Largs and Millport Weekly News: Original 1960s switchboard on display Original 1960s switchboard on display (Image: Newsquest)The News' senior reporter, Calum Corral, reflects on a recent trip exploring connections between Ayrshire and a picturesque town dubbed "the most Scottish town in Italy".

The township of Barga in Italy is branded the most Scottish town in Italy, but because of the strong links between Ayrshire and the picturesque town in the Tuscan mountains, it feels much more than that.

This is because Barga is the original home of the Nardini family of Largs, who have been major cafe and restaurant business owners in the town going back to the 1930s, as well as the local Castelvecchi family, Benedettis, Giorghettis, Macaris, it is quite incredible how this small town has had such a massive influence.

And I was fortunate enough to travel over with the Nardini family to Barga to experience the magical delights and hospitality of this enchanting place.

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Barga possesses family roots fo a large number of Scottish-Italian families hailing from the small town in Tuscany as many of these families run businesses such as ice cream parlours and fish and chip shops along the west coast of Scotland that we love to visit today.

It is a beautiful medieval town in the hills with winding pathways and steps heading all the way up the impressive Collegiate Church of San Cristoforo at the top which dates back to the ninth century. 

Largs and Millport Weekly News: Bagpipers helped launch Scottish festival in BargaBagpipers helped launch Scottish festival in Barga (Image: Newsquest)
At the entrance to the old town, it even comes complete with its own vintage British red telephone box which acts as a book exchange.

Walking through the town, it was incredible to meet familiar faces including Franco Martinelli, who grew up in Barga, and ran Gino's Fish and Chip shop in Largs for 20 years. 

Largs and Millport Weekly News: Calum joined Nardini family, including Maria Pia Nardini, second from right, for Robby and Grazia Nardini's golden wedding celebration Calum joined Nardini family, including Maria Pia Nardini, second from right, for Robby and Grazia Nardini's golden wedding celebration (Image: Newsquest)
Another well-kent face was Maria Pia Nardini, sister of twins Robby and Ricky, who has returned to live in Barga, and she worked in the world famous Nardini's Restaurant too for many years, launching the famous Christmas display which is so fondly remembered, and was then taken over by Grazia Nardini, as both managed to source festival delights from Italy which were impossible to get anywhere else - and a real treasure trove which really brought Christmas alive.


Pia's son Lorenzo is a well known chef at Scacciaguai restaurant in the heart of Barga's old town , while we stayed in the Hotel Le Pergola which looked out towards the Tuscan hills, which even had a uniquely preserved 1960s phone switchboard inside.

Largs and Millport Weekly News: It seemed everywhere you looked there was a local connection, with our hotel room window looking out on to the hills where the original Nardini family home of Sandrino stood.
Pietro Nardini first came to Scotland to set up a fish and chips shop in Paisley in the 1920s, which resulted in the plan to build the famous art deco cafe on Largs seafront in 1935, thanks to the vision and foresight of Pietro's sons Augusto, Nardino and Sandrino.

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It was a special homecoming for Robby Nardini and his wife Grazia too as they met up with family and friends to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary which is coming up next month (keep an eye on the Largs News for a special feature) - both Grazia and Robby first crossed paths in 1968 in Barga where love blossomed.

So the visit over to Barga came at an opportune moment as the town was also celebrating its famous Scottish festival which is a major cultural event in the town's calendar and sees a whole host of Caledonia inspired events take place across the weekend, with the skirl of the bagpipes never far away, a ceilidh, a fantastic food celebration, and a marvellous coming together of cultures.

You may remember the Barga football team visited Largs earlier this year and burst into song with 'Volare' in Ye Old Anchor Inn, and they were out in force to give us a warm Italian welcome, and had such a good time when they were in Scotland, are keen to return.

With Saltcoats already linked with Barga, I got the opportunity to speak to the Mayor of Barga, Caterina Campani about further link ups, and potential to make Barga an attractive location for people living in Ayrshire to visit and explore the many Scottish links and connections.

Largs and Millport Weekly News: Caterina Campani and Calum CorralCaterina Campani and Calum Corral (Image: Newsquest)

She said: "Not only is the Scottish festival in Barga is significant for our economy, it has been a marvellous link which has proved to be very popular. It is a huge attraction, and it is amazing to see the Nardini connection as well as Castelvecchi, Benedetti and Biagis.

"I think there are great opportunities to forge stronger links between Barga and the west coast of Scotland. We also have strong links with Glasgow, and I think there are big opportunities of building up stronger connections between the two districts, that is something I strongly approve of.

"Largs is also very beautiful."

As well as visiting Largs, Caterina has also visited South Ayrshire, and Glasgow, as well as Cechinni's in Ardrossan, and has already built up strong links and friendships which continue to develop.

Largs and Millport Weekly News: Calum met Franco Martinelli who ran Gino's Fryer for many years in LargsCalum met Franco Martinelli who ran Gino's Fryer for many years in Largs (Image: Newsquest)Largs and Millport Weekly News: Moorings Hotel in Barga has strong Largs connectionMoorings Hotel in Barga has strong Largs connection (Image: Newsquest)

In 1924 the Castelvecchi family commissioned the construction of an impressive villa as a holiday home which boasted marble staircases, wrought iron railings, high quality wood fittings, glass chandeliers, with Art Deco Italian tradition,

Beatrice Salvi, the great grand-daughter of Leonello, one of the founders of The Moorings restaurant and ballroom in Largs in 1936, manages Villa Moorings, that she has turned it into an exquisite hotel.

Our memorable trip to Barga included  a visit into the mountains where we enjoyed a nine course Italian meal with Tapas style portions, complete with three bottles of wine, coming in at only £30 each, at the Ristorante Panoramico Case Vacanza, which really had to be seen to be believed.

The rest of our adventure was completed with a visit to the beautiful coastline at Viareggio, staying at the Hotel Sole E Mare, which was conveniently right next to the shore, and then a trip to Pisa and its famous leaning tower.

And there was no doubting that our trip to the Tuscan region was a towering success, with new friendships, stronger ties, and a magical insight into Barga's amazing history and how it made Largs, and Ayrshire, so famous today for its ice cream parlours, cafes, and restaurants. Viva Italia! 

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