble quarries of Carrara, the Cinque Terre, and the Levante area of Liguria.
Finally, would you mind telling us a little bit about yourself
I am 30 years old, married and have two small children aged four and one. I live in the centre of Pontremoli, where I was born and where I grew up. In my spare time, which is limited, I enjoy sport, especially playing football with my friends. I also spend time working as a volunteer and, of course, I love travelling, both locally and abroad, to discover new places, learn more about history, and to discover new ideas. I love to visit the great cities of art and their museums, but I also like to walk in the mountains, where it is more peaceful.
I usually spend holidays with my family in the Maremma, or in London where by great-grandparents opened an Italian restaurant in the West End. Despite visiting London often, I did not learn English as a child so when I have some free time, I study to improve my English!
Thank you Francesco, that was fascinating. I know there are many foreigners like me, who love Lunigiana, so it is really interesting to hear how the tourism industry is developing. And we wish you the very best in developing your tour guide business.Francesco Bola Turismo in Lunigiana Via Pietro Bologna 4 – 54027 – Pontremoli (MS) Cell. (+39) 328.3120525 firstname.lastname@example.org www.turismoinlunigiana.it