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Culture and Territory in Lunigiana

 

 

CULTURE AND TERRITORY IN LUNIGIANA

An astonishing journey between Tuscany and Liguria

 

 

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© Copyright 2017 – Fondazione Italiana Accenture | Trame di Lunigiana

 

 

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This book may not be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission from the author, except for brief quotations embodied in reviews. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. All characters and storylines are the property of the author and your support and respect is appreciated.

 

 

Texts by: Trame di Lunigiana

Editing by: Andrea Bettinotti, Massimo Conti

 

Cover by: Massimo Conti

 

 

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

 

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only.

This free eBook may be given away to other people.

If you would like to share this book with another person, feel free to do so.

Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

INDEX

 

CULTURE AND TERRITORY IN LUNIGIANA

 

Apuan Alps Regional Park

Love for flavour

Tailored for family

Body and Soul

History and traditions

Statue Stele Lunigianesi Museum

The Equi Caves

Printing Museum

Campocecina Meadows

Pisciarotta Waterfall

Farfarà Waterfall

Green Lake

Giaredo Gorges

Frignoli Botanic Garden

The Academy of Fine Arts

Malaspina Castle in Carrara

Marble Museum

Moneta Castle

Toponyms

Piazza Alberica

Piazza del Duomo

Piazza delle Erbe

Sant’Andrea Cathedral

Madonna del Mirteto Sanctuary

Marmifera Railway

Cesare Vico Ludovici Public Library

Museum of San Caprasio

Natural Science Museum of Lunigiana

Capuchin Convent in Pontremoli

La Rosa Theater

Ponticello

 

 

VILLAGES

Ameglia

Arcola

Aulla

Bagnone

Bibola

Bocca di Magra

Borgo del Ponte

Caprigliola

Caprio

Castelnuovo Magra

Castevoli

Colonnata

Comano

Fivizzano

Fosdinovo

Gragnola

Groppoli

Lerici

Licciana Nardi

Lusuolo

Malgrate

Montemarcello

Montereggio

Mulazzo

Nicola

Ortonovo

Pallerone

Podenzana

Pontremoli

Ponzanello

Ponzano

Quercia

Regnano

San Terenzo

S. Stefano di Magra

Sarzana

Sassalbo

Tellaro

Tendola

Torano

Treschietto

Vezzano Ligure

Villafranca

Vinca

Zeri

 

 

CASTLES IN LUNIGIANA

 

Aghinolfi Castle

Ameglia Castle

Arcola Castle

Bastia Castle

Brunella Castle

Vescovi di Luni Castle

Castevoli Castle

Comano Castle

Dell’Aquila Castle

Filattiera Castle

Firmafede Fortress

Fosdinovo Castle

Lerici Castle

Malaspina Massa’s Castle

Malgrate Castle

Monti di Licciana Castle

Piagnaro Castle Pontremoli

Podenzana Castle

Pontebosio Castle

San Terenzo Castle

Sarzanello Fortress

Verrucola Castle

Virgoletta Castle

 

 

E AND SEA IN LIGURIA

 

Vezzano Ligure’s Pentagonal Tower

Botanical Garden of Montemarcello

Barbazzano ruins

Blue Bay

Bocca di Magra Roman Villa

Fiascherino Beaches and Cliffs

Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto Islands

The Magra River

The Southernmost Magra River Protected Area

Venere Azzurra

Luni

Luni’s Amphiteater

Luni’s Museum

The Gulf of Poets

San Rocco’s Tower and Oratory

Punta Corvo

 

 

TYPICAL PRODUCTS

Antica Pasticceria degli Svizzeri

Birra del Moro Brewery

Cantine Belmesseri

Cantine Lunae

 

CULTURE AND TERRITORY IN LUNIGIANA

Apuan Alps Regional Park

Even if Lunigiana isn’t a huge region, its territory is comprised into several parks, among which there’s the Apuan Alps Regional Park, an important institution working fot the protection and promotion of the Apuan natural landscape, a unique territory characterized by one of the most peculiar marbles in the world.

The park was founded in 1985 and includes the provinces of Massa Carrara and Lucca from Lunigiana to the nearby Garfagnana. In its severe, yet green territory have found shelter many endangered species as the royal eagle, the wild mouflon, the european wolf, the biancone and the gracchio, a particular species of alpine chough. The flora is extremely diverse, from a more mediterranean vegetation on the seaside, to a more alpine one in the interior.

The Apuan Alps are one speleologists’ heaven: with hundreds of caves to explore but they do also are one incredible breathtaking set in which nature and humankind have danced together around the white marble for centuries.

The main visit center is situated in Equi Terme where you’ll also find the Apuan Geo Lab Museum so to better discover this unique enviroment.

 

 

Love for flavour

There are more gastronomic clans in Lunigiana than there were members of Italy’s coalition government in the 1980s, and even more than all its castles and villages put together. There is no one way to make a torta d’erbi (savory vegetable pie), or at least there is no agreement on how it should be cooked or what it should be filled with. In Filattiera they call it la torta che piscia (the pie that pees) because it’s so full of olive oil; in Bagnone they cook the vegetables in water; in Pontremoli they leave them to wilt under salt. Not to mention the controversy over other local dishes such as the spongata or the testaroli

But isn’t this Italy’s treasure? Aren’t these countless culinary areas what make Italy’s cuisine so unique, along with the conversation you can enjoy at the table?

This is Lunigiana, a borderland where the traditions of Liguria meet those of Emilia and Tuscany, where the mountain pastures provide rare varieties of aromatic herbs and the fields on the valley floor are fertile with orchards, vineyards, and vegetable gardens that tempt both us and the bees. In this territory, where traditions date back thousands of years, where the poverty of the past centuries sharpened cooks’ wits, and where today’s rediscovery of local traditions has revived seed and grape varieties, as well as farming and breeding techniques that had almost been abandoned: here, cooking is in excellent health. Simple but tasty, it boasts honey, DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) chestnut flour and olive oil, DOC (Controlled Designation of Origin) wines, local varieties of apples and plums, delicate meats and excellent cheeses. There is an enogastronomic heritage – made up of products, but most of all of producers – to get to know and love in Lunigiana.

 

 

Tailored For Family

To choose a family destination is no easy task: nature, art, culture, food, mystery, sport, adventure, discovery, relax… the ideal destination for a family vacation has a combination of all of it, and maybe a little bit more. And that’s what make Lunigiana ‘tailored for family’.

From the discovery of prehistoric traces in the Grotte di Equi to the spooky encounters with the Castles’ ghosts and the fascinating legends sprouting from this land, Lunigiana is able to get to kids’ and adults’ imagination allowing them to get lost into its narrow streets chasing the werewolf of Pontremoli or the annoying buffardelli spirits.

You can’t really discover Lunigiana without entering its Castles – or sometimes what remains of them – : their walls bear tales of battles, they tell the stories of young lovers and bloody aristocrats, they are the perfect setting for historical reenactments and do host educational/adventurous workshops for all ages.

But Lunigiana is first and foremost nature: breathtaking landscapes, parks to explore and trees to climb.

 

 

Body and Soul

 

It is said that to find oneself, it is necessary to find the right balance between body and soul. Some do take up on Faith, others use meditation or outdoor activities, some do climb mountains, others get lost in the sea’s thin blue line; and if the Romans used to say [_mens sana in corpore sano _] - healty mind in healthy body -, what does really matter to us is to be able to get in touch with those elements capable to put ourselves at ease, even if for just one intense moment, one intense week-end.

Body and Soul could mean to hike over the top of the Sagro Mountain to witness the first lights of dawn coming over the Apuane Alps and the Appennines and spraying the sea underneath with colors, it could mean to walk through the pilgrims’ ancient routes onto Sigerico’s footseps along the Via Francigena, it could mean to enter a Thirteenth Century Parish or venture into the woods towards a hidden hermitage. In Lungiana, Body and Soul means to be able to slow down the pace, dive into thermal waters and set the mind at ease.

And this is what we want to share with you.

 

 

History And Traditions

The first traces of humans in Lunigiana date back to the Paleolithic Age, while the Bronze Age marked the first Stele Statues, anthropomorphic sculptures whose iconography is found everywhere in this area, even on supermarket and road signs, but that we know almost nothing about. 

The Apuan Ligurian people resisted against the Romans for eighty years, but finally fell. In 177 BC the Romans founded the colony of Luni, conquering the land, marble and sea of Lunigiana. The spread of Christianity dates back to the Apostolic Age, but this territoryís pagan roots must have been very deep if the Longobards of the 5th and 6th Century AD were still fighting its idols.

The defeat of the Longobards by Charlemagne brought the investiture of the Obertenghi as feudal lords. The Malaspina that descended from them were the (almost) undisputed lords of Lunigiana until Napoleon, despite various troubles over the centuries: internal divisions between the two branches of the Malaspina family, the Spino Fiorito and the Spino Secco; the division of the territory into hundreds of small feuds; the rivalry with the Bishops of Luni, with whom they signed a peace treaty initialized by Dante Alighieri in Castelnuovo Magra in 1306; and the constant threats by the surrounding powers who took turns conquered its territories, including Florence, Genoa, Parma, Lucca and Milan. The Via Francigena and the many other roads that crossed it made it an enticing conquest.

In 1844, after the Napoleonic era, there were three Lunigianas: one assigned to the Duchy of Parma, with Pontremoli and Bagnone; one under the Duchy of Modena, with Fivizzano, Aulla, Licciana, Massa and Carrara; and one consigned to the Kingdom of Sardinia, with Sarzana, La Spezia and Val di Vara. Its current borders with Tuscany, Liguria and Emilia do not reflect this territoryís complexity and cultural hybridization.

Traces remain of its strategic importance until the 1900s, when it was the scene of new fights of resistance [Link to Linea Gotica]. Its vestiges remain in the Cisa Pass, with its ancient road that sees many motorcycles today, but that was once an economic and trade hub for the entire peninsula.  

On the great stage of history, Lunigiana has witnessed the stories of its lords and vassals, its millers and farmers, its peddlers and marble workers, its most enlightened people and its mysteries that still linger, between legend and popular tales.

 

 

Statue Stele Lunigianesi Museum

 

The word unknown is frequently associated to the town of Pontremoli and to its castle, usually when talking about myths and legends; altough there’s one topic for which the word unknown does not rhymes with mistery and thats’s when talking about the people of stone ‘living’ inside the Piagnaro Castle.

They are the Stelae Statues, anthropomorphic paleoarcheological relics which origins are still partially unbeknownst. Their history goes back thousands of years ago and some of the most ancient ones date back to the bronze age – between the 3rd and 1st millennium b.C. These stelae are unique in the world.

How do they look like? Of which material are made? What are they trying to tell us? They are anthropomorphic figures made of standstone; the human body is stylised distinguishing the masculine and the feminine with weapons the first and breasts the latter while others are genderless; still is not clear wether if they do represent divinities, warriors or ‘simply’ human beings. 

The first stelae was found in 1827 in Val di Vara and since then, dozens have been found. The Museum in Pontremoli – which have been renovated in 2015 – hosts the greatest collection of Stelae and while visiting it, it is not possible not the be mesmetized by their enigma and beauty.

 

 

The Equi Caves

 

There is a whole hidden world in Lunigiana, a wonderland of[* wells, tunnels, underground lakes*] and caves filled with stalactites and stalagmites, a dimension that knows no master except the sheer force of nature.  We’re talking about the Equi caves are a one-of-a-kind sight to behold: more than one thousand meters of holes and karst tunnels, history literally reverberates around these charming underground paths. 

Although it is proven by the many artifacts unearthed in the cave that these spaces have always been frequented by humans, their modern history started in the year ’700 when one of its superficial cavities was first “discovered” and called La Buca (The Hole). The first official cave explorations date back to the mid-twentieth century and even today their meanders are a continuous source of surprises.

When in Lunigiana, the Grotte di Equi are an absolute must: surrounded by lush vegetation and stunning rocky cliffs, the caves are located near the eponymous medieval village.

The cave’s location offers numerous tour options that go from the karst springs of the Buca, nicknamed the the giants’ mufflers and created by the erosion of water and rocks, to the prehistoric Tecchia, where numerous artifacts have been found, along with evident signs that record the passage of primitive men and animals that are now extinct. The Tecchia explorations have unearthed the bones of the dreaded “Ursus spelaeus” cave bear and we know for sure that the protruding rocks gave shelter to men of all eras thanks to the relics found on site: from the Neanderthal man to the populations of the copper and bronze ages, up to medieval times in which the cave was used as base for the construction of a sanctuary. All these historical transitions are explained in the archaeological exhibition set up inside the natural location.

Visiting the Grotte di Equi doesn’t only involve going underground, quite the contrary. To reach the various destinations it is necessary to walk trails immersed in nature and encounter jutting rock formations and breathtaking views such as the one that can be seen at the very top of the path that leads to the Tecchia’s entrance.

Today, it is possible to visit the site accompained by the park guides only and if you have kids the caves are the stimulating backdrop of engaging educational activities. In the village of Equi, the innovative ApuanGeoLab is definitely worth a visit: a veritable interactive workshop where both children and adults are invited to observe and experiment the mysterious earth sciences. Those who visit this area during the Christmas holidays will be greeted with yet another surprise: a charming nativity scene is staged inside the historic centre’s cellars, all furnished as artisan, carpenter and shepherds’ workshops. 

 

 

Printing Museum

 

Once Fivizzano was faous as the town of books and printing and today, remembering its tradition, it hosts the Printing Museum Jacopo Bononi.

Long are gone the days in which lunigianese merchants travelled all over the Country and Europe with huge baskets filled with books. When Gutenberg’s invention was spreading around the world, the small town of Fivizzano palyed a major role into that cultural revolution. How? contributing to a punctual distribution of books!

Today that story is told by the Printing Museum: it takes the visitor in a voyage into the evolution of printing and written communication, it shows how it did happen that in Fivizzano printers started to work eleven years prior to those in Vienna and nine to those in London. It is possible to observe the first ever typographical characters used by Jacopo da Fivizzano in between 1470 and 1474, as well as a prototype of the first typing machine inventend in 1802…

 

 

Campocecina Meadows

 

Everybody in Lungiana has spent at least a few hours at Campocecina. Thirty minutes far from Carrara, in the heart of the Apuan Alps Park, Campocecina is a beloved destination for a daily trip to the country, one of Italians’ favorite Easter or Mayday diversions.

Campocecina is above all the site where many hiking trails begin or end: the CAI Carrara Hut [Rifugio Carrara] is the starting point of the easy Trail 173 that crosses a beautiful green field and continues with a pleasant walk through a beech wood up toward the Monte Borla. It takes around two hours from the same lodge to get to the Monte Sagro: the Alpin landscape is projected into the Tyrrhenian Sea, the fields are spectacular during Spring – when the rare Centaurea Montis Borlae blossoms – and the beech wood is enchanting in Autumn. To this end, the Monte Berlino ring is the perfect trail – easy enough for children as well – to get to know the autochthon flora and wildlife.

At the foot of Monte Sagro – 1300 metres above sea level – the Campocecina meadows are a beloved destinations for day hikes and pic-nics. The view over the quarry and the Carrara valley is breath-taking.

 

 

Pisciarotta Waterfall

 

Carved into the candstone, not far from Pontremoli and at about 700 meters above sea level, there’s the perfect place for a refreshig afternoon surrounded by nature: it the Pisciarotta “the broken piss” waterfall. With its 70 meters dive, this waterfall creates a unique spot into the woods.

To get there from Pontremoli, you’ll have to get to the Pracchiola hamlet along the SP42 road; once there, you’ll have to leave teh car and walk through the village, after the church the road will get smaller and smaller and you’ll find a river on your left, after about 30 minutes walk you’ll get to the waterfall. The right place for an afternoon out and an energizing bath!

 

 

Logarghena Meadows

 

Known as destination for excursions, one-night campings, picnics and barbeques, the Logarghena Meadows are huge fields opening just under the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines at 1000 meters a.s.l. 

As it would be easy to imagine, the best moment to spend a day on the meadows, would be the Spring and Early Summer, when the sun warms them and the flowers, especially daffodils, bloom. And it is to the jonquils (yellow daffodils) that an event is dedicated to each first Sunday of May.

Once, these meadows were almost entirely used as mountain pastures and up until today is not rare to encounter some flocks, even if there are not as many animals as there used to be.

The Logarghena meadows are cut by many trails heading towards the Apennines and especially the nearby Orsaro and Marmagna mountains and the Saint Lake. These fields do also are on the way for all those trekkers heading to the Rifugio Mattei, the Capanna Tifoni and the Rifugio Mariotti.To get there, you can follow the trail coming up from Pontremoli and passing by Arzenigio, or you could arrive by car passing through Serravalle.

To spend a day (or even just some hours) at the Prati di Logarghena with their magnificent view is definitely something to be done!

 

 

Farfarà Waterfall

 

Along the Verde river, at an altitude of about 1050 meters above sea level, it is possible to admire the waterfall of Farfarà, a natural jump of 45 meters with really striking features. Let cool from the fresh stream of pure water during sultry summer day, enjoy the natural surroundings to spend some time to relax, lie down and let yourself be kissed by the sun that bathes the ancient woods that you will be around.

To reach it from Pontremoli, you’ll have to take the provincial road that runs through Casa Corvi and the villages in the Verde river valley towards Cervara. Once there, you’ll walk towards the Verde Lake along a dirt road; at the lake the path gets narrower, still 1 km of trail leading to the waterfall.

 

 

Green Lake

 

All the children of Pontremoli are familiar with the beautiful Green Lake near Cervara; and they do know it thanks to the event of the Pierini Pescatori held each year at the lake and dedicated to the joy of fishing for the youngsters.

The lake owes its name to the rich lacustrine vegetation that grows at its bottom; it is urrounded by meadows as green as its waters and it surely is the perfect location for a day out with friends, children or for a bbq. For all those who do love fishing here lives the fario trout, the lake is a fishing reservation and it is possible to fish here with the Società Sportiva Mario Benelli.

To get to the lake you’ll have to pass by the suburb of Cervara, and at the end of the village continue on foot a dirt-road. It won’t take long! 

 

 

Giaredo Gorges

 

Breathtaking by nature, enthralling by defintion, these are the [Stretti di Giaredo *]- the Giaredo Gorge – one of Lunigiana must-see attractions: impressive *canyons cut in the stone by the Gordana river, a secluded place in which the combination of colors, cold waters and vertical walls leaves speechless.

To visit it get in the modd for canyoning. You’d have to walk – and sometimes swim – through gorges, springs and small lakes, and the more you go up, the more impressive the high walls and the colors get.

The best way to discover the Gorges is to go with local guides, but it is aslo possible to venture there alone (beware of the icy water!). To do so you should get towards Zeri to Cavezzana Gordana, there you’ll wind a descending dirt-road that will take you to the start of the pathway.

For all the outdoor and nature lovers, the Giaredo Gorges definitely are something to experience!

 

 

Frignoli Botanic Garden

 

On the road from Fivizzano to the Cerreto Pass, you’ll meet I Frignoli Botanical Garden, a park for the biodeversity of the Apennines and Apuan Alps natural heritage.

The botanical garden is set where once was a State Forestry Corps flora nursery and in the past fifteen years (since 2000) it has been revived thanks the Comunità Montana della Lunigiana and Legambiente Lunigiana.

Visiting the park you’ll see that different enviroments have been reconstructed and within few hudreds of meters you’ll be able to encounter all the different soils and plants that characterize the lunigianese alpine enviroment.  Here you’ll find several paths and you’ll be able to engage in beautiful excursions on the [_Sentiero Natura delle Cinque Foreste _]- the five forests natural trail – and if you’d like to spend some more time in the area, I Frignoli botanical garden do have a confortable guest house.

 

 

The Academy of Fine Arts

 

The Academy of Fine Arts is one of Carrara’s most renowned symbols; the pulsating artistic and cultural heart of the city is located in one of its most ancient and prestigious buildings. Founded at the end of the 1700s with the clear intent of encouraging the craft and trade of marble, the school, among the most ancient in Europe, was mostly dedicated to architecture and sculpture. 

In order to host the lessons and the numerous students from all over Italy and abroad, the so-called Red Palace was built – the building now hosts the City Library but in 1810 the Accademia was moved into the newly restored Malaspima Castle. Many of the artists that came to Carrara searching for the perfect block of marble for their artwork donated their preliminary molds and plaster works to the school’s plaster cast gallery.

Antonio Canova, Lorenzo Bartolini and Bertel Thorwaldsen are a few of the most renowned artists that frequented the Academy, but some of the students went on to becoming teachers and gave their own personal contribution to the school’s archive, a massive collection of sculptures that keeps track of how taste and styles have evolved throughout the last two centuries.

The archaeological collection is also of a certain interest: it displays Roman works found near Luni. One of the most interesting finds is the Roman shrine of Fanti Scritti, a bas-relief of the third century AD removed from the Fanti Scritti quarry that depicts three young boys, Hercules with Zeus and Dionysus, surrounded by a tangle of carved signatures, kind of like our contemporary tags, of artists such as Giambologna and Canova, plus many more that left their mark over the centuries.

The Academy still is Carrara’s cultural hotbed and its worldwide ambassador, it has managed to maintain its strong bond with the past but at the same time it is projected towards the future. The school offers courses in graphic design, digital arts and robotic science, trying to keep up with the ever-evolving sculptural discipline and the new uses of marble in art.

 

 

Malaspina Castle in Carrara

 

In 1861, the Kingdom of Italy announced the Malaspina Castle as the new site of the Reale Accademia di Belle Arti (Royal Academy of Fine Arts) of Carrara, reversing the fate of the building that just a few years before, during the years of the Restoration, had held citizens in lazar houses and prisons. The Academy was instituted by Elisa Baiocchi, the sister of Bonaparte and the Duchess of Lucca and Massa, in 1806. 

Before revisiting its origins, we should recall the renovations it underwent during the 1900s, following the earthquake in 1920, when a reconstructive restoration – much in style at the time – brought the Medieval fortress back to life. This was followed in the 1950s with the rebuilding of the Palace of the Principe dei Cybo, which was raised by one floor, distorting its perspective relations with the nearby castle.  

If we move beyond its recent history in search of official news of its foundation, we must go back to 1187, when Malaspina Castle – which we find traces of as Rocha de Cararia – was transferred to the Marquis of Malaspina by the San Colombano di Bobbio Monastery. The fortress was expanded various times: by Guglielmo di Massa-Corsica-Cagliari, a blood relative of the Malaspinas, in the 13th Century; by the Campofregoso family of Genoa in the 15th Century; and again, a few decades later, by Jacopo Malaspina of the Spino Fiorito di Fosdinovo branch, who chose it as his residence.

The Palace next to it, with its clear Renaissance structure, was built by Ricciarda, the last of the Malaspina Marquis and the second bride of the noble Lorenzo Cybo from Genoa. A descendant of the illustrious pontiffs Leone X Medici and Innocenzo VIII Cybo, Lorenzo built un picciolo ma vago palagio iusta la rocha de Carraria (roughly, ‘a small but indistinct lawful palace on the rock of Carrara’), which was completed in 1557 by Alberico I Cybo-Malaspina, the new Marquis of Massa and Prince of Carrara.

Today, in addition to the Academy , the Castle houses a library – which preserves two original editions of the Encyclopédie in its beautiful Sala delle Colonne – as well as Italy’s most exhaustive marble museum in the Sala dei Nobili (Noble Hall), with a collection of plaster works and sculptures and a number of local antique archives. 

 

 

Marble Museum

 

In order to fully appreciate the city of marble, its monuments and its impressive quarries that looks into the pure heart of the mountains, a visit to the Marble Museum of Carrarais much needed. Not only it is a collection of sculptures and marble-works spanning two millennia, but it is a real journey through the history, technology and culture related to marble, to its extraction, its processing and transformation into works of art, decorations and much more, some of which artifacts have become the very symbol of the Italian art worldwide.

Created in 1982 on a local initiative, the museum was set in the pavilions of the International Marble and Machinery in Viale XX Settembre so to represent the whole marble industry which for centuries have been the main activity and source of wealth for the entire city of Carrara.

The museum traces the history of sculpture: from the Roman times with artifacts from ancient quarries and from the area of Luni, to the medieval era with its portraits and marble reliefs of the Cathedral of Carrara, up until today, with works of contemporary artists.

The exhibition also shows an interesting collection of marbles from all over the world  - the most extensive and important hall of marbles in Italy - in which, thanks to more than 300 sample, visitors can see the colors, shades and grains that make each piece unique, valuable and fascinating.

But perhaps, the most interesting and original part of the museum, is a show about the evolution of the techniques, machines and tools for the marble extraction and processing. From relics found in ancient Roman quarries, to modern tools, always stating that in the end, the history of marble is tale of men of toil and sweat, is a history made of many stories, made of victories and tragedies, made of the whole Carrara community throughout the centuries.

 

 

Moneta Castle

 

It is an arduous climb up the hills between Carrara and Ortonovo, through chestnut forests, vineyards and olive groves, until you reach the remains of Moneta Castle. Its origins date back to Roman times, when it was agricultural land with a rustic farmhouse. The Byzantines transformed it into a castrum in the 6th Century, and it became a defensive fortress in the Middle Ages. Abandoned in the 1600s following the dismantling of its military structures, it was seriously damaged by an earthquake in 1920 and by bombing during World War II. The total absence of works to preserve it have brought a slow but relentless process of deterioration full circle, and today what remains of the Castle’s history is a mound of poor ruins. But these ruins are still fascinating, and make Moneta seem as if it were suspended in time, an enchanting stop on your journey through time in Lunigiana.

 

 

Toponyms

 

The origins of the castle’s name have been lost between history and legend. It may derive from the Gens Munatia documented in Luni and in Lunigiana, or from Ars munita, meaning fortified building. However, as we would like to think, it could also be linked to the cult of the goddess Juno Moneta, a deity whose counsel and teachings the population of Carrara was particularly devoted to, and to whom they asked protection from the dangers of quarrying and transporting marble. 

The name Fossola, a small hamlet further down the valley from Moneta, also has an interesting etymology: in 1600, when the population began to emigrate towards the valley to cultivate the fields along the torrent, which is also called [_ fosso -  ]moat, it seems plausible that when asked [“dov t’ sta’?” (“where are you?”)_], the person who had moved would respond “a sto’ ntl Foss là” (“I’m in that moat down there”), thus generating the name that is still used today for this area. 

 

 

Piazza Alberica

 

By definition, a square has always been the throbbing heart of a city, the place of encounters of social interest and community life, the ideal space to set up markets, organize celebrations, events and concerts. In Carrara this space is, and has always been, Piazza Alberica.

In the old times the cattle market was held here, but in the second half of 16th Century, when the prince Alberico I Cybo Malaspina expanded the city, built new walls and completely redesigned the urban structure of Carrara, this piazza was transformed in the most important square in town. To him the square owes its name Alberica and its history. Here were built the elegant houses of the new bourgeoisie, with porches on the ground floor and rich sculptural decorations on the walls. 

Today teh piazza hosts most fashionable shops in town, fine restaurants, wine bars with live music and cafés. This is the heart of the city cultural life: festivals and cultural events such as “Music and Sounds of the World”, “Convivere” and “Marble Week” find in Piazza Alberica the space to accommodate thousands of visitors and a striking scenery in which to

create unforgettable performances.

 

 

Piazza del Duomo

 

The [Piazza del Duomo *]of Carrara seems definitely small and unusual, for hosting a Cathedral. It seems too narrow to accommodate the magnificence of this *marble architecture and too short to not allow you to observe its rich facade of the distance you would think necessary. Yet after the first bewilderment you realize that this place has in it a charm incomprehensible, perhaps because of its ability to induce you to different conclusions, focusing your attention on the details rather than the whole.

Watch the Duomo, its decoration, its mysterious bestiary and you realize that its position has generated in the square three distinct spaces: the one in front of the facade, more intimate and meditative, almost an invitation to individual introspection, the side where it opens the main door to the church and therefore has a religious service for the entire population, and the one behind it, watching the apse, the bell tower and the old cemetery with a more public value.

At the center of the square stands the [*Fontana del Gigante *]with its peculiar history. It was realized in 1563 by sculptor Baccio Bandinelli who was working on it the Republic of Genoa, but it remained instead in Carrara unfinished, since, once received the payment, the artist interrupted the work and fled to avoid ‘arrest.

But the history of the square is linked to the name of an artist of a very different caliber! Right here stands Casa Pelliccia, the place where Michelangelo was a frequent guest during his travels to Carrara to personally choose the marble blocks from which would generate its magnificent sculptures. And like every town square in importance, even here we can find important traces of daily life that took place at that time. In the facade of a building in front of the Neptune, is in fact the little bas-relief of Modesty, a figure in the act to cover her pubis, which indicated the place where they were publicly exposed adulterous women. Or even a hook in wrought iron, beside the banner of the notary Negroni, to which was affixed a notice board with the sentences imposed by the courts and from which was generated the phrase “ essr mis al Ganc’ dl’Nègroni” intended as a cause for ridicule and shame.

Another story in pictures and symbols, then, that joins the much more complex and mysterious that offers you the Duomo, but that shows you how the understanding of the history, traditions and culture of a place also passes by reading the many tracks, often underestimated, that every day are under your eyes.

 

Piazza delle Erbe

 

A walk along the narrow streets of the city, takes you on one of the smaller spaces, intimate and evocative of the old town of Carrara. The[* Piazza delle Erbe*], commonly called the little square, is in fact the center of the oldest urban settlement, from Roman times, directly connected to the Duomo and the majestic Piazza Alberica. Its name evokes the old market that took place there, but it is still the place for the [*organic farmers’ market *]of Carrara

A simple and contained small square in which you would not expect to find a[* marble portal*] like the one that adorns Diana Palace, ancient residence of the family that, along with the Del Medico, was among the leading suppliers of marble for the Cathedral of San Pietro in Rome. An imposing frame around the entrance of the building, flanked by two pillars with figures of two Mori carrying on the head two pillows which support the mighty frieze above the door.

Looking around, however, the surprises are not over. In fact you can see the house of Carlo Fontana, sculptor from Carrara, who created one of the bronze chariots for the Altar of the Fatherland in Rome, and a little further on a commemorative plaque recalls that in this small square during WWII, on July 7th 1944, the women of Carrara rose up against the nazi-fascists’ order of displacement shouting “Do not leave the city.

So many emotions that give this small space in the heart of the city, a true concentration of history and culture that has kept its character more authentic and which is revealed only to those who can grasp details hidden with veiled modesty.

 

 

Sant’Andrea Cathedral

 

It occupies a small piazza, too narrow to get a view of the whole.

Seen from a diagonal perspective, its scale seems even bigger than the real proportions. We walk there through a labyrinth of alleys, almost out on a limb – even the bell tower is not visible from the street – and all of a sudden, here there is, the Sant’Andrea Cathedral. It overlooks the narrow pave around, it shines, entirely dressed in white marble.  

The facade tells us of a story of stilistic adjustments in the course of many centuries: the polychrome marble decoration with pale and dark marble stone in the lower section, coexists with the Gothic central rose window and the upper order of columns topped with sculpted heads. A rich collection of animals, a panoply of human and mythological figures, floral and geometric friezes catch the attention and nonetheless kepp their allegorical meaning secrete. 

The Fourteenth Century bell tower is exactly as tall as the length of the central nave, 33 meters, the sacred number of Christ’s age, while even more surprising it is the astronomical orientation on the East-West axis – like most of the churches from the high medieval period – with a twiddle that was initially considered to be an error of the builders, but that turned out to be purposely linked to the rotation of the Sun. 

Scholars believe that in the past, on November 30th – St.Andrea’s day – the rising sun would penetrate into the church through a window of the apse, illuminating the Eucharist Cup. 

The Duomo of Carrara is a moving architectural spectacle. Not to be missed! 

 

 

Madonna del Mirteto Sanctuary

 

Il stands above, emerging during the day with its marble candor out of the green hills and at night with its crown-shaped illuminated in the darkness. It is the Madonna del Mirteto of Ortonovo Sanctuary, one of the most famous and revered in Lunigiana.

Once in the village of Ortonovo, we have to climb a steep cobbled hill with two long ramps that leads us in front of the majestic 16th Century church. Here after a few marble steps we are in the church courtyard, from which we can enjoy a wonderful view of the valley that was the domain of the ancient Luni. And the strong link with the Roman city appears to us immediately looking around: near steps we can see the base of a column, clear Luni’s legacy, but also in the sanctuary facade you can identify epigraphs from the destroyed and abandoned city of Luni, in one case perhaps by the tympanum of an altar or shrine dedicated to Augustus worship, as you can see in the still legible inscription.

Once you cross the doorway, the system of three-nave church, immediately guide the gaze towards the central altar, where a rich marble octagonal temple will surprise you off center, that houses the miraculous image of the Virgin of Mirteto, whom the sanctuary is dedicated to. It is said that on July 29th, 1537 while attending their daily prayers, some women saw gushing tears of blood from the eyes of the Madonna.

The miracle immediately aroused great attention and a strong interest that led hundreds of devotees to make a pilgrimage to the Sanctuary. This unexpected influx of devotees necessitated the expansion and transformation of parts of the religious complex to accommodate the many people who came every day in this place. A new and unexpected commitment for the Confraternita dei Disciplinati who ran the structure and risked not being able to devote the necessary time to charities, their spiritual mission, and so they decided to entrust the Sanctuary to the Dominican Order, which came into possession in 1584. Since 2003, the Sanctuary is guarded by the priests of the Missionary Fraternity of Mary, the religious community founded in Guatemala in Central America.

Every year on the night between September 7th and 8th, the day of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, they celebrate the Feast of Nostra Signora del Mirteto, which attracts faithful, tourists and visitors from all over, for the traditional fair along the village, for the solemn evening Mass, the fishing charity that involves the whole community and fireworks that awake and rejoice all the valley.

 

 

Marmifera Railway

 

Sometimes the name of a town indicates not only its origin but seems almost to create its destiny. Carrara, for example, and the street called Via Carriona that heads to the quarries, keep memories in its own name of the endless passages of the carts descending through the town towards the coast: in Roman times, the blocks arrived all the way to the harbour of Luni, while since medieval times the main destination was the the port of Lavenza, today Marina di Carrara. 

The industrial revolution arrived here too and after years of proposals, projects and disputes, in 1874 the railway construction site was open and in 1890 the Marmifera trail was complete: twenty two kilometers in length, four bridges and tunnels that cut through the heart of the mountains, eleven stations and loading areas. An enormous undertaking that run until 1960, despite the bombings of World War II.

The Marmifera was also open to the public: in 1916 the Touring Club suggested anyone interested in visiting the quarries to ask the managing company to hook up an extra coach to the convoy in order to transport up to 25 persons. Since the service was free, the Touring Club suggested leaving a tip for the railway men!

Unfortunately transportation on tires has eliminated the old Marmifera whose splendour is today visible at Ponti di Vara – in the quarries of Fantiscritti – while its history, the projects and documents are preserved in the Archive of the Società Marmifera, at the Public Library of Carrara. 

 

 

Cesare Vico Ludovici Public Library

In a little over 50 years, the City library of Carrara has been hosted in three of the city centre’s most prestigious buildings. Inaugurated in the year 1960, the library was born thanks to a combined effort that counted donations from both both public and private companies. This important contribution enabled a gradual growth of the institution’s collection. Its first headquarters were established at the first floor of the Palazzo dei Conti del Medico in Piazza Alberica, but soon this  arrangement revealed itself to be too tight so the library was moved to Palazzo Rosso, where it stayed until 2010 when it was transferred to the two side wings of the Palazzo della Congregazione delle Figlie di Gesù situated in the nearby Piazza Gramsci, better known as Piazza D’Armi. 

Named after Cesare Vico Ludovici, great Carrarese author that lived between the Nineteenth and Twentieth century, famous for his theatrical comedies and for having translated most of Shakespeare’s majestic oeuvre, the library houses over 70.000 volumes. Most of the books are available for consultation or loan but there is however a special section that is viewable only upon request, a unique collection of private donations of precious volumes, rare editions and thematic collections. 

The unique heritage that consists in the Archives of the Private Marble railway of Carrara is of great historical importance for it holds all the documents that the Society drafted during its long-serving activity that went from 1876 to 1981. Thanks to a long and in-depth process of research and inventory Carrara has returned in possession of an essential piece of it’s recent history.

The library is part of the Re.Pro.Bi circuit, the network that connects public libraries all throughout the province of Massa-Carrara, that thanks to a interlibrary cooperation project now manages the accumulated catalogue through one general website that simplifies all research and availability check operations.

 

 

Museum of San Caprasio

 

The Saint Caprasio Abbey in Aulla is one of the most important religious settlements in Lunigiana and it was – and still is – is a key point for pilgrims on the Tuscan section of the Via Francigena. It was founded in 884 a.C. and nowadays its history is told in the Abbey museum.

The museum introduces visitors to the main events that marked the history of the Abbey and the surrounding area, and without any doubt the most peculiar story is about the holy remains of San Caprasio: according to the story, his relics have been kept inside the Abbey since it was founded but, for more than a thousands years, they were thought to be lost. After some restoration works in 2003 an unbeknownst tomb was found and apparently it could match the Saint’s remains.

From the Museum it is possible to access the Abbey capitulary room and then to the Twentieth Century apse, the visitors are guided through what remains of three churches and hundreds of tokens of the monks’ and the Valley’s lives along the twelve-hundred years Abbey history are shown.

Still today, the San Caprasio Museum and Abbey hosts a Pilgrim Hostel along the Via Francigena.

 

 

Natural Science Museum of Lunigiana

 

The Brunella Fortress, which dominates the city of Aulla from above, hosts the interesting Natural History Museum of Lunigiana.

The Fortress rooms welcome the visitors to a discovery journey of the Lunigiana territory, of its geomorphological structure and how it has been modeled by the human presence. Inside the museum visitors can find a series of reconstructions, models and documents to get to know the human and natural enviroment of Lunigiana; a scientific library is also available for in-depth research.

The museum do also host a botanical garden and a hanging garden dedicated to this region flora and biodeversity. 

If you’ve got children, the The Natural History Museum is a wonderful experience and its educational department organizes workshops and activities for the youngsters.

 

 

Capuchin Convent in Pontremoli

The Capuchin Convent in Pontremoli welcomes the pilgrims on their way to Rome, along the Via Francigena. A few steps away from the Teatro della Rossa, once crossed the Magra river, the Convent is not far from the city center that can be easily reached by a five minutes walk.

The story says that in the Seventeenth century two Capuchin friars were on the road and since the weather was very harsh they decided to stop by. The monks were more than welcome in Pontremoli and they were invited to stay longer. Some local families offered the Capuchins some allotments and the first Convent was founded, just outside the city walls. The church was consecrated in 1664 to the cult of the Immaculate Conception and it is now home to some Padre Pio’s relics.

As the sobriety of the Order demands, the Convent and the hostel are very humble and plain.

 

 

La Rosa Theater

The La Rosa Theater is a little gem of architecture in the city of Pontremoli

First built in the 18th Century after the passage of Pontremoli from Spanish rule to the Gran Ducato of Tuscany, i its life the theater went under several renovations, the latest of which happend in 1998.

During the centuries the theater reflected Pontremoli cultural life, with its ups and downs. Together with its establishment in 1767, the cultural ‘Academy of the Rose’ was founded which guaranteed the theater financing and cultural livelyhood; its extemely refined decorations were executed by Antonio Costentabili and nowadays – after great damages endured by the theater during the years and especially during WWI and WWII – all is left of it is the beautiful scene courtain.

Today it stages events, conferences, meetings and concerts and has become once more the symbol of Pontremoli cultural life.

 

 

Ponticello

 

Lunigiana, land of ancient pievi and castles, is also known for its numerous villages and Ponticello, in the municipality of Filattiera, is one of the most characteristic in the region.

The old inhabited center is along the route of the via Francigena and often welcomes pilgrims and wayfarers that pass through here admiring the tower homes and the small streets. Inside the village that has conserved its original form from 1300 – 1400, divided up into small streets and piazzas, where once flourished the shops of artisans. The town has conserved its aspect with all types of arches, pointed, round, and barrel that connect the houses one to the other.

In August Ponticello celebrates I mestieri nel borgo, a weekend when the past returns to populate the village’s streets with a remembrance of the bygone professions. Shops and cellars turn into artisans laboratories, where you can watch how to work on stone, wicker and wood.

 

 

VILLAGES

Ameglia

Unlike the majority of villages on the hills of Luni that offer a view that follows the plain onto the sea, the small village of Ameglia dishes out something completely different.

Sure enough, from here the panorama unwinds following the course of the Magra River and then gets lost behind the promontories of Ponzano and Santo Stefano, in a flurry of green hills and sharp peaks.

Ameglia is a fortified village developed on a structure of concentric rings that rise in various levels above and around the original nucleus of the castle, episcopal residence of the Bishops of Luni who already owned the territory in 963.

A maze of paved alleyways, steps and staircases, vaulted streets and small piazzas rise up towards the majestic manor and its round tower. We suggest you get lost in this labyrinth, discover the ancient marble portals, the decorated epigraphs, the romantic courtyards and unexpected architectural gems such as the fifteenth-century San Vincenzo church and its parvis that opens up like a large welcoming terrace onto the valley below.

If you’re looking for an excuse to visit, a special occasion is the traditional and irreverent Omo ar bozo celebration that tops off the carnival festivities with an ancient ritual that apparently dates back to the fifteenth century when the rather pernicious Bravi family of Ameglia inaugurated the tradition of arresting the first passing stranger that happened to walk by the village on Fat Sunday. The victim was asked a donation for the benefit of the local Dance Society and, once the demanded sum had been paid, the poor passerby was then thrown into the cold waters of the ditch – the so-called “bozo” – that conveyed water to the mill wheels.

This tradition was revived during the 70s thanks to a group of young locals and to the artist Walter Sacchini, an expert in Social Art. Because of them, Ameglia can now boast one of the most evocative carnival events in Italy.

 

 

Arcola

 

The ancient settlement of Arcola is a borderline village between the Magra Valley and the sea, between the La Spezia Gulf and the historical region of Lunigiana. It origins date back to the sixth century BC, when the Roman soldiers made this territory a transitional storage area during the great assault to the Apuan-Ligurian tribe. The same hillside village was one of the first to arise  at the end of the first millennium, a refuge for those who were escaping from the unhealthy marshes of Luni. A maze of houses, alleys and stairways characterizes its structure, similar to many of the medieval hamlets that face the Magra valley. 

Positioned at the top of the village, overlooking the entire plain, the unmistakable pentagonal tower is all that is left of the original ancient and majestic Obertenghi castle, that has been restructured and transformed various times throughout the centuries. 

Walk down the narrow alleyways of the centre, discover the ancient barrel vaulted cellars and the turreted houses that have maintained their medieval charm, peruse the historical shops that still sell typical and genuine products of this area’s particularly rich gastronomic tradition. Thanks to its unique position, Arcola’s variety of delicatessen comprises specialities from Lungiana’s hinterland – cheeses, pies, legumes and hot soups – and traditional seaside dishes with fresh and dried fish.

But, if truth be told, among all the tastebud-awakeners that this village has to offer, the real excellence of Arcola lies in its wineVineyard slopes descend towards the Magra river Valley on one side, and towards the evocative Gulf of Poets on the other. The warm climate tempered by the sea breeze guarantees the perfect ripening of the grapes.

An absolute must, Arcola e i suoi vini is a traditional festival that has been taking place for over thirty years, quenching the thirst of wine lovers from all over the world and offering the splendid setting of Villa Picedi Benettini in Baccano, a superb location that has managed to preserve the ancient charm of historical plantations combining it with the timeless elegance of its welcoming atmosphere. A unique occasion to discover the extraordinary enchantment that inhabits these lands.

 

 

Aulla

 

Halfway between the marine coast and the alpine inland, surrounded by the Apennine and Apuan mountain chains, Aulla covers a strategic position along the ancient Via Francigena, where the Aulella stream and the river Magra meet. Because of the heavy 1944 bombing attacks that irreparably damaged the historical center, Aulla’s present twentieth century appearance is quite different from the typical medieval villages of Lunigiana. Famous for its past support of politician Bettino Craxi, heavily involved in the Tangentopoli scandal, Aulla is now one of the most developed productive centers of the Lunigiana territory. 

Renowned for its important role in the control of northern trade routes, for centuries it was fought over by the Vescovi family of Luni – under their jurisdiction for hundreds of years – and the Malaspina. The cities of Pisa, Lucca and Genoa also contended this valuable position protected by one of Lunigiana’s most majestic fortresses: the bastion of the Brunella. Today this impregnable and splendid example of sixteenth century military architecture hosts the Museum of Natural History.

Built between 1470 and 1540, it is made of the volcanic rock, just like the spur it is perched on. This monolith is protected by four unassailable ramparts with steep escarpments, it was the first major construction to be designed and built in this territory after the invention of firearms.

In addition to the Palazzo dei Centurione, renovated by the Malaspina family in 1200, another must-see sight is the Abbey of San Caprasio. Founded in 884 but dedicated to the saint only in 1077, this medieval convent was an important milestone for the pilgrims of the Via Francigena. The apse is all that remains of its original Romanesque structure but the stories of the Saint – St. Ilario wrote about him in the funeral oration “Though your love has ignored his name and his life until now, know that Christ counts him among his friends” – and the recent excavations that have unearthed his tomb make this visit worthwhile.

Last but not least, from sacred to profane, the many stores that emerged here after the second world war deserve a good tour. Aulla’s variety of commercial activities makes it the right destination for every kind of purchase.

 

 

Bagnone

 

Nestled on the hills behind the town of Villafranca in Lunigiana there is Bagnone, a small fortified village which peculiar cylindrical tower is clearly recognizable from far away. The tower is what remains of the old medieval castle, but the village itself is perfectly preserved and is definitely worth a visit.

The history Bagnone is the typical – maybe even stereotypical – Lunigianese story: the tale of a borderland under the control of the Malaspina family and sought after by the powers of Milano, Parma, Firenze and Genova, all trying to control the underlying Magra Valley. it is the story of battles for property and changes of power that, in the end, resulted in making the local identity even stronger and fiercely independent.

As witnessed by the founding of several Statue Stele and archeological relics in the nearby area of Treschietto, men already lived there during the Stone Age and, if the first document reporting the existence of Bagnone is a 1124 a.C Pope sealed document, the first village settlement is thought to date back to the Sixth Century a.C.

For centuries the hamlet has been under the control of the Malaspina family and caught in the middle of the power struggles between the marquisate and the Signoria of Florence, which took control of it at the end of the 15th Century. After 1796 Bagnone passed under the control of Genova, then Parma and it was only with the Italian unification in 1861 that it regained independence and became part of the Province of Massa Carrara.

Jumping to present days, it is undeniable that Bagnone is one of the most enthralling villages of Lunigiana: its location, its portici (stone porches), the Tower – token of a Castle that exist no more – the San Nicolò’s Church… all perfectly set like in a fresco made of history, lives and nature.

 

 

Bibola

 

The Castle of Bibola seems like one of those romantic ruins straight out of a novel: veiled by the morning mist, it could be featured in one of Caspar Frederick’s atmospheric paintings.

Located on the very summit of the village of Bibola, it overlooks the Magra Valley and the valleys of the Aulella river and faces the part of the Apennine chain that overlaps the regions of Liguria, Tuscany and Emilia. The village’s houses unwind like a neat stack of stone dominos up the narrow alleyways. The decadent appearance of today must not make us forget its past strategic importance: it was built by the Romansand it was among the many bizantine kastron to protect the important port of Luni.

Along a variant of the Via Francigena, from the castle towers it was possible to catch sight of the safeholds of Filattiera, Grondola, Bastia, Lusuolo and Castiglion del Terziere. These forts probably communicated over long distances. At the beginning of the seventh century the Unknown Ravennese’s Cosmography quoted Bibola in a route that linked a series of fortifications on the road that brought from Luni di Lucca in one direction, while in the other it lead to Liguria and crossed the villages of Pulica, Bibola, Terrarossa and Corneda. Between the eleventh and the fifteenth centuries, Bibola was contended by the bishops of Luni and the Malaspina family.

In addition to the castle remains, the several tunnels built all throughout the village are a must. This grey stone maze of underground passageways is a fascinating sight to behold.

 

 

Bocca di Magra

 

It was here that Marguerite Duras found inspiration for her novel The Sailor from Gibraltar and Eugenio Montale wrote his famed poem Il Ritorno; Cesare Pavese, Elio Vittorini, Giulio Einaudi chose this unique location as their summer residence.

Once a small fishing village, Bocca d Magra is indelibly fixed in the history of literature and in the words of that epic generation of Italian intellectuals that survived WWII.

Nestled between land, river and sea, Borgo di Magra has become a lovely holiday hotspot: the view from its little harbor, where the muddy waters of the Magra finally meet the Ligurian sea, encompasses the lively town of Fiumaretta and the port of Marina di Carrara, embracing the coast where Liguria and Tuscany softly collide.

If you’re not interested in yacht browsing, you can walk along the paved promenade that runs aside the riverbank, eat freshly caught fish in one of the many restaurants, succumb to the desire for a scoop of refreshing artisanal ice-cream and pause in the shade of the riverside public gardens to enjoy the mouthwatering crepes of Leonardo Marino’s renowned kiosk.

Dated between the first century BC and the fourth century AD, the remains of a Roman villa remind us of Bocca di Magra’s ancient and glorious past. Rising only a few steps from the sea, built on the slope of the Caprione hillside on a series of terraces that poetically descend towards the open water, the villa probably used to occupy a prominent panoramic position. Despite the secular erosion due to the brackish influence, the private hot baths are still quite visible, together with the connected heating system and a few marble details, painted plaster-works and architectural ornaments.

 

 

Borgo del Ponte

 

The primordial nucleus of the city of Massa, Borgo del Ponte was already known between the second and fourth centuries AD. This once little settlement was located alongside the ancient Via Aemilia Scauri that brought from Luni to Lucca and Pisa. Its existence was first documented in 882 but it wasn’t until the construction of the pilgrim shelter Ospedaletto dei Santi Giacomo e Cristoforo in 1090 that Borgo del Ponte began to grow into the town that we know to this day. Even though it has been somewhat engulfed by the city of Massa, it has managed to maintain its identity and local folklore, its houses that overlook the streets and its open welcoming doors.

To remind us of the ancient configuration of the city, the arch of Porta del Ponte, also known as Arco di Alberico, still stands tall. It is the most ancient entrance to Massa, built along the route that allowed wanderers to reach and cross the Frigido river. The modest metal boardwalk that has replaced the ancient humpback bridge that until the end of the 1800s allowed the transit of wagons and traveling marble blocks, preserves nothing of the original structure’s charm, to whom the whole township owes its name.

Luckily, the town centre can still boast the beauty of Palazzo Andrei and Villa della Cuncia – both built in sixteenth century, the first by the Prince of Massa and the Marquis of Carrara Alberico I Cybo Malaspina who wanted a place to rest during their intense fishing trips – the Church of San Martino and the public fountain commissioned by Alberico in 1565 but now visible in its more recent eighteenth-century baroque restyling.

Walking away from the Araglio “ghetto”, a cluster of little houses once inhabited by the poor, the streets give way to an unexpected view that embraces the Frigido valley, Massa’s hills and the Apuan Alps.

 

 

Caprigliola

If you’re traveling at night along the highway and you happen to look up towards Caprigliola, it will look like a sullen ghost ship stranded on a hill.

The unique morphology and position of this village makes it one of Lunigiana’s most evocative hotspots. Enveloped in darkness, it’s ethereal presence and shape recall cinematic landmarks such as Fellini’s Rex steamer and Fitzcarraldo’s steamship navigating the Pachitea – but luckily Caprigliola does not share their sad destiny, it has been firmly anchored to its hill for centuries.

Overlooking the Magra river that flows below, it used to protect a strategic position along the well-trodden routes frequented by pilgrims, mercenaries and smugglers directed towards the coast. No one knows the exact year of its foundation but Caprigliola’s presence is documented around the year 1185, when the estate was handed from Federico the First to Pietro, bishop of Luni. Not much is left of the magnificent palace that hosted the summer delegations and offered protection from outside attacks, just the high winding elegance of the cylindrical tower, the “mast” of Caprigliola.

Together with the settlements of Albiano and Stadano, Caprigliola passed under the dominion of Florence in the fifteenth century. In 1556 Cosimo dei Medici reinforced its role as fortified centre by building a strong set of walls around it, so solid that to this day they are well preserved and visible from a great distance. The imposing church of San Nicolò, an ancient episcopal complex, stands in the high part of the old town. The picturesque alleyways are decorated with the Medici family’s coat of arms, majestic portals and marble shrines depicting scenes of devotion. Whoever is crossing this splendid village must follow this piece of advice: stop, change the course of your trip.

Enjoy Caprigliola to its fullest, day & night, walk around its inspiring alleyways and admire the view of Luni’s hills.

 

 

Caprio

 

The village of Caprio takes its name from the stream flowing to its right, a tributary of the Magra river that once defined the boundary line between Pontremoli, the only free medieval commune in Lunigiana, and the territory of Filattiera under the domain of the Malaspina family.

The upper part of the village is structured around a series of galleries and passageways: a few settlements in Lunigiana – among others, Apella, Castevoli, Ponticello, Lusignana and Cavallana – present architectural and urban features that differ from the usual city centre configuration and its traditional open-topped streets.

These villages are characterized by a street network that is completely vaulted in stone. Walking down these streets you will not find access to the actual homes, only to service rooms: stables, warehouses, barns. The entrance to the private residences is positioned high up. This specific urban structure might have derived from a Sardinian or Nuragic tradition and is probably the result of the exchanges that the feudal Lunigiana lords established with Sardinia since the time of the Lombards.

Another distinctive trait of Caprio’s architecture is the local tower house, a fourteenth or fifteenth century housing model that can be admired also in Ponticello: based on a square foundation, it is not accessible from street level. Its tiny windows and defensive capacity are attributable to the fact that Caprio lied on the strategic frontier between the commune of Pontremoli and the feudal territory owned by the Malaspina lords, represented by the flowering thorn of their family crest.

 

 

Casola

 

On the border of the territory of the Garfagnana and in the extreme east of Lunigiana, the municipality of Casola is one of the smallest organizations in the area, but rich in history and tradition. Land of passage, contains among its alleys and streets the stories of all the characters who have crossed this extreme mountain of Lunigiana. From high above the valley below, thanks to its privileged location, situated on a rocky outcrop that “controls” the courses of the streams and Aulella and Tassonaro, watched over by the high peaks of the Apuan Alps.

Casola is striking for its atmosphere, made up of past steeped in tradition and uniqueness. From here, a time spent traders, travelers and those who wanted to reach Lucca through these mountains, stopping for the old and now in ruins Ospedale di Tea, which housed a church with the same name. Place on the mountain pass between the valley of the Serchio and the Aulella, was a structure often used as a shelter or refreshment thanks to the exclusivity of the crossing point of walking on the way between Lucca and Parma.

The history of the village of Casola begins in 1400, around the castle that once dominated the surrounding woods. Today of all that, remains a cylindrical tower, part of a protection system wider and developed. The walls encircled the whole town, with two doors, one facing to the side of Lunigiana, the other towards Lucca. Over the years, the town lost its value as a fortification, leaving only the tower to witness all this. Following, the cylindrical tower, identifying symbol of all the inhabitants of this feature, became the bell tower of the church of Santa Felicita, of Roman origin and subject of several renovations.

In addition to the history and tradition, it’s located inside the old Town Hall, the Museum del Territorio della Valle dell’Aulella, where discover testimonials and secrets about human settlement in Lunigiana. Surrounded by small villages, nature and ancient churches, Casola is a little gem of culture, one of those realities still “original” in which to discover the traits that have made the history of this place suspended in time. Among its streets elegant buildings, stone houses and sandstone portals, which complement the unique style of this place. A dip into history, the more simple, made of a succession of ages, personalities and travelers, who have found in these places warm and loving.

A treasure chest of all the features that it is difficult to identify in the life of every day, but discernible in every corner of this picturesque village.

 

 

Castelnuovo Magra

 

Without a doubt it is one of the most beautiful and suggestive towns in the low Valley of the Magra river. it is also easily reached from the Luni plain, whether by the trekking trails that stretch through vineyards and olive groves, or by mountain bike along the road that brings us from the ancient Aurelia road up to the town.

As many other small towns nearby, it originated in the Middle Age, from the fall of Luni, and that’s easily noted by walking through its small streets, numerous tunnel passages, observing the walls surrounding and the imposing castle that from the top of the town, dominates the entire valley.

The small streets lead to delightful settings of inner courtyards: olive trees, lemon trees, and Bougainvillea; cheerful blooms on the windowsills beneath the marble majesty to everlasting memory of Marian devotion of its inhabitants. In Piazza Querciola dated 18th  rises the majestic crenelated tower of the Palazzo Vescovile (Bishop’s Palace) and every year in August is celebrated the famous Pace di Dante – Peace of Dante, sealed on October 6, 1306 to proclaim peace between theBishops of Luni and the Marquis of Malaspina. 

From Castelnuovo Magra enjoy one of the most beautiful views on the hills of Luni: the plain with the ancient ruins of Luni and the modern urbanization, further beyond the coast and the sea; to one side the cranes in the port of Marina di Carrara, on the other the promontory of Montemarcello and the sinuous course of the river Magra that descends from the hills of Sarzana.

To satisfy our other senses Castelnuovo Magra hosts l’Enoteca Regionale della Liguria, open for wine tasting and sales of the food and wine specialties of this territory.

 

 

Castevoli

 

The municipality of Mulazzo has similar characteristic to other locations of Lunigiana, to extend from the valley, along the river Magra, up the mountain. A large space occupied by small hamlets and villages which, in addition to the culture they are guardians of peoples and customs, came down to our day to witness something more important than a single event. A mosaic of historical centers that contribute to forming a collective community and a strong and marked sense of identification. As well as various castles scattered throughout the territory, fortresses which over time have undergone substantial changes, but no change in importance.

As Castello of Castevoli, stands guard of the village that winds at its feet, located on a small hill. A reality that in the past had a strategic importance and from which control what happens in the area below. Even its name recalls this purpose, in reference to a “land side”, excellent for defensive purposes. Its origins date back to before 1000, as the first traceable news dating back to 1077, when it was granted to the Marquis Folco and Ugo d’Este, spouses of Malaspina, by the Emperor Arrigo III.

During the story underwent several changes of ownership, including the branch of the Malaspina dello Spino Secco, those of the Spino Fiorito, from Corrado l’Antico until 1476, when the estate went to Christopher Azzone, then move on to the Marquis of Villafranca in 1757 who held it until 1794 a story articulated through which Castevoli has continued to play its role and to put on a special charm, thanks to the morphology of the historic center.

As in the most classic of walled towns, there are two doors, one entrance and one exit. On one of these you can still admire the majesty of a bas-relief in white marble, depicting the Madonna with two angels and a stone tower. The Castle, in the highest part of the old town, was the subject of several interventions over the centuries and is well preserved. Today it’s privately and not open to visitors except on extraordinary occasions.

A short walk from here, in the village of Pieve is situated the ancient church of San Martino. From a distance, you will immediately notice its elegant bell tower of stone, reinforced by a spur and a bow. On the facade of the Church it’s easy locate San Martino in version of warrior, while cutting its cloak to offer it to a poor shivering.

An act of unconditional love that explains the rationale for the choice of this dedication. Once inside you will understand immediately the ancient origins of the church, to be dated to 700, with a simple style, but rich in spirit and devotion.

A village to visit in its entire length, but well protected by its walls, easily accessible for all visitors. Inside still unique charm, typical of a past and a time long forgotten.

 

 

Colonnata

 

Colonnata rhymes with lardo. Despite the calcareous name, it causes an embarrassing Pavlovian response for which vegetarians will have to forgive us.

Above all though, Colonnata rhymes with marble: it was back to 40 B.C. when the Roman population of Luni founded here the first settlement around the querries. Romans were thirsty for marble and it seems that the name Colonnata originates from the latin [_columna: _]what an easy etymology!

The town of Colonnata, as we know it today, dates back to the Twelfth Century: the regal marble features of the modest buildings seems somohow out of place, considering the way querrimen and their families roughed it. If not the marble, green forests of chestnut trees cover the Apuan peaks and it seems that the abundance of chestnuts convinced the Langobardians to import pigs in the region. Haven’t you understood the equation yet? Chestnuts, pigs, marble = lardo of Colonnata.

A must see, for its surreal and moon-like landscapes that surround the town, Colonnata is worth a visit: if you need a marble mortar and pestle – the kind needed to make the real pesto - this is the place to be. If you disdain fakes, come here to buy the [*lardo; *]in August the town celebrates its most delicious gold.

 

 

Comano

 

The hamlet of Comano is surrounded by the monumental beauty of the Appennine landscape.

The Laghestrello Pass – the paradise for bikers –is nearby, the Paduli Lake and the winter sky station Pratospilla are not far. We are at the heart of the Parco dell’Appennino Tosco Emiliano and one of its visitor information centers is right here at the Albergo Miramonti, an old post office founded in 1913 on the way towards the Laghestrello and turned into an hotel eventually.

The naturalistic marvel is shadowed by the constellation of ornaments and decorations hand made in the course of many centuries: the repertoire of stone-carved decorative motifs in Camporaghena, the Guelph Tower of the Malaspina Castle in Comano or the precious epithaf made by the so called Oto artisan in 1079.

If you happen to come in this area in September don’t miss Comano Cavalli, a yearly Market and Festival devoted to horses and horse lovers: the schedule is always rich in shows, parades and folk performances.

 

 

Fivizzano

 

The Lunigiana is composed by many realities, each with its own distinct characteristics, their own traditions, typical products and events. All together, help to create what is this great land, its wealth and its peculiarities.

Reality as Fivizzano, one of the larger municipalities of Lunigiana, but also the most beautiful. Its village and its walls, the churches that are located on its territory, as well as its castles, making it one of the most visited places in Lunigiana, populated by many natural and tourist attractions. Sometimes called “the Florence of Lunigiana,” for the many characteristics that make it similar to the landscape and to the Florentine nucleus, is also connected to the world of Medici, with regard to its artistic features. Fivizzano is located at the foot of Tuscan-Emilian Apennines, also flanked by the imposing peaks of the Apuan Alps.

For this is part of the National Park of the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines but also that of the Apuan Alps. One of the most common natural of the entire land, is surrounded by its green forests, meadows and valleys that giving a really unique prospective scenario. To slide along this part of Lunigiana, the most eastern, several streams, forming the valleys from which it’s composed: the Rosaro, the Mommio, the Bardine and Lucido, ending their run in Aulella river.

In its, historic palaces and mansions impressive and important, who helped to write the history of this place: Palazzo Cojari, Palazzo Fantoni – Chigi, Palazzo Benedetti and the current town hall. The village of Fivizzano is very broad and consists of many of the historical realities of the municipality.

All enclosed by its famous walls Medician, built by Cosimo de ‘Medici in 1540.

For several centuries, from 1400, was owned by the family of Florence, who decided to keep it and finish it with particular and recognizable identity.

The large piazza Medicea, located in the middle of the path of the historic center, wraps each visitor in a warm hug, surprising for its striking beauty.

Here are located the Chiesa di San Giacomo Apostolo and Antonio, the former Convento degli Agostiniani and the Oratorio di San Carlo. A unique and striking place, in which it was written specifically a good part of the history of Lunigiana. Around the core of the capital then, all of the various fractions that will complement the whole.

The Verrucola, with its beautiful castle, the picturesque churches of Pognana and San Paolo, the villages of Gragnola, Vinca, Sassalbo and Equi Terme, where there are also a thermal spa and mysterious caves. Besides its museums, its nature and its valleys.

A place inhabited since the origins of humanity, as demonstrated by the many artifacts found in the archaeological site of Equi and Verrucola, where was found a specimen of the Statue Stele.

Fivizzano is one of the municipalities that best identifies the Lunigiana and all of its strengths. About it wrote many poets, artists and writers who once visited, they wanted to bring in verse the sublime characteristics were found on its streets.

Its beauty transcends the boundaries of the imaginable, and many hours are necessary to visit this part of the territory. To see, live, visit and breathe.

 

 

Fosdinovo

 

Fosdinovo is a charming hill burg not far from Sarzana; precisely on the border where the inland Lunigiana opens up onto the coast and where the ancient and current Via Francigena’s pilgrims meet the sea after many weeks across Europe, the burg is a must see for the extraordinary monuments  it nestles - among them all let's remeber the imposing  Castle[, *]the[ ][*Whites’ Oratory][* ]and the[ ][*Reds’ Oratory],[* ]the [*Church of San Remigio] and[* ]the[ ][*Villa Malaspina in Caniparola]  just a few minutes from the burg -, for the incredible view on the  Gulf of Poets’ line one can enjoy from Piazza Garibaldi and for the kind of real – out of time – everyday italian life everybody can experience waliking along its streets: historian workshops and local stores are what one needs for a confortable stay. The burg is surrounded by the hills of Luni, a magnificent slice of both theMediterranean and Appenine landscapes, where[* vineyards and olive groves*] meets chestnut and oak groves

must see - *]Fosdinovo has been recently awarded the [*Bandiera Arancione quality accolade by Touring Club Italy[* - ] and the perfect setting for a quite, refreshing [*family holidays]: no cars are allowed in the burg [the alleys are so narrow], there are plenty of public gardens and the coast and the sea are really at a short distance.

 

 

Gragnola

 

At the heart of the Lucido Valley, in between the Lucido river and the Aulella creek, stands the village of Gragnola, fiercely dominated by its very own castle.

For centuries, the village strategic position ensured the passage of noblesmen, pilgrims, migrants and merchants who animated the town’s life; so much so that apparently, the name of the village itself, Gragnola, _]comes from the rich wheat trade ([_grano in Italian) which was thriving in the area during the Middle Age.

Very little is known of Gragnola foundation which is commonly dated back to the romans; during the 15th Century the village established itself as one of the most important marketplaces in eastern Lunigiana and, at the time, it looked like a small fortified citadel protected by high walls behind which a dedalus of small streets and shops winded up.

Not much is left to be seen of the high walls that once surrounded Grangnola, but today like yesterday, the Castel dell’Aquila (Eagle’s castle) stands tall overlooking the village and the valley.

 

 

Groppoli

 

The town of Groppoli is located on the right riverbank of the Magra stream, in the municipality of Mulazzo. Now a locality of marginal importance, it once was an important settlement: numerous statue menhirs have been found throughout its territory. Stone witnesses of millenniums gone by, these findings are one of the Lunigiana’s distinctive features.

Overlooked by the castle and the seventeenth-century Villa Brignole, Groppoli once was part of the Mulazzo feud and during the centuries it was dominated by the Malaspina, the Medici, the Sale family of Genoa bankers. It was finally freed by the napoleonic feud suppression. 

Groppoli does not occupy a central position and it doesn’t have much of a city centre these days, but thanks to its intense historical pas and the statues unearthed in its area, it still plays an important role for Mulazzo and Lunigiana.

 

 

Lerici

 

Without any doubt Lerici is one of the most beloved and well known fishermen’s villages of the Eastern Ligurian Riviera, and its strong bond with the Land of Luni, with the city of Sarzana and the whole Lunigiana through a branch of the Via Francigena, makes it a pivotal point between the inland and the sea.

Apparently its history dates back to the Hellenistic period of the Trojan War, as would seem to suggest its former name “Portus Illycis” (perhaps Ilium, Trojan), but what is certain is that the small town had an enormous importance in the Middle Ages when the pilgrims and merchants landed in the port, who from here reached Sarzana and then Northern Italy and Europe, following sometimes the long road to Santiago de Compostela.

In the thirteenth century, under the Maritime Republic of Pisa was built the great castle overlooking the sea and a few years later came under the domination of Genoa, was expanded with the construction of the majestic pentagonal tower that we can still admire and that makes unique the profile of Lerici.

What surprises and charms the visitor is just an extraordinary balance between history and nature, the beauty of which has kidnapped the eyes and the hearts of so many artists and poets who throughout the centuries have stayed here and decided to stay here, making this place known throughout the world as the Golfo dei Poeti.

Do not miss this opportunity, then, to take a walk through the narrow streets and steep steps that characterize the oldest part of the village and lead to the large terrace of the castle, from where the view of the entire Golfo di La Spezia, with the magical sequence of the islands that border the village of Portovenere, will leave you breathless. From here you can visit the majestic fort and its museum or descend down the stairs that lead directly into the harbor front or along the path leading to the beach at the back, which then, through a beautiful pass into the gallery, you can return to the main promenade.

The large square is like a huge stage whose backdrop is made up of the typical Ligurian houses and their characteristic color, while on one side faces the singular Torre di San Rocco. The concerts are held here and the main cultural and artistic events that involve people and tourists all year round, while in the other evenings it becomes a meeting place, where they open the outdoor area of the premises and restaurants.

From there you can decide to take the long walk along the promenade through the gardens and terraces overlooking the sea, with alternating cliffs and sandy beaches, will lead you to the charming village of San Terenzo and its castle which closes the small the bay. A path that, in the warm summer evenings under the stars, with the sound of waves crashing on the shoreline and the shimmer of the moon is reflected in the sea, will enchant you and make you understand the true poetry of this gulf.

 

 

Licciana Nardi

 

The municipality of Licciana Nardi is located in the pulsating green heart of the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines National Park and is composed of a multiplicity of small villages and historic centers scattered along the course of the Taverone stream.

The origins of the Licciana Nardi settlement date back to 1100 AD when it was built as a military blockade that extended up to the Lagastrello Pass, bordering the Emilian slope of the Apennine chain.

For centuries, this land was ruled over by several noble families, the traces of the various dominations can still be found in the buildings of the town’s historic centre, a maze of alleyways and stone houses, and in the city Castle, that between the 1400s and 1500s was transformed into a fortified palace and residence.

In order to emphasize the settlements blockading purpose, the village was encircled by large fortified walls and towers.

Not much remains of this massive construction, while on the opposite bank of the Taverne stood the fortified castle of Piano, interesting example of military architecture.

The municipality’s double name is actually quite recent: in 1933 the city wanted to pay homage to the Apella-born Risorgimento hero Anacarsi Nardi, so it added his surname to the original toponym of Licciana. A marble statue was built near the castle in his honor.

For those who visit the town, we recommend visiting the Chiesa dei Santi Giacomo e Cristoforo, rebuilt in 1905 on the ruins of an earlier church destroyed by the troupes of Giacomo Malaspina. The church’s greek cross structure is surmounted by a dome and inside it preserves the precious paintings originating from the fourteenth century SS Annunziata convent – now a pile of rubble, it was once an important sacred space enveloped in a nearby chestnut grove.

The Licciana Nardi territory is a land of continuous discovery: its many parishes and villages are a sight to behold, some perched on the Apennine heights, like Monti and its parish that rises on the ancient Ligurian settlement of Venelia, and others in the valley below, scattered along the Taverone’s course, like Panicale,Tavernelle and Apella. A poetic succession of secluded colonies surrounded by the lush green Lunigiana countryside.

 

 

Lusuolo

 

Lusuolo is a small early medieval village located in the municipality of Mulazzo. This precious village founded at the feet of a fortress perched on top of a hill is surrounded by high walls and secured by two imposing doors. 

Looking up from the underlying valley it is clear that this village and fortress were of utter strategic importance, overlooking the Magra plain and the routes traveled by peasants and merchants.

Because of this interesting position, during the centuries Lusuolo was at the centre of strong contentious battles involving Genova, MIlan and Florence. After numerous vicissitudes, in the mid 1500s the fort finally passed under the Florentine dominion of Tuscany’s Grand Duchy.

The castle has recently been reopened to the public and hosts a museum that retraces the Emigration of Tuscan people. To really understand the Lunigiana territory, Lusuolo’s village and fort are an absolute must-see.

 

 

Malgrate

Even if nowadays it may not seem evident, for centuries the village of Malgrate has been the center of political and military plots. Controlled by its Castle, the village is situated in a strategic location overlooking the entire valley underneath and its architecture still shows us the two main devenlopments of the settlement: the more ancient 14th Century medieval alleys sprouted around the Castle and the eastern and larger roads built in the 16th Century.

As many other villages and towns in Lunigiana, Malgrate history is marked by changes of ownerships, feudal systems and domestic struggles. Its feud was founded in 1351 and it did include the villages of Filetto, Orturano, Irola and Mocrone, throughout several centuries it was caught in the middle of the power conflicts between the Dukes of Milan and the Florentine [_Signoria, _]it was a military center first and a noble residency after, until the French revolution, when the castle was sacked and the village decline begun.

Nowadays Malgrate looks as if it was suspended in time, you’ll find yourselves taken aback by unexpected details in its well-kept historical center, by its castle, by the surrounding landscape and the overall atmosphere.

 

 

Montemarcello

It can be seen from the plains and hills of the lower valley of the Magra, as well as from the Gulf of Poets, exactly on the top of Caprione Hill which stands between the valley and the sea and enjoys the best view of the whole area: that’s the village of Montemarcello.

Small pearl of the Montemarcello-Magra Regional Park, since 2006 the village (which counts less than 300 inhabitants) has been induced to the elite group of the most beautiful villages of Italy, for his strong artistic and historical interest. His story, in fact, is very old and its origins can be traced back to the Romans, whose influence is clearly visible in the buildings in the village reminiscent of a military camp at the time, unique among the countries of the valley. Even his name seems to date back to that period and is linked to the victory over the Ligurian consul Marcus Claudius Marcellus in 155 BC

What is certain is that over the centuries Montemarcello has charmed writers, journalists, poets and artists who have decided to move here in order to find daily inspiration, tranquility and beauty.

It is fascinating to get lost in its narrow streets and small squares meet overlooked by houses perfectly preserved, or meet on their way of witness the distant past, such as the thirteenth-century round tower placed at the northern entrance of the village and the church of San Pietro (dating back to the Fifteenth century but modified in the Baroque period) which holds within it the works of great artistic value, including a wooden triptych of the Fourteenth century and marble altarpiece dated 1529.

With a brick paved path, you can also go into the maquis that protects the historic center from the winds coming from the sea. Here you will meet old farmhouses renovated and converted into luxury residences and arrive, finally, on the cliff tops overlooking the sea, overlooking the small bay of Punta Corvo, reached by 700 steps carved into the mountain.

Not far from town, you can also visit the Park of environmental art Marrana and the Botanical Garden that allows you to discover, through the guided tours, the flora and fauna of the Park and enjoy a magnificent view of the valley of the Magra and the[* Apuan Alps*].

 

 

Montereggio

Lunigiana is also known as the home land of ancient booksellers and certain villages and municipalities have largely contributed to the evolution of the press. Among these farsighted towns we must mention Montereggio, located in the Mulazzo county. Entering the city walls, one can clearly imagine the journey that the ancient book traders had to deal with day after day, page after page. The street names tell the silent story of this unique village and of its booksellers, sometimes also mentioning its famed storytellers. To this day, during the annual Book Festival, Montereggio honors the chronicled visionary intelligence of its forefathers, wandering seasonal salesman that would leave town with baskets filled to the brim with books and almanacs and head up north to do business.

The most part of these peddlers were illiterate but they later embraced the trade and became stall owners, then booksellers and, finally, successful publishers.

Walking down the streets of Montereggio’s old town, it’s easy to get lost in the stone house alleyways heading over to the Malaspina palace, built on a preexisting castle. Turning down the narrow paths you encounter the San’Appollinaire church or you can end up outside the village on the way that leads to the Madonna del Monte sanctuary, founded in 1287 by Benedectine monks.

In summer and in spring Montereggio lights up with events that dig deep into the village’s tradition: on the first of May the so-called Maggianti welcome the good weather going door to door and sharing songs and dances, then there is the above mentioned Book Festival, that fills the main square with stalls, experts, writers and critics.

 

 

Mulazzo

Lunigiana is a land of ancient villages often perched on rocky cliffs and out of these villages one of the most pecuilar being Mulazzo: an impressive hamlet located on a hill that overlooks the Magra Valley and the whole Lunigiana territory. Even for the poet Dante Alighieri it was love at first sight and to this day it has managed to maintain its timeless charm.

On the way to Mulazzo, we can enjoy an amazing view: a first glimpse of the village and the green valley sprawled at its feet.

The old town winds up streets and narrow alleys that climb towards the two central squares, the narrow streets silently guides to the San Nicolò church and its large square. The walk upwards has yet to culminate in front of what remains of the castle: the famous so-called Tower of Dante. According to certain historians, this construction originally reached thirty meters in height.

The view from here is quite surprising: not only does it embrace the valley below, but it also offers the exclusive spectacle of the ancient Malaspina aqueduct.

Heavily featured in the national press because of the tragic flood that struck in October 2011, Mulazzo’s town and surrounding county are currently undergoing an in-depth rebuilding operation that is aimed at maintaining the original and unique appearance that has made this one of Lunigiana’s most admired and visited hotspots.

 

 

Nicola

A small village on top of a hill which can be reached by a road that makes its way into the woods and across the terraces of olive trees right on the border between Liguria and Tuscany, a place where it seems you can almost touch the sea and the old town of Luni which is located not far from here. We’re talking about Nicola.

A unique oval shaped village where the narrow streets are gradually climbing higher towards the center connected by narrow streets radiating outwards, Nicola is one of the most beautiful villages of the valley of the Magra.

Its origins are very old and his name still lingers the mystery: some say that it is a transformation of the Byzantine Mikauria, which derives from “gold mica” a small quarry of gold-bearing chalcopyrite discovered and used by the Romans of Luni but soon dried out; someone else argues that Nicola is derived from a contraction of Lunicola  - or  Little Luni   in late Latin - as it seems that the houses were built as early as the Tenth century, with the stones from  the ancient Roman city sacked and destroyed by the Normans and reduced to a pile of rubble.

A compelling and complex story that saw in the centuries alternate jurisdictions, domains and protectorates, but that allowed Nicola to already have their own statutes in 1137 and to object repeatedly to enemy invasion, demonstrating a strong and tenacious character that yet the people preserve until toady.

Masonries in stone alternate with the plaster houses in typical Ligurian colors, cobbled paths and flowers that emerge from the inner courtyards, falls from balconies and window ledges climb on vivid arches and walls creating each time enchanting views that almost force us to a photo shoot. Then suddenly we see the old queen of the village a majestic acacia in the square which seems to appear in the square pit that rises to its feet. A truly impressive specimen, the ramifications of which are supported by massive curved metal crutches giving creating a surreal atmosphere, as if it had been thrown into a painting by Salvador Dali.

 

 

Ortonovo

It was the Romans who improved the plain of Luni, but since men have memory of, it was periodically claimed back by the waters ad re-trasformed into a swamp causing terrible epidemics of malaria. For that very reason, before the year 1000 a.C., the wealthiest families of the area decided to spend their summers in the nearby hills, breathing fresh and healtier air; it was then that the cultivation of the hills that guaranteed a mild climate and optimum exposure begun, and a Hortus Novus was created, which marked the name of this new country.

Built between the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the small town of Ortonovo was then under the domination of the bishops of Luni then move under the protection of the City of Sarzana in 1333 and under the Lordships of Lucca, Florence and the Genoese dominion during the ’400.

All that is left of the medieval castle are not more than a few ruins, the remains of the well and the foundations of the tower, and its history is still shrouded in mystery; apparently, as all the castles of the nearby villages, it was inhabited but that its function was primarily productive, probably used for lumber-works, but up until now there are no reliable sources to fully reconstruct its past.

However, the fifteenth-century round tower is worth a visit, topped by a drum crowned by a dome covered with scales; on its side are still visible the remnants of the ancient walls that are presumed it to be placed next to the old castle, on the ruins of which was later built the baroque church of San Lorenzo.

In between tall houses and narrow alleys, Ortovovo reserves unexpected views over the plain of Luni, while on one side of the town stands the magnificent sanctuary dedicated to the Madonna del Mirteto.

 

 

Pallerone

Following the torrent Aulella, on the road from Aulla that brings you to Fivizzano, you will pass the village of Pallerone, one of many fortified stations in Lunigiana that served to control the passage of travelers who from the Appennino were passing through the Passo del Cerreto headed for the coast.

Given its strategic position, in the course of the centuries Pallerone witnessed many a bloody battle, and in the early 16thcentury, was [*completely fortified *]by Lazzaro I Malaspina, who transformed this little town into a complete military structure: the houses were built one next to the other in a circular form, penetrated by a narrow passage called Verdentro; the entrance to the town is through a narrow gate between the corner of the church and the buttress of the old castle, still today recognizable as the most ancient of the fortifications in Pallerone. In the 17th century the town was fortified further by Alderamo Malaspina who built the new castle upon the old and modified the orientation of the church as we see it today.

The more recent history of this town is strictly tied to the explosives factory, which marked its importance during the industrial period and remained active up until World War II.

There is something else that makes this town unique in Lunigiana: a mechanical nativity scene. It was set up in 1935 for the first time by recycling old materials, almost as a joke; however through the years the construction and maintenance of this presepe[* *] (nativity scene) in Pallerone has involved all the town’s inhabitants making it become one of the most characteristic mechanical nativity scenes in Italy, on view not just at Christmastime but all year round. 

 

 

Podenzana

From a high promontory on the border between Lunigiana and the nearby Val di Vara Podenzana looks out onto the valley of the Magra river, but take notice: even if it might sound curious, the toponym Podenzana does not refer to a precise town or village but rather to a conglomeration of many small inhabited communities scattered throughout a confined territory.

Podenzana offers a spectacular view, framed by the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines and the Apuan Alps . Due to its strategic position, perfect to control the valley underneath and its roads -including the  Via Francigena  - it is fair to say that the first settlements of Podenzana date prior to 1000 a.C. but today not much is left of its troubled past if not a suggestive  castle (today a private residence). To be noted also is the Madonna della Neve Sanctuary, which festivities falls on August 5th and do attract many pilgrims and devotees.

Among its most beautiful communities surely is the hamlet of Montedivalli, *]where you’ll find the Sant’Andrea Parish, a Romanesque structure of prized beauty. Here, under the vault of three elegant naves is a series of beautiful Corinthian-syle capitals and three marble culptures the Madonna with ChildSan Pietro and Christ in Pietà. The Parish was built by the Bishops of Luni at the [*crossroads between the main Via Aurelia and the feudal Malaspina road, thus controlling the entire passageway. This is a place where the Ligurian and Lunigianese cultures and traditions blend, where they aways have, as testified also by the Ligurian necropolis in the nearby Genicciola.

If you happen to be in Podenzana, you absolutely have to try the most typical product of this territory: the panigaccio. A humble food (somehow related to the more famous testarolo di Pontremoli) made just of flour and water cooked with small terra-cotta pots which give the panigaccio its peculiar flavour. Fun fact: if you move few kilometers into the Ligurian eastern valleys, you’ll find that there, the panigaccio is called testaieu, or testarolo but not to be confused with the one from Pontremoli!

 

 

Pontremoli

Pontremoli is history, tradition, culture and beauty, all summed up in one word. Inside, there have been wars, battles, duels and ruinous fire. To split into two parts, but then gathered, was burned, but was rebuilt, it was enlarged and renovated. But its unique style makes it one of the most large and beautiful common of Lunigiana. Characteristic feature is its large old town, dominated by the impressive Castello del Piagnaro and the unmistakable sound of its Campanone. Here you can visit the Museo delle Statue Stele, witness the famous Premio Bancarella or visit some of its historical activities, which, over time, continued to hold a special charm for all visitors who come to the extreme common of Lunigiana. Of Pontremoli is the Testarolo, but also the exquisite cake of erbispongata and Amor.

But there are many other secrets and features that this reality has, able to fall in love with curious tourists and prospective, wonderful and evocative scenarios and lush vegetation. It’s crossed by the Magra and the Verde river, which here unite to continue their run undisturbed until the sea. From here passes the Via Francigena, and through the mountains to reach the neighboring Emilia Romagna. Its unusual name derives from “Ponte Tremulus” from Latin “shaky bridge”. Its story is rich in culture and history. Suffice it to recall the Curtain Cacciaguerra, built by Castruccio Castracani to split the two factions of the Guelphs and Ghibellines; or the many palaces and stately homes, formerly inhabited by noble families and companies. And then its churches, the Teatro La Rosa and the Town Hall, located in the central Piazza della Repubblica, in front of the Court.

You log on to the old town to the north, from Porta Parma, through which you can reach Piazza del Duomo, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Popolo and Piazza della Repubblica. Going to go to the second part of the village, in via Cavour, marked by many activities, the Torre del Ponte Stemma with its bridge, or across the bridge of the Jubilee, recently built, is passed in the district of Santa Cristina, via Mazzini and finally San Pietro, where the historic center ends.

Around a lot of nature, green, lush and generous. And many countries, distributed among its many valleys. There is the Verde Valley, crossed the river from which it takes its name, and dotted with small villages in stone as Guinadi, Baselica, Cervara, Pra del Prete and Farfarà; the valley of the Magra or Magriola, consisting of major fractions as Gravagna, Montelungo and Succisa, the green Valdantena, which includes Pracchiola, Casalina, Previdè, Groppodalosio and many other smaller centers; Gordana and Teglia Valley, with Arzelato, Cavezzana and Dozzano, and finally the villages along the road that leads to the Passo del Brattello that crossed countries Grondola, Braia and Bratto. 

Pontremoli is also called the City of Books for the renowned Premio Bancarella take place in July (and for the smaller events related to the ‘Bancarella’ which take place all through the year). If you happen to be in Lunigiana during the summer you won’t miss the historical reenactments of Medievalis, which , like in a time-machine, take the town back to the middle age.

 

 

Ponzanello

Set on a hill in a green inland valley on the the road that connects Fosdinovo to Aulla, Ponzanello surely is one of the most impressive villages of the area as it still perfectly preserves traces of its medieval origins.

Built from early Thirteenth Century settlements, the village is developed along a steep and narrow cobbled street which leads from the ancient gates – where still is possible to see the remains of an old drawbridge – through a series of stone houses towards the two old churches of San Martino and San Filippo Neri, and finally ending at the ruins of the massive castle which dominates the entire valley.

It is hard to imagine that such a tiny village positioned on a secondary road and surrounded by the mountains, a place which nowadays is almost entirely uninhabited, could have had a major role in this region history, but in fact it did and its origins are almost lost in time! Apparently its name comes from the Gens pontia who once lived in Luni during the Roman times and who might have had a settlement here; but what is certain is that the toponym Ponzanello already existed in 1101 d.C., thus confirming the hypothesis that fortified town was established prior to the end of the Eleventh century. The village was under the control of the Bishops of Luni, who set their private archive and tresaury here and then, after a brief dominion of Frederick II first, then of the Fieschi family and lastly of Catruccio Castracani, it ended up under the control of the [*Malaspina *]family, lords of Fosdinovo. Today, when walking into its narrow alleys or climbing up the village stairs, it is impossible not to imagine the life that once animated Ponzanello.

This magical atmosphere, almost as if suspended in time, has fascinated artists who have chosen to set in Ponzanello their home, in fact many painters, sculptors, photographers and writers have found here the ideal place to live and create.

 

 

Ponzano

From the top of the hill that overlooks the valley of the Magra, among Santo Stefano and Sarzana, the small village of Ponzano tells its millenary history through its ancient streets, its Romanesque church and the same name, that already in the ’500 historian Ippolito Landinelli traced to the Roman consul Gaius Pontio Ligo.

A long and winding road goes through vineyards and olive groves, which for centuries have marked this hill, dotted with ancient farmhouses that are now again home to flourishing farms. Once in the the village, the panoramic view will surprise you for its extent. You can follow the winding course of the Magra meandering among the rolling hills of Liguria. In front of you, the small villages of Vezzano and Arcola, behind you, the green forests that rise and lead in Tuscany, in the territories of Fosdinovo and Aulla.

You will find that the boundary between these two regions is always present, seems to follow you along the way and you never know if what you are looking at one or other territory. But perhaps this is also contributing to the exceptional nature of this land, because in the places of transition is more trade, more contamination and more diversity of landscapes, history and culture.

You move into the narrow streets of the village of Ponzano, including stairways, squares and ancient houses, until you reach the heart, where you can visit the beautiful Church of San Michele Arcangelo that actually looks with its Baroque dress, but which origins date back at least to the thirteenth century. In front of it, the elegant Palazzo Remedi is undoubtedly the most valuable building of the old town, with its small, elegant interior courtyard and its main facade that opens onto the Piazzetta dell’Immacolata and, from there, across the Magra valley.

 

 

Quercia

Among the small towns found around Aulla you can visit Quercia, a characteristic old village immersed in nature just a few kilometers away, that still today carries on one of the oldest traditions in Lunigiana attracting tourists and visitors from all over the world.

There are still many people who have decided to live here in Quercia among the forests and enchanted valleys. Walking through its narrow streets and old shops you’ll find an elegant palazzo dating to the 18th century, historic residence of the parish priest Cosimo Malaspina, and another 18th century church that is home to works of art by great contemporary masters like the painter and scenographer from Lecce, Tonino Caputo.

Since 1989 this small town entered in the Guinness Book of world records with[* the largest stocking in the world*]: 25 meters of fabric hung from the top of the bell tower on the occasion of the Epiphany – January 6 – known as ‘Festa della Befana’ – when a legendary old lady brings candy to good children.  The holiday has therefore become an exciting one full of expectation for all the inhabitants of the town and many other people who come from around Lunigiana. They gather underneath the bell tower and wait for the unveiling of this famous stocking full of sweets for young and old. Another event that has made the town famous is the feast of  ‘chiodo di maiale’, that takes place around the end of February.

 

 

Regnano

Divided among three provinces and three regions Lunigiana offers a wide range of customs and traditions. One of the historic centers that distinguishes itself for beauty and typicality is the town of Regnano, in the municipality of Casola.

Situated on the right bank of the torrent Aulella, inside the town you can admire the ruins of the castle Castello di Montefiore, testimony to the strategic role played by this place in the past. The fortress was built around the year 1000 by Langobardians, an important point of transit for wayfarers and salesmen. . Federico I granted it as a feudal stronghold to Pietro, bishop di Luni and later it passed into the hands of the Malaspina around 1202. Like many other towns in the territory in 1477 it became dominated by the Florence republic. Two centuries later was conceded to the knight Costanzo Belencini from  Modena, but after his death it went back to be part of the Granducato.

Don’t miss the church of Santa Margherita, dating to 1100 or the Cantamaggio, an event that unites the townspeople to pay homage to spring with dances and songs of goodwill..

Famous for its bread, in the historic center of Regnano different food fairs are organized where you can try local food products made with wheat flour and potatoes. Baked in wood burning ovens the bread is round and famous in all the territory, ideal for combining with other typical products from the rich Lunigiana.

A village of a unique fascination, Regnano conserves traces of historic architecture and is a clever mix of Lunigiana characteristics with the influences of Reggio Emilia. 

 

 

San Terenzo

San Terenzo is a small typical Ligurian village that could certainly be considered the other pearl of the [+ Gulf of Poets+]. With its colorful houses and the castle perched on a rock, it closes, in fact, the small bay of Lerici, in an unbreakable bond of historical heritage and landscape.

Its origins sometimes fade into legend, as we remember the names of some places such as “the tomb of the giant” and “Roland’s rock” which is said to have been broken in two by the fury of the knight.

Already independent in medieval times, it was home to a major hospitable, so its small port, as well as being considered an important trading center, became a favorite destination for the landing of the pilgrims, directed along the route of the Via Francigena, including the monk Terenzio, then Bishop of Luni, sanctified by his martyrdom.

The renovated waterfront that from Lerici permits a pleasant walk from castle to castle, takes the visitor to a progressive approach to the village able to make him grasp the most amazing and beautiful aspects. A small fishermen’s village, with steep narrow streets that from the scenic road lead to the sea, a succession of multi-colored houses overlooking the white sandy beach, a small square where, in the shadow of majestic pines, rest small fishing boats, and finally the castle which from its cliff, seems to protect such beauty.

Even the seventeenth-century church dedicated to the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, built on existing structures of an older church, is a small gem that is well worth a visit, especially for the fifteenth-century bas-relief of Domenico Gare, “the painting of the Madonna dell’Arena”, so called because it was found on the beach (also called arena) after a heavy storm, and therefore still object of worship.

Do not miss a visit to the then small and elegant Park Shelley, which in the summer evenings offers film screenings, theater and storytelling, contemporary art exhibitions and symposia of painting and sculpture in a unique and charming location, next to the magnificent Villa Magni, a favorite residence of the famous English poet and his wife, to whom the park is named.

San Terenzo is, therefore, a place that will enchant for its cozy and peaceful atmosphere, which will invite to walk the promenade to the west, beneath the rocky cliffs and the tower of the castle, where to stay in the sun during the day and admire the lights of the village of Lerici, on the other side of the gulf.

The many restaurants, with their smells of seafood, will finally invite us to a tasty break, in the many outdoor tables in the streets, squares or covered porches that allow us to taste the typical Ligurian dishes in a unique and unforgettable scenario

 

 

S. Stefano Magra

 

Since its foundation the small town of Santo Stefano Magra has been at the crossroads of merchants and cultures as it has always been situated on the border of different reigns and regions and, beacuse of it position, it was one of the important hostels along the Via Francigena path.

Nowadays, this strong charachter of transit-town along the Magra River still is very present and Sant Stefano definitely is a melting pot of Ligurian and Tuscan traditions; even its dialect is the result of this particular mix and if you’d decide to walk though its hostorical center you’d experience the unusal feeling of a ligurian village with its narrow streets and colored houses overlooking – instead of the usual steep panorama of Liguria – a glimpse Tuscan hills.

Walking through the streets of downtown you will notice the many shops that still stand here, in a succession of foodshops, haberdasheries, florists and craft workshops, which together with embroidered curtains on the windows, the flower pots on the window sills and sometimes the clothes hanging from a across the alley, create a seductive atmosphere of old times. Meanwhile, in the central square, the great Church of Santo Stefano which stands majestically, like a sanctuary, above the roofs of houses, creates the iconic image of the village, recognized by all the surrounding territory.

 

 

Sarzana

A history that of the town of Sarzana closely linked since its origins with the ancient Roman town of Luni. Its name appears for the first time in 963 in an act which is recognized to the Bishop of Luni the possession of Castrum Sarzanae, but in all probability refers to a small historic village situated on a hill, near where today stands the fortress of Castruccio.

Indeed, it is after the year 1000 that begins to form the core of today’s town location, on the Via Aurelia at the junction with the road leading to Parma and Piacenza, probably due to the gradual decline of Luni, following the recession of the coastline and the consequent silting of its port.

In 1204 the bishopric of Luni was then moved to the new city, which was to assume a primary role and influence in Lunigiana, even when in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries came under the domain of Lucca, Florence and Genoa.

The structure of the nucleus originated from the ancient Roman settlement, merging small villages to create a unified design, crossed by the Romea road and surrounded by fortification walls. Already existed in the Middle Ages a hospital, a castle, the Church of Sant’Andrea and San Basilio Church, that after became Cathedral of Santa Maria, the latter can still be seen along the main street of the city. The continuous expansion of the town led to the construction of additional housing, placed in parallel rows and separated by roads, called “carrobi”, which probably correspond to the current Via Mascardi and Via Fiasella, and convents belonging to various religious orders (Franciscans, Dominicans and Clarisse).

During the Renaissance the city consolidated its urban structure and through demolitions and majestic reconstructions assumed that aspect that you see today along the streets of the city, penetrating into the most cramped ways or leaving you fascinated by two majestic forts that seem to look at each other, from the city one, and from the hill above the other.

Together with the two Romanesque churches, the towers with portions of the walls in some places still viable and elegant seventeenth-nineteenth century works, they are surely Fortezza Firmafede and the one called of Castruccio, the two most fascinating buildings that are worth a visit, perhaps during the many events that here find one striking scenery.

Walking through the streets and alleys in the heart of Sarzana is always a pleasant surprise, because the intense peace of modern life, the joy of the many venues that open onto the streets of the historic center, shops and shops that overlook the streets have been able to create a perfect harmony in a town that has the right size to be an important source of lively historical, cultural and recreational attraction, without the chaotic traffic of the city.

The many cultural events, including exhibitions, festivals and fairs, constantly animate the life of the locals and the many tourists who visit each season the center of Sarzana to know its history, appreciate art and taste the flavors.

 

 

Sassalbo

Leaving behind the wonders of Fivizzano – also called Florence in Lunigiana – and heading north toward the Apennines, it’s worth the trip to visit Sassalbo, a small village in the heart of the mountains, the headquarters of the national park Parco Nazionale dell’Appennino Tosco Emiliano

The name of the town derives from the environment to which it belongs: great chalk deposits surround it. Its history begins in 1400 and from that moment continued to develop until it became known as a stopping point for everyone who was headed towards the mountain pass Passo del Cerreto, and given its position on the border of nearby Emilia Romagna, the town became a passing point for nobility and pilgrims that found refuge here. Today Sassalbo is surrounded by centuries old  and is immersed in silence except for the gurgling waters of the torrent Rosaro.

Disrupting the life and territory here through the centuries is Mother Nature, with earthquakes, landslides and floods that drastically modified homes and the territory’s morphology.  One of the remains still visible and evocative of places that are now lost is the ancient church that collapsed together with part of the town in 1400. Still today we can admire the church bell tower,  and the castle, that fell apart together with the mountain on which it was built,  or  the convent where an ancient route passed through called ‘the rocky road’, a way to reach Emilia. Today thanks to intervention by the towns administration this route known as  “La Modenese”, is perfectly accessible. The church of San Michele, imposing and strong, was rebuilt in late 1800’s, damaged by a landslide that destroyed it in 1843, and later was renovated again in an earthquake in1920.

Sassalbo today is one of the nerve centers for Parco Nazionale dell’Appennino and from here depart many routes that lead to Passo dell’Ospedalaccio dell’ Alpe di Camporaghena and to the botanic gardens l’Orto Botanico di Frignoli, a natural oasis of rare beauty.

As with all of these small towns,  Sassalbo has its share of myth and legends, stories of popular culture that for a long time occupied the dreams and stories of the people who lived here.

The culinary tradition instead is similar to the rest  Lunigiana. The main food protagonist is in fact, the chestnut in all of its variations and declinations.

A unique place in which to discover the natural history, not that of the territory.  A meeting point of customs and traditions you will have the way to observe close-up the uniqueness  that Lunigiana has to offer. To visit as a whole but also in its many facets. 

 

 

Tellaro

Nestled on a rocky peninsula under of the Caprione promontory, between Lerici, the beaches of Fiascherino and the cliffs which lead to Punta Corvo and end at the mouth of the Magra river, there sits the small village of Tellaro.

A tiny cluster of houses overlooking the sea, whose origins probably date back to Etruscan times, but the form we know today was developed in the Fourteenth Century, when the inhabitants of Barbazzano left the small hill town – of which only the ruins remain today – running from an epidemic of plague and choosing a healthier area to move to. It originated a masterpiece of urban planning and architecture perfectly integrated into the landscape that, in 2004, has earned the village the inclusion in the Most Beautiful Villages of Italy, selected by the ANCI.

After leaving the road that from Lerici, through Maralunga and Fiascherino, lies close to the village and here ends, we can continue to walk to reach the square that houses the principal business activities of the country and then we can go into the narrow alleys of the oldest suburb. Steps in tunnels, steep stairs and narrow crossing streets lead us, with a sudden descent, the one small port to the sea.

A few feet above the crashing waves, turning on the outer edge of the village, with tall buildings on one side and the thin metal railing that protects us from the rocks below you can walk towards the end of the village where the Sixteenth Century Church of San Giorgio stands like a ship leaving the harbor. To the Church and to its charming location overlooking the sea is linked the story of the legendary rescue of Tellaro. It is said that, on a night in 1660, the little town was about to be attacked by Saracen pirates covered by the thick mist rising from the sea, when from the depth of the abyss emerged a giant octopus that clung to the rope of bells, ringing them repeatedly, waking up the population and warding the attackers away.

Tellaro represents another must-see stop on a route between land and sea in the Gulf of Poets. A dense network of trails connects it to other seaside towns on the coast, but allows to go up on the hill behind it, where the Mediterranean maquis alternates with sequences of terraced vineyards and olive groves, to reach the ghost towns of Portesone and Barbazzano or to the village with which it shares to the primacy of beauty, that of Montemarcello, which dominates the promontory of Caprione, linking the valley of the Magra with the Ligurian coast.

 

 

Tendola

A medieval town surrounded by green hills of Lunigiana, positioned on a border that for centuries made it a crossroad for travellers and shepherds during their seasonal migrations, who set here camp in tents that apparently gave the village its name (in Italian tent is spelled tenda from which [_Tendola _]may come from).

Its story is similar to those of many small villages in the land of Luni: it is made of struggles between political factions, marquis, feuds first and then commons, which have left behind important castles, churches, pilgrims’ hostels, mills… TendolaHowever, unlike other small villages, has been able to make of its history a legacy from which to find its own contemporary identity, which would make it “special” in the panorama of cultural and local tourism.

In the most recent years the village has been activated by cultural initiatives bringing art to town, symposia and exhibitions have been organized and the village now hosts contemporary artworks alongside its historical heritage.

Particularly interesting and engaging is the Piazzetta dell’Amore in which, inspired by the Hollywood Boulevard, a concrete tiles wall stands which are visible the handprints of Tendola’s citizens. Today a monument to those who – with their daily lives – make the history of this place and in the future, the exciting possibility for many grandchildren to touch the hand of their grandparents.

 

 

Torano

The history of the marble quarries *]in the Apuan Alps and the roads to reach the majority of them still are very long, tortuous and hard. That probably is one of the reasons why many small towns and villages were built here and there in between the quarries, simplifying the lives of the marble workers and theri familiess. Out of the these, one of the most beautiful an best preserved is the village of [*Torano, which origins apparently date back to the Roman colony of Luni, as evidenced by the numerous gravestones and inscriptions found nearby.

On the road that leads from Carrara to the marble area of the Lorano canal, of Ravaccione and Battaglino, near one of the most important caves in the Luni region, the quarry Zampone, it is easy to imagine that the small town was continually crossed by wagons carrying down large blocks of marble. Perhaps hence his name is linked to the great bulls that were used to tow the competition.

Also famous for the amazingly clear water that flows from the spring of Pizzutello just above the village, Torano still shows the signs of its indissoluble bond with the daily work of the quarries, in the precious portals, in the engravings and decorations that adorn the facades of houses in the village and wall sculptures that can be seen walking through the alleys. 

Each summer, for nearly a month between July and August, the Torano renews this bond with Torano night and day, a real open-air art gallery fo artworks. Sculptures, installations, paintings and photographs are shown all over the city in public and private spaces and transforming the village in the perfect set for music festivals and performances.

 

 

Treschietto

In Lunigiana Treschietto rhymes with onion, but this is not the only reason why this beautiful small village in the woods is worth a visit.

Since the Middle Age Treschietto was a natural gateway for the products coming from Mount Osaro and it once was dominated by an imposing castle of which nowadays only stones are left. The village origins, though, date back way before 1000 a.C. as the various Statue Stele found around the village bare witness of ancient human settlements.

The village history, as great part of Lunigiana’s history, is strictly connected to the (often troubled) events in Malaspina family, but what may be curious to remember about Treschetto is its role as ‘fiscal pledge’ ina dispute between the Marquis and the Duke of Tuscany and eventually settled with a requisition by the imperial treasury.  In 1800 the village was occupied by Napoleon’s army and annexed to the Stati Estensi di Lunigiana.

Today as testimony of Treschietto’s past are the Castle’s ruins, the 16th Century San Giovanni Battista’s Church an the narrow streets that allow unexpected views onto the surrounding landscape. Treschietto is a much needed stop for any foodie who’d love to taste its famous Treschietto Onion, small, rounded, sweet… one secret (and necessary) ingredient for the best recipes in Lunigiana.

 

 

Vezzano Ligure

Vezzano Ligure is undoubtedly one of the most peculiar villages of this area, not only for its strategic location that allows a 360 view all around, leaning on one side on the confluence of the Fiume Magra and Vara, and opening across Mar Ligure and the Golfo dei Poeti, but also for its very special shape. There are in fact, not far from each other, two clusters of ancient origin, that for the slight difference in altitude are called Vezzano Speriore (Upper) and Vezzano Inferiore (Lower), but in reality they create almost a continuum, bound as they are by the ridge road that unites them and along the which already in the Middle Ages there was an hostel for travelers.

The history of Vezzano dates back to pre-Roman times, with a Ligurian settlement and the alleged presence of a castle. But its development is similar to many villages that dot the valley of Magra, where the presence of the Bishops of Luni, the Malaspina Family and the domination of Genoa have occurred over the centuries, changing settlements and architectures.

There are in fact a lot of testimonials of this past that you can meet and admire along ancient roads: from the church of Santa Maria, just outside the village, to the interesting Arc of San Giorgio, which led to the small settlement of the same name near the lower village, from charming thirteenth century pentagonal tower that soars above the rooftops of the country, up to the top of Vezzano Superiore where still resting ancient fortress, passing by the fourteenth-century Hospital of San Niccolò and crossing the two beautiful medieval villages. A visit along paved alleys where among ancient stone buildings and picturesque spots that open up the valley you can enjoy the history and traditions of this fascinating land, in which successive small wineries and typical taverns are able to transform the country into an explosion of taste and color during the days of the Feast of grapes and wine in late September that attracts tourists and wine enthusiasts from all over the territory.

 

 

Villafranca

Along the course of the Magra river, leaving behind Pontremoli and Filattiera, you reach the town of Villafranca. Unfortunately the town was heavily bombarded during World War II but what is left of the old historic center culminating in the ruins of the Malnido Castle - transmits still today an atmosphere heavy with history.

The origins of Villafranca in Lunigiana date from 1000, as a commercial agglomerate along the road of monte Bardone, an important point of confluence along the routes of the ancient Via Romea and Via Francigena.

In visiting the town and the surrounding territory it’s worth your while to make a stop at the Museo Etnografico della Lunigiana, located inside old mills that once were at the entrance of the town. A visit to this museum is the perfect context to read the territory from Villafranca to the surrounding towns of BagnoneFilettoMalgrate and Virgoletta.

 

 

Vinca

Between the valleys of the town of Fivizzano, in the shadow of the high and sharp peaks of the Apuan Alps, is set like a precious pearl inside a glittering ring, the village of Vinca. A little gem of beauty and nature, made up of picturesque landscapes and breathtaking views. Around the reality, so much green, Pizzo d’Uccello, the Cresta Garnerone and Monte Sagro, which together form the backdrop to a truly unique and impressive scenery. This is the last inhabited center remained in the valley, surrounded by large chestnut woods. The scenic effect is really something to see in person. Difficult to describe the emotions you feel once you get to the village, looking around and feeling wrapped in this stunning natural embrace. Always the inhabitants were devoted to rural life, custodians of the land thanks to the culture of the chestnut. The atmosphere inside the small streets of the village is the same that of time. Its characteristics have remained unchanged, leaving intact the style of the houses and unchanged rhythms of life, what it once was.

Thanks to its strategic location, it was the perfect hideout for persecuted people from the waves of barbarians who came around 1260. Was they people who started the peasant and rural life, entrusting their fate to the many natural resources found in this corner of paradise. Only a terrible wave of the Black Death was able to break the idyllic atmosphere that reigned here. Almost the entire population died. Only a small group of people survived, in all thirteen. It was they who give life again to this mountain village, staying in the so-called Casa dei Tredici, helping with each other to recreate life in this part of Lunigiana.

But the past was not very kind with Vinca. In the summer of 1944 in fact, at the end of the Second World War, was the scene as many other neighboring countries, a terrible carnage Nazi, by troops of the Sixteenth Battalion of the SS that scattered valleys of Apuane of terror and blood. There were 174 victims in the village of Vinca, for most women, elderly and children. In memory of those tragic events there is a monument placed in the cemetery of the village and a Memorial Day, organized every year by the municipality.

About Vinca there are also beautiful and good things. Like its bread, the Vinca Bread, famous throughout the territory of Lunigiana. At appearance is dark and round, baked in a wood oven and mixed with bran and flour produced in the mill of Arlia. A truly unique product, combined with local meats, Lardo di Colonnata or foods that is well matched to its special taste.

A treasure chest of culture and history, that today it present to you in all its entirety, in the heart of the Regional Park of the Apuan Alps, between lush vegetation, animals, and about two hundred residents who are now adjusted to the rhythm of life, in love of scenery around them, protected by the safe control exercised by the high peaks of nature.

 

 

Zeri

An actual town called Zeri does not exist. Like Podenzana, in fact, the municipality of Zeri corresponds to the organic collective of all the inhabited urban centers in the upper part of Lunigiana, a collection of mini-villages found scattered in uphill roads, forests and green pastures where the famous sheep are raised.  Zeri is a truly unique portion of the territory that climbs up to the Due Santi mountain pass, at the border where Tuscany, Liguria and Emilia Romagna meet and marked by the torrents GordanaTeglia and Adelano.

It is without a doubt a must-see area for nature lovers.

In the pastures of Zeri the famous sheep and Agnello di Zeri are raised, producing the exceptional lamb with its extremely tender meat – now protected by the Slow Food Movement - a delicacy served in almost every local restaurant as well as in some of the best restaurants throughout Italy. Not to mention the same sheep have a particular milk, producing an equally delicious cheese that is most certainly worth tasting.

Zeri is a lesser known part of Lunigiana but its territory is one of the richest in natural attractions, beautiful scenery and corners of country life worth discovering.

One of the busiest fractions of Zeri is Patigno, where the town hall is located, and just above the town you can find traces of its castle, dating to the late 19th c. All that remains today of the fortress is the base of a tower, a surrounding wall and a few boulders, but given its strategic position it is easy to imagine how this location was a control point for the entire valley and an important part of the Malaspina defense system.

The valley of Zeri is crossed by the torrent Gordana and following it from Pontremoli, you’ll go through Noce, Patigno, Coloretta, Castello and Bergugliara to proceed up to the village of Formentara, an ancient and now abandoned mountain pasture. The municipality extends to the adjacent valley called Adelano, where you’ll find the ‘Lourdes cave’ – a replica of the French original built in the mid 20th c  – here you will encounter the villages of Chiosa, Antara, Torricella, Rastrello, Serralunga and Fichi. Further on in the Rossano valley, the southernmost of the three, you find these little towns one after the other: Piagna, Castoglio, Chioso, Montelama, Chiesa, Paretola, Valle and Bosco.

 

 

CASTLES IN LUNIGIANA

Aghinolfi Castle

 

The origins of Aghinolfi Castle’s name seem to be very close to that of Agilulfo [agin-terror | wulf-wolf], a 6th Century Lombard king descending from the Thuringhen. In 753, the Lombard king Astolfo donated the Castle to his brother-in-law, and the Lombards kept it under their control until 1376, when it was passed to the Republic of Lucca, becoming one of its most strategic military outposts. Looking out from its bastion to the view that stretches from Livorno up to the Ligurian coast of the Gulf of La Spezia, the importance of this bulwark is clear.

At the end of the 15th Century it was granted to Charles VIII of France: at the time, the manor was a fortified hamlet surrounded by three walls. Inside the first wall there were storage rooms and buildings used for shelter; 87 houses were defended by the other internal walls and a drawbridge; and at the top of the hill arose the castle itself, with an octagonal fortified tower, a circular tower and other defensive curtains.

The structure was irreparably damaged by the plundering that resulted from Lucca’s abandonment of it in 1799. Following the Jacobean invasion, the castle was robbed of bricks, windows, doors and anything else that could be taken away. The situation was later exacerbated by Elisa Baiocchi, Napoleon’s sister and the Princess of Lucca who, in order to solve the problem of the frequent malaria fevers in the plains of Montignoso, decided to build flood-gates in nearby Cinquale, using whatever remained of the dwellings inside the Castle walls. No help was given by Allied bombing during World War II when, as a Gothic Line stronghold, the fortress was occupied by a Nazi garrison.

Two centuries of disgrace had to pass before restoration work began. Today, thanks to the most recent works that have rebuilt the seven towers of the encircling walls, the guarded bastion and the rectangular bulwark with the suspended passage, the Castle has become a museum with an internal park that is accessible along a walkway, opening up to the air and the sight of the Tyrrhenian Sea. 

 

 

Ameglia Castle

The origins of Aghinolfi Castle’s name seem to be very close to that of Agilulfo [agin-terror | wulf-wolf], a 6th Century Lombard king descending from the Thuringhen. In 753, the Lombard king Astolfo donated the Castle to his brother-in-law, and the Lombards kept it under their control until 1376, when it was passed to the Republic of Lucca, becoming one of its most strategic military outposts. Looking out from its bastion to the view that stretches from Livorno up to the Ligurian coast of the Gulf of La Spezia, the importance of this bulwark is clear.

At the end of the 15th Century it was granted to Charles VIII of France: at the time, the manor was a fortified hamlet surrounded by three walls. Inside the first wall there were storage rooms and buildings used for shelter; 87 houses were defended by the other internal walls and a drawbridge; and at the top of the hill arose the castle itself, with an octagonal fortified tower, a circular tower and other defensive curtains.

The structure was irreparably damaged by the plundering that resulted from Lucca’s abandonment of it in 1799. Following the Jacobean invasion, the castle was robbed of bricks, windows, doors and anything else that could be taken away. The situation was later exacerbated by Elisa Baiocchi, Napoleon’s sister and the Princess of Lucca who, in order to solve the problem of the frequent malaria fevers in the plains of Montignoso, decided to build flood-gates in nearby Cinquale, using whatever remained of the dwellings inside the Castle walls. No help was given by Allied bombing during World War II when, as a Gothic Line stronghold, the fortress was occupied by a Nazi garrison.

Two centuries of disgrace had to pass before restoration work began. Today, thanks to the most recent works that have rebuilt the seven towers of the encircling walls, the guarded bastion and the rectangular bulwark with the suspended passage, the Castle has become a museum with an internal park that is accessible along a walkway, opening up to the air and the sight of the Tyrrhenian Sea.

 

 

Arcola Castle

As well as many other medieval hamlets in Lunigiana, Arcola and its castle overlook the valley. The ancient fort that emerges above every other roof was built in the 11th century by the Obertenghi family and it was one of the most majestic fortress in the High Middle Ages. It was turned into a monastery and into an elegant residence for the Malaspina family, the Dorias and it was occupied by Castruccio Castracani eventually.

What remains is the result of an intense post-Napoleon era restoration: in the face of the collage of diverse historical layers, it is surprising to witness the outliving of the ancient Obertenghi pentagonal tower: twenty five meters for a not to be missed landmark that has been declared a national monument. 

Arcola, its castle, its cobbles streets and the view from there – a sort of natural cinerama above the Magra Valley – are worth a visit. Once in the main square, don’t miss the chance to watch closely a small stone tank: it dates back to 1601 and it amounts to half a barrel of wine, as stated by the Genoeses; what else is needed to prove the robust link between Arcola, its hills and vineyards?

 

 

Bastia Castle

Virginia Oldoini. Does this name mean anything to you? The Countess of Castiglione. Does that sound more familiar? 

We thought it might, but for those who may not know her story, Virginia was one of the most courted women of the Risorgimento: educated, elegant, a natural prodigy who was soon commissioned by her cousin, the Count of Cavour, to go on a rather delicate diplomatic mission: to bring Napoleon III back to Italian reason. Though we’re not sure how close she came to being an intimate friend of the emperor, she did surely conquer the French, becoming a sought-after guest of the best parlors in Paris. 

Few know that Virginia was born in Lunigiana, and even less know the story of her precursor Anna Malaspina di Bastia, whose beauty flared the passion of poets and artists. About a century or so before Virginia, thanks to her relationship with the Prime Minister of France, the Marquis Du Tillot and the intercession of the Jesuits, Anna was also engaged for an impossible mission: to steal the heart of Louis XV and to oust Madame Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour, from his bed; she was the King?s favourite, but was hostile to the Jesuits. While political muddles were resolved in the alcoves, it just so happened that a young marquise from Lunigiana, Bastia, was closer to imperial power and to the Paris elite than one could only imagine.

Her Castle, today an impeccably preserved private residence, was one of the many strongholds dotting the road network that moved directly across the Lunigiana towards Tuscany, Emilia Romagna and Liguria. With its square, massive design, four round towers at the corners and its large, central tower, the Bastia Castle controlled those who passed through the Lagastrello Pass, in a hilly position near the village of Licciana Nardi. 

As if the fortress’s architectural qualities weren’t enough, the history of its most celebrated resident is certainly worth a visit. When you are a few minutes from Licciana Nardi, we advise that you make a reservation for your visit.

 

 

Brunella Castle

 

In 1916, when Kinta Beevor was five, her father, painter Aubrey Waterfield bought the Fortezza della Brunella in Aulla. Waterfield had fallen in love with the Brunella at the end of the Nineteenth century and he had his wife Lina Gordon Duff – The Observer correspondent in Italy – convinced to go along with his wishes and to move there. 

At that time, the newlyweds found themeselves tending to a grand military architecture – not  a love nest indeed – that was designed after the revolution of firearms:  the fortress forms at one with the hill and whoever built it – someone says it was a fort along Jacopo Ambrosio Malaspina’s defensive curtain, someone says it was Giovanni delle Bande Nere to have it built – had a clear idea of where the art of war was heading.

The Waterfield transformed it into a luxurious mansion and it is a shame that their most spectacular and poetic restoration work – the roof garden a few steps from the stars, where they used to enjoy nights and days together with Bernard Berenson, D.H Lawrence, Aldous Huxley and many other friends, poets and painters – was dismantled and hence no longer visible. You can read about it in A Tucan Childhood, the book written by the late [*Kinta Beevor to go through her early years in Aulla. *]

Built with the same brown rock that is the spur on which it arises, the Brunella seems a monolith. Nowadays it is home to a scientific library and to the Lunigiana Natural History Museum. Don’t miss a visit to the surrounding park and don’t hesitate to contact Natour Coop if you are in the need of a guided tour. 

 

 

Vescovi di Luni Castle

 

The high crenellated tower with a square plan that emerges impressive and stylish over the roofs of the village of Castelnuovo Magra, characterizes the profile of the country, so as to make it clearly recognizable in the area and becoming a reassuring reference point for who visiting the Magra Valley and the Plain of Luni, find hillside setting as a system of hilltop villages sometimes hard to distinguish.

By the end of the twelfth century has documented the presence of a fortress, probably built by Bishop Gualtieri to ensure the control and security of the underlying Via Romea, but the current structure dates back to the second half of the thirteenth century, built as a bishop’s residence and seat of the diocese of Luni. In the following centuries, under the domination of Florence and Genoa, was turned into a military fort, only to be phased out. As it happened for the ancient Luni, the poor remains, once lost their function, were subsequently demolished and its stones were used to build the houses in the village, in a logic of recovery of material and labor economy that today makes us sad and leaves us perplexed, but allowed the birth and the development of many villages in these hills.

Of the majestic medieval castle remains only the great tower of the defense system and a smaller round tower, enriched by the typical corbels brick with arches, connected with the remains of the walls, which today surround the beautiful Piazza Querciola, home to many artistic and cultural events.

This is such a noble place where, on the fourth Sunday in August, we celebrate the anniversary of the famous Peace of Dante, of which was valuable witness the great poet, signed on October 6, 1306 to seal the peace between the Bishops of Luni and the Marquises Malaspina, who after seven years of severe conflicts, changed the course of history of the valley.

 

 

Castevoli Castle

We are in the territory of Mulazzo, on the right bank of the Magra River. The Castevoli Castle is one of the sites that holds evidence dating back to before the year 1000, with a document showing the presence of a parish church. It was probably built in order to control the underlying Roman road, which then became the Via Francigena, that connected Piacenza to Lucca. 

It underwent great changes a few centuries later, during the 1500s, when Tommaso Malaspina wanted to enlarge it for his wife, Bianca Sicchi d’Aragona. At the beginning of the 17th Century, their descendant Francesco completed the fortified structure and the curtain that protected the houses of the hamlet.

Known for its taxes and its exhausting work conditions, the feud [because, as we may recall, feudalism endured until Napoleon] was shattered by the popular revolts that brought the Malaspina dominion to its end during the 18th Century.

Since 1797, the Castle has thus fallen into disgrace, and two centuries passed before it came back to life in the 1990s, thanks to the artist Loris Nelson Ricci who, along with his wife Erica H. End, chose to transform it into their home, studio and international cultural center. The Castle may be visited with advance reservation, and still houses a collection of works by Nelson Ricci. 

 

 

Comano Castle

On the far eastern edge of Lunigiana, in the high Taverone valley, lying in a corner of Tuscany that projects towards the provinces of Parma and Reggio Emilia, we may find the hamlet of Comano.

We are immersed in the Tuscan-Emilian Apennine Park, in one of the most unspoiled landscapes of Lunigiana, where herds of wild horses bring to mind epic scenes from the American Far West. This valley is where the Comano Castle dominated as a tax post and bastion for the Malaspina family, defending two important mountain passes in the Apennines, Ospedalaccio and Cerreto. 

Today, all that is left is a cylindrical tower with swallow-tailed crenellations from the 13th Century, like its counterparts in Malgrate, Bagnone and Treschietto, and its 15th-Century walls. It is first mentioned in a document from 824, when the hamlet, with the castle defending its population, was donated to the Aulla abbey. In Medieval times it was under the Estensi family, who passed it to the Malaspinas in the second half of the 12th Century. Initially, a vassal family named Dollo looked after the castle for them, but following a fratricide that killed the patriarch Manuele, Spinetta Malaspina did not allow the crime to go unpunished, and tooth for tooth, had all the murdering brothers decapitated, annexing the hamlet to the feud of Verrucola. In 1479, Comano was brought under the dominion of the Republic of Florence.

Though today the structure is clearly in a state of abandonment, the publicly owned circular tower has recently been restored. Reservations must be made in advance. 

 

 

Dell’Aquila Castle

You can reach it by a steep road through the woods, just after the village of Gragnola. Nothing, not even the beautiful view from the bottom of the valley, could prepare you for the magnificent sight of the Castel dell’Aquila -Eagle’s Castle when you arrive at the crest of the hill: a monumental fortification, recently renovated thanks to a restoration that is, to say the least, heroic.

We are in the territory of Fivizzano, in eastern Lunigiana. The Pizzo d’Uccello – Bird’s Peak is behind us, a spectacular background that will leave you breathless; an enviable geographic position, once under the domain of Gragnola, a crucial point for communications passing from Central Europe to Rome, a confluence for the Aulella and Lucido torrents. Two great dynasties lived here, both from the Malaspina line of Fosdinovo: the first originated from Galeotto of Fosdinovo in the 14th Century, the second from Lazzaro, the son of Antonio Alberico, Marquis of Fosdinovo, whose lineage was extinguished in the first half of the 17th Century.

 

THE TWENTIETH CENTURY | FALL AND RISE OF THE CASTLE

The 1900s were the dark century for the Castel dell’Aquila, which was damaged by an earthquake in 1920 and by years of neglect, then abandoned after the last owners brought down the tower, which was in ruins, with dynamite. It took two years to clear the brushwood and ten to bring it back to its original majesty. You can hear the story from its owner, the lady of the manor who bought this Medieval derelict building years ago as a pleasant retreat, only to discover a castle hidden by the thick brush

She can also tell you how, on February 19th, 2004, during restoration work, a tomb came to light with the entire skeleton of a man, a knight from the 1300s – as confirmed by the carbon-14 analysis – who had been killed by a crossbow to the throat. The mystery surrounding his violent death has captivated enthusiasts, historians and forensic scientists, making him a rather famous skeleton.

[*We highly recommend a visit with the owner: meeting this castle is, above all, discovering its legendary feats.  *]

How do you get there? From Aulla, just follow towards Fivizzano-Reggio Emilia on the Strada Statale n. 63 del Cerreto, and 8 kilometers before Fivizzano, turn right towards Gragnola-Gassano-Equi Terme. As you get closer to Gassano, the castle will already be watching over you from above. 

 

 

Filattiera Castle

In 1221, the Malaspina family divided itself into two branches: the Spino Secco (bare thorn bush) and the Spino Fiorito (blossomed thorn bush). Filattiera was declared the capital of the territories of the latter lineage, and the Malaspina decided to build it a great fortified residence, next to the already existing San Giorgio Castle.

However, Filattiera’s origins are even more ancient: its name seems to derive from the Byzantine term[_ fulacterion_], which indicated the blockading fortifications of points of great strategic importance. Filattiera’s plains were indeed important, according to plans to stop the Goths in their descent towards Rome. The castle, along with its feud – though this would soon be shattered by other family strife – remained under the Malaspinas until the 17th Century, when it was ceded to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. 

Today, the castle is privately owned, and has been laboriously rebuilt over the last two centuries – just observe the Ghibelline crenellation, which is not original – and transformed into an imposing residence. It forms two sides of the central square of Filattiera’s hamlet and is surrounded by a spacious garden. The castle has preserved some elements from the 1200s and 1300s, such as the remains of the Medieval towers, which are incorporated into the curtain of the wall, and the main hall, with four Medieval cross vaults. For visits, reservations must be made in advance; it is a very popular place for weddings. 

 

 

Firmafede Fortress

In the 19th Century, the historian Giovanni Targioni Tozzetti wrote, “Utterly remarkable is the citadel erected by Magnifico Lorenzo de’ Medici in the year 1488 on the site where there was an ancient Fortress constructed by the Pisani in the year 1262, that was called Ferma Fede”.

For the laymen, Lorenzo the Magnificent conquered Serazzana in 1487 after a long war against Genoa. After having destroyed the Firmafede Fortress, he decided to build a new, more modern one upon its ashes, in step with the current technological progress of the art of war. He well understood the strategic value of Sarzana, and decided that a fortress ready for the new firearms was a worthy investment.

Today, the colossal bulk of the Citadel – as the locals call it – is concealed behind a curtain of rooftops, at the eastern end of Sarzana’s historical center. In order to reach it you must penetrate the city’s streets or follow its ancient walls, along a shady rampart from where you can see the surrounding hills and the Sarzanello Fortress, a companion that once created a defensive curtain against so many cannons.

A striking moat and six cylindrical towers defended the walls, while one central mastio, along with a guard-house and barracks, constituted the internal defense ring. Six thousand square meters of defensive structures!
Since recent renovations were completed, the Citadel has hosted many events, including the super interesting Festival della Mente - Festival of the Mind and the annual appointment with the antiques market Soffitta nella Strada - The Attic in the Street.

 

 

Fosdinovo Castle

The Malaspina di Fosdinovo Castle is surely one of Lunigiana’s most fascinating strongholds, for its splendid architecture as well as for the stories that have been played out here over the centuries. From this strategic position, with its view that reaches to the sea and the Magra Plain, the Malaspina family controlled the entire territory with an iron fist for centuries.

The first fortification dates back to the 12th Century. It has been modified and enlarged over time, until becoming the castle we can see today: a quadrangular building with four round towers, a semicircular bastion and two internal courtyards. Beyond the Renaissance portico that welcomes the castle’s guests, you can discover hanging gardens, loggias and terraces. You can then stroll along the walkways on its walls and examine the surrounding territories, from the Apuan and Apennine mountains to the sea: in the distance you might recognize Corsica, Elba and Liguria with its Gulf of Poets, that captured writers like Shelley, Byron, Petrarch and Montale, and imagine the French Alps beyond…

A visit to the castle brings you through halls with furniture and frescoes from the end of the 1800s, rooms that some say were the sleeping quarters of Dante – a family friend of the Malaspinas – and the room with the trap door, with the torture rooms still lying underneath it. A visit to Malaspina di Fosdinovo Castle is surely a journey through history and mystery. Mystery because of the endless stories and legends surrounding the castle and its inhabitants, the most famous being that of the ghost of Bianca Maria Aloisia, the daughter of Jacopo Malaspina and Olivia Grimaldi. 

This legend tells of a girl that fell in love with a young stable boy. This was an insult to the noble family that rejected the young couple; they threatened to lock the girl in the castle’s prison. The couple’s rebellious spirit pushed the Marquis to lock the girl up in a convent, and to send her lover far away from Fosdinovo; but when she refused to be ordained, she was brought back to the castle and tortured. In the end, in order to avoid further scandal, she was walled up in a room and left to die, along with a dog, the symbol of loyalty, and a wild boar, the symbol of rebellion. Today, people say that her spirit still lives in the castle’s walls. The story of Bianca Maria Aloisia is still told, in honor of the memory of a great and tragic love story.

This ghost story is part of the mysterious and passionate atmosphere surrounding the castle, which today is a destination for “ghost hunters” from all over the world. But even for those not in search of mystery, Malaspina di Fosdinovo Castle remains a place of fascinating beauty, rich in history and culture. In addition to being a museum and private dwelling, the castle hosts a Bed & Breakfast and holds a prestigious residency for artists and writers. 

 

 

Lerici Castle

That of the Castle of Lerici is a long and complex history that has seen succeed for centuries domains and controls that have led to progressive modification interventions and expansion of its structure.

Its majestic and proud mass that today we can admire while it dominates the gulf overlooking the sea, is the result of the last fortifications which have taken place since 1555 and skillfully given to its former glory thanks to the restoration of the past decades. But its origins date back to the first century after 1000, when already Lerici was contested between Lucca and Genoa, passing under the possession of the Malaspina. Not a real castle, but a tower in defense of the place, was erected at that time, until the village came under the domination of Pisa that decided to fortify it and build a defensive castle, from which already stood a large pentagonal tower. We are in 1241, but after just fifteen years Lerici is sold to Genoa, the castle is expanded and the tower is reinforced with a structure that incorporates the previous one, allowing them to withstand the assaults of Guelph during the fourteenth century.

Wars, sieges, conquests and revolts were followed over the centuries to lead us to an important new stage in the history of this extraordinary castle. In 1555, in fact, are taken over the work of fortification, reinforcing the perimeter walls which in some cases reach 6 meters thick, making the castle a majestic unconquerable fortress that still amazes us for strength and elegance.

And like any respectable castle, including that of Lerici has its own ghost that hovers between rooms. This is not some sad story belonging to past ages, the presence still inhabits these places is that of Maddalena Di Carlo, known to all as Madì, which after the war became the vestal of the youth hostel housed in the premises of the castle. A woman loved and respected by all, whose fame reached the four corners of the earth, from which she received regular gifts and cards with which decorated common areas. Friendly and charismatic was adored by young people, estimated by the artists and well-liked by many nomads who were welcomed in the magnificent fortress and one night crowned the Queen of the Rovers with a crown made of cardboard and tin foil.

It is not difficult, to imagine that this slim figure and elegant continue to visit the many travelers who still roam the castle, still fascinated by its history and its extraordinary views of the gulf, or attracted by the wonders of the museum paleontological today attracts tourists from all over the world.

The castle is therefore a must-see for anyone to reach Lerici for the first time. The many paths that you can choose to access the large terrace offer us glimpses and new emotions: the steep staircase of 168 steps climbing the rocks of the source port, the narrow streets that wind through a labyrinth in ancient village or tunnel dug into the mountain and recently transformed into an unusual “art Gallery”, which leads us to the opposite side of the castle opening us unexpected views of the open sea.  

Once arrived on top we can catch our breath for a long time admiring the scenery that opens up in front of our eyes, following the line of the bay to the charming figure of San Terenzo castle that stands in front of us, to continue on the coast framed from the islands of the Gulf of La Spezia and then get lost in the horizon, where at dusk we will see the sun disappear.

Not to be missed at this point, will be the visit to the Paleontological Museum, where evocative reconstructions of environments and Jurassic dinosaurs will excite the little ones in an unexpected and involving journey back in time, when giant and fascinating creatures lived in these places long before man and his extraordinary transformations.

 

 

Malaspina Massa’s Castle

What strikes you when you first look at Malaspina Castle is the extraordinary sculpted mass that seems to rise out of the rock that supports it, a majestic spur with olive groves, framed by the Apuan Alps behind it, overlooking the small coastal village of Massa.

The castle’s origins date back to the High Middle Ages, when the Obertenghi family built it to defend and control the part of the new Via Francigena at the foot of the mountain that substituted the old Aemilia Scauri road, which was abandoned as the waters of the coast turned progressively into marshland. It is possible that, in that period, only the castle’s central fortified tower existed on the hill, and that it was connected with other tall watchtowers in order to create a great chain of protection, from the nearby hills down to Montignoso.

The castle was expanded many times over the following centuries, but it was Alberico I Malaspina, lord of Fosdinovo, who in 1442 transformed it from a defensive structure into a noble dwelling, with new frescoed halls, columns and marble staircases in Renaissance style. It was newly rebuilt following the tragic and spectacular event that rocked the castle in 1538, when its great tower was struck by lightning: the bolt reached the depository that was holding munitions and oil, causing an explosion so great that the castle?s mighty walls exploded which, as one witness wrote, ‘andorno in fine ne le montagne’ – went to the ends of the mountains.

Works continued until the 17th Century, ensuring this castle’s place in history. It can be reached on foot, from the center of Massa. The town of Massa and the coast extend from the foot of the castle’s hill; on clear days, the sight of the Tyrrhenian Sea is stunning. Inside, beyond the gate, you find yourself in a courtyard that seems like a parade ground, with porticos, loggias and staircases leading to the terraces and bastions, in a flow of stone surfaces and spontaneous plants. Beyond the walkways on the battlements and the internal courtyards, you unexpectedly come upon the Renaissance Palace, with its [_piano nobile _](noble main floor) and its frescoed halls, in an evocative visual contrast. In this corner of the castle, you can see the different phases of construction, the decorative enhancements that tell of the continuous evolution of tastes and needs of times past.

We highly recommend that you visit the castle for one of the many cultural events scheduled throughout the year, especially for Lo Spino Fiorito, a classic springtime appointment in Massa dedicated to the culture and production of wine in Italy.

 

 

Malgrate Castle

The origins of Malgrate Castle date back to the 14th Century, when the Malgrate feud was established by the Malaspina family. Upon the death of Niccolò I Malaspina, the Marquis of Filattiera, his five children divided up the feud, and Malgrate went to Bernabò.

His dynasty would go on to control it for seven generations, until the last Marquis, Cesare II, up to his eyes in debt and with no male heirs, was forced to sell the feud to the Ducal House of Milan. It was the second decade of the 17th Century. In 1641 it was sold  for 70,000 ecus to the Marquis Ariberti from Cremona, who transformed the castle into a stately home. 

Years ago, the feud was a victim of power play between the Republic of Florence and the Duchy of Milan. Both were more than interested in the strategic control of Lunigiana, but neither were strong enough to go unscathed in the balancing acts between the two Signorias. The Malaspinas proved not to be very good tightrope walkers, as we can see from the two violent retaliations they endured over a 12-year period, first from the Republic of Florence, then from the Viscontis. 

The cylindrical tower made of sandstone -[* 25 meters high*] - remains to tell of its military past, as part of the defensive line of the left bank of the Magra River. This line included the Bagnone, Treschietto and Comano Castles, which resemble each other for their swallow-tailed crenellations. The tower had a door above ground level that could be accessed with retractable stairs, and still displays six rooms with vaulted ceilings, one above the other, whose exact date of construction is uncertain.

In addition to the tower, which was most likely built in the mid-1300s, in the days of Bernabò Malaspina, we may recognize a building with a Medieval, rectangular layout, as well as an external curtain built by the Cremona family in the 17th Century, with a defensive system which, by that time, was conceived for firearms.

The castle was abandoned during the 1800s; uninhabited, it was a farm shed for many years. Today it is open to the public during the summer, as well as for the famous Living Nativity Scene in December. We recommend a walk around the battlements and a visit to the central tower.

 

 

Monti di Licciana Castle

 

In Monti di Licciana stands one of the best-conserved castles in Lunigiana, which is still the summer dwelling of one of the Malaspina family’s descendants.

Deep in a forest of centuries-old holm oaks – spectacular in autumn – the Castle rises up on a hill where it is thought that a defense bastion existed at the beginning of the second millennium, controlling the salt road that connected Parma with the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Another legend narrates that, where the village of Monti is found, a bit further down towards the valley below the Castle, laid an ancient city, Venelia, that was destroyed by the Longobards during their advance down the peninsula in the 7th Century. In other words, history tells us of the strategic importance of Monti in defending the entire Taverone Valley.

However, we only have definite reports of the castle’s existence from 1275. Owned by the Counts of Moregnano during the High Medieval Period, Monti became an independent feud under the Malaspinas in 1355, and then under the Marquis Simone and Nicola Malaspina in 1400. It was attacked by the Campofregosos of Genoa and stayed under their control for fourteen years, before returning to the Malaspinas, who extended and reinforced its walls, leading the feud in peace for twenty-four years. But the new walls did little to save it from the siege by Giovanni dalle Bande Nere (Giovanni of the Black Bands).

It returned to the Malaspinas in 1638, but upon the death of Spinetta, the feud crumbled and fell under the aegis of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.

The castle, which was restored following the earthquake in 1920, has a trapezoidal structure. A square fortified tower is located at its northwest corner, where stone supports used for external defensive devices are visible. The other corners are reinforced by circular towers, while we can find Ghibelline crenellations along the internal perimeter, which is protected by a wide pitched roof.

 

 

Piagnaro Castle Pontremoli

 

From its position overlooking Pontremoli, the Val di Magra, the old town that was born at its feet, the population that sees in it a symbol and a reference point. It represents the history of the municipality of Pontremoli, its domain, its vicissitudes, a power represented by its great structure, its location and the way in which it’s imposed over the centuries. You will see the Castle of Piagnaro just arrived in Pontremoli, you will feel in awe of it, admire it rising from the central squares, in its narrow streets, among the stone buildings that make this a unique city center. It will appear suddenly and find out floor plan. Before arriving at its feet, turn your eyes and enjoy the panoramic view that will give you the point. You will see Pontremoli and its life flowing under your eyes, as saw who wanted it and commissioned it. It was built around 1000, with the aim of logical defense combined with that of the control. Its privileged location ensured absolute control, an objective view of its surroundings, a way in which to exercise control without taking it from anyone or anything.

Once we arrived at the foot of the Castle of Pontremoli know closely the “piagne”, the slabs of sandstone with which it’s built, and from which it derives its name, and enter through its entrance into the stone, surmounted by the coat of arms of the Medici. Visit the Museum of the Statue Stele, placed inside and discover the wide courtyard that contains the well. Climb the steps that will lead you to the terrace and the oldest part of the castle, characterized by a semi-elliptic tower and a series of rooms which in the past were accommodation of guests, governors and military. Don’t miss any part of it, just so you can have a vision of mainsails effect.

Today, the Castle of Piagnaro will be presented to you in all its splendor, thanks to restoration work of which it was the protagonist. And also its prestige has not changed throughout the centuries, who saw it at the center of the changes through which the territory. Pontremoli was in fact the first free town, until the beginning of 1400, the feud of family Fieschi then, when it lost its independence. It went under the ownership of the Spaniards between 1500 – 1600, to be sold to Genoa and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany in 1650.

Discover its structure and the glimpse of Pontremoli observe that while you will go in the direction of the castle. Don’t forget its history and its domains and think about what it was for all the area in the past centuries. Even today its role in Lunigiana is the protagonist.

 

 

Podenzana Castle

 

If you know Podenzana, it’s probably thanks to its panigacci, a typical kind of unleavened bread cooked in terracotta presses: a tradition that this village boasts and preserves as its own. If you don’t know Podenzana – not even its panigacci – we recommend that you visit in August, during the most celebrated festival dedicated to this local specialty. Like Zeri, Podenzana is a scattered village, made up of several populated areas that dot the road towards the Gaggio Sanctuary, where documents have registered a miraculous Marian conversion of a blaspheming woodsman.

Whether you come to Podenzana for gastronomic or religious reasons, take advantage of this occasion to stop at Podenzana Castle. An imposing building, it was entirely rebuilt in the 1950s after suffering serious artillery damage during the War of the Spanish Succession, at the beginning of the 1700s.

The structure dates back to before 1000: traces of it have been found in a document from 884, the year the abbey in Aulla was founded. The Bishops of Luni and the Malaspina family fought over the castle in the 12th Century. The Malaspinas conquered it during the 13th Century, but had to suffer continual occupations by families from Genoa before they could make it the center of an independent feud. Its layout from the 1500s, still visible today, is in fact due to Malaspina domination.

Today the castle is private, and unfortunately it is closed to the public, unless you have the opportunity to visit for a wedding.

 

 

Pontebosio Castle

 

The Pontebosio Castle takes its name from a bridge with low arches that lies at its feet, which you must cross in order to reach the Soliera and Venelia parish churches. Its name derives from the lords who probably had it built, the Bosi of the Verrucola

Not far from the village of Licciana Nardi, on the left bank of the Taverone River and ready to defend the entrance to the Taverone Valley, Pontebosio became an independent feud under the Malaspina family in 1631. It has been a noble home, seminary and middle school, and its contemplation allows you to imagine its military past, though today it is completely uninhabited.

It is privately owned and closed to the public.

 

 

San Terenzo Castle

 

Neighboring Lerici Castle, San Terenzo Castle closes the western end of the Gulf of Poets, and defends the small maritime village of San Terenzo with its quadrangular fortress. It cannot boast an ancient history; it seems it was built in the 1400s, by countrymen ‘with no artillery, stairs, munitions, or guards’ against the raids by the Saracen pirates, the same Turks that gave the name to the grotto that opens up into the rocky promontory where the castle stands. 

As the western outpost of the gulf, San Terenzo Castle was a defensive offshoot of the more imposing fortress in Lerici, and can be reached in about thirty minutes via an enchanting footpath along the sea. It has an elegant crenellated tower with a pentagonal foundation and three circular turrets at its edges. The castle has recently been restored, and is worth the brief climb from the square near the sea that leads to its entrance. Today, it hosts exhibitions and cultural events. 

Another beautiful walk takes you from Piazzetta Brusacà in San Terenzo – where little fishing boats lie in the shade of pine trees as if they were suspended in time – to the great terrace overlooking the sea, and from here goes around the rock the castle emerges from. A little inlet embraces a beach that is protected from northern winds, becoming the ideal refuge for a warm and sunny pause, even on colder days. 

 

 

Sarzanello Fortress

 

If you have already visited at least one of the castles in Lunigiana, you will immediately notice the difference: the Sarzanello Fortress is a whole other story. If you’re familiar with the game ‘find the difference’, we can say there’s only one macroscopic difference: the cannon. Or the firearms in general, which mark a historical focal point in the design of military fortresses: pre-cannon and post-cannon.

Sarzanello dates back to before the year 1000, and references to its castrum are found in the 10th and 11th Centuries; it was also acknowledged in the 14th Century by its most illustrious resident, Castruccio di Castracani. Even so, Sarzanello as we know it today is a post-cannon fortress, designed in 1500 in order to defend against new firearms, the flagship of Renaissance military engineering.

While the castle developed vertically, Sarzanello Fortress seems held to the ground by the force of gravity. The master plan of the castle was square, while Sarzanello’s was triangular, which not only lent less sides to enemy fire, but had oblique walls and acute angles that better averted cannon shots. A fortified keep inside one of the triangular garrisons housed its commander: with walls three meters thick, wide moats and the mastermind of the defense in a safe place, Sarzanello was an unassailable fortress. 

Today it can be reached by car via a gravel road, or on foot along a path that leads from the historical center of Sarzana directly to the main entrance. In addition to visiting the fortress, Sarzanello hosts a wide range of activities: contemporary art exhibits, courses in herbal medicine, painting and photography workshops, mystery dinners, Medieval reenactments and ghost hunts! 

 

 

Verrucola Castle

 

The first documents indicating the existence of the Verrucola Castle date back to 1077, when the Emperor Henry IV – who wwnt down to history for the Humiliation of Canossa – granted control of it to the[* Estensi ]family. At the dawn of the 12th Century its name was associated with the Bosi family, but numerous dynasties fought for its control, as they were surely interested in controlling the routes crossing the Apennines nearby;  if we think about it now, it’s not so odd to see these castles as collection points for[ the road tolls of an ancient system!*]

In 1183, the castle fell into the hands of the Malaspina, thanks to the Peace of Costanza signed with Frederick I Barbarossa, and was under the jurisdiction of the Spino Fiorito branch until at least 1312, when it found itself at the centre of a disagreement involving Spinetta Malaspina, known as The Great, and Castruccio Castracani degli Antelminelli, from Lucca. Spinetta had envisaged a great plan for the unification of historic Lunigiana, and believed in the idea of a region under his dominion. But he was defeated again and again, till one day Spinetta met Castruccio, one of the most valiant Condottieri soldiers of the day. And so it was that an epic battle took place, and Castruccio vanquished Spinetta after an incredible siege on the Verrucola Castle. Spinetta the Great had to await Castruccio?s death in order to finally take the castle back, in 1335. 

In 1418, Verrucola was the site of a shocking bloodbath, a conspiracy plotted behind the back of the Marquis Bartolomeo Malaspina, who was killed with an axe along with his pregnant wife, the 80-year-old Marquis Niccolò, his children and servants. Only the 20-month-old baby Spinetta survived this massacre, thanks to a heroic nurse. This dramatic event reverberated all the way to Florence, which decided the time had come to intervene and bring eastern Lunigiana back under its sphere of influence. From the end of the 15th Century, the history of the Verrucola Castle fell into decay: it was devastated by an earthquake in 1481 and thus abandoned until the 17th Century, when it became a convent for Augustinian nuns. But it was abandoned once again. 

If today the Castle is one of Lunigiana’s most spectacular, we may thank the sculptor Pietro Cascella. An artist raised in a family of artists, Cascella was hailed by critics in the second half of the 1900s, drawing comparisons to Henry Moore, and earned national and international commissions. He began taking care of the Castle at the end of the 1970s; as he recently passed away, it is now owned by his family, and his Castle-Studio can be visited by appointment. 

 

 

Virgoletta Castle

 

In Virgoletta it’s impossible to get lost: the only road the hamlet has developed around is a straight line that runs along the crest of a hill, a few kilometers from Villafranca. This leads you from the entrance straight into the whale’s belly, or rather, into the internal courtyard of Virgoletta Castle, an imposing structure tagged, we might say, by the Spino Secco branch of the Malaspina family, with numerous coats of arms on its main door to welcome visitors. 

Today we can still see its walls, which were raised to more than ten meters high by the Malaspinas at the beginning of the 12th Century. We can also still see the moats and the drawbridge that separated it from the hamlet, and the internal loggia with cross vaults designed by Galeotto Campofregoso from Genoa, that softened the square shape of the original fortified tower. The halls covered with frescoes, with which the Malaspinas concluded the conversion of the fortification into an elegant residence during the 16th Century, have been preserved. 

With the end of the feudal system in Lunigiana, Virgoletta became part of the Cisalpine Republic, and in the post-Napoleonic era, it was first under the Duchy of Modena, and then under that of Parma, until Italy’s national unification. Today, the castle is a condominium, having been subdivided during the 1900s, following the earthquake in 1920 that destroyed parts of its fortified tower, and then World War II, when Virgoletta fell into the hands of the Germans who moved their control center there. 

 

 

E AND SEA IN LIGURIA

 

Vezzano Ligure’s Pentagonal Tower

 

From the top of the hill where the ancient settlement of Vezzano inferiore is located, the Pentagonal Tower rises above the rooftops and the tall trees of the nearby courtyard. This impressive architectural structure once protected the majestic castle, to which it was connected by a seven-meter-high wooden bridge. This structure dates back to the Twelfth century when, thanks to its height of 15 solid meters, it offered a 360° degree view of the surrounding territory, lending its most resistant facet to the area that needed to be monitored and defended.

This is all that is left of the ancient fortifications, that managed to remain intact until the eighteenth century. Today, it overlooks the Palazzo Giustiniani and its gardens that grow at the feet of what remains of the city walls and circular tower.

The charm of the pentagonal tower – similar to the nearby Arcola Tower – stands unscathed and its arrow loops and 7 meter high gate can be admired from the underlying square.

Its defensive function had been carefully calculated even thanks to a series of special architectural features that allowed access inside the tower thanks to a retractable ladder equipped with wooden rungs, thus assuring the impregnability of the fortification.

Once inside, it was possible to reach the tower’s numerous levels leading to the summit’s bird’s eye-view that extended over the Magra river’s course through the valley, up to the snowy peaks of the Apennine Mountains on one side, and the blue crystal clear sea of the Gulf of Poets on the other.

 

 

Botanical Garden of Montemarcello

 

On top of Monte Murlo, 365 meters above sea level, where the Caprione promontory – which divides the Magra Valley from Golfo dei Poeti – is, you can find the botanical garden of Montemarcello, in the heart of the homonymous Regional Park.

The botanical garedn offers an interesting itinerary to observe and discover the local flora and the micro-habitats that characterize this territory: the garrigue with its scented coastal flora, the deep green of the maquis enlivened by the presence of colorful flowers, pine forest overlooking the sea characterized by rare pines, the cool shade of deciduous forests in which to learn to recognize the oak trees, holly, hawthorn and privet, and finally the vegetation typical of the rural tradition of this place, where, along with aromatic plants and herbs, emerge the main species of fruit trees, wild and cultivated.

The botanical garden is an interesting visit for both children and grown-ups teching – while having fun – to know and recognize the green world we live in but we’re not able to name. Particular attention has been paid to the accessibility of spaces and paths, eliminating architectural barriers, upgrading facilities and equipping the center of an ecological car for the transport of people with difficulties.

For the little ones it is also possible a fun path through the “Way of the senses” that, with the help of the little mascotte “Oscar the octopus”, will lead children through a sensory journey to discover the secrets of the botanical garden.

 

 

Barbazzano Ruins

 

On the heights of Fiascherino, there is a small village of ancient origins, or better, the ruins of what it was. Barbazzano history is very ancient, its origins are lost in the mists of time and it fades into legend.

Already mentioned in a diploma of Ottone II in 981, by 1152 appears in some documents along with the village of Ameglia and in the thirteenth century it became municipality under the protection of Pisa. Its economy was based mainly on agriculture and pastoralism, as evidenced by the terraced landscape that surrounds these places, but the importance and fame derived first of all from its navy, in fact its sailors had the honor of accompanying the bishop of Luni in his travels by the sea.

Today you can visit the remains of the small fortified village, walking along a steep path from the village of Tellaro salt among ancient olive trees, surrounded by the scent of the maquis to reach 115 meters above sea level. So you can reach the village of Portesone, where you can still admire the two floors stone houses that inhabitants abandoned in the sixteenth century by a plague epidemic. From here, continue along the path in the direction of Lerici, you come to the ruins of Barbazzano, where there are only a few stone houses, while the church and the walls are permanently lost.

Legend tells that over one of the gates of the village there was a carved griffin, in honor of the great bird of prey that rushed violently on ferocious leader, who had besieged the small country with their soldiers. An unexpected victory in pecking who saved, if only temporarily, the community of Barbazzano. The sad abandonment of the village, it seems to date back to an epidemic of plague that decimated the population in the fourteenth century and did flee the survivors who built the village of Tellaro.

Therefore, an exciting visit to these ancient ruins, where what is no longer there, is offset by mystery and legend that still lingers between the stones, which lie here as witnesses of a distant past.

 

 

Blue Bay

 

It was once known as Ciappara, a toponym originated by the vernacular ciappa, stone plate; today it is simply the Blue Bay – Baia Blu one of the most beautiful beaches of the Gulf of Poets, nestled between Point Santa Teresa and Point Galera, overlooked by the Falconara Cape and its mediterranean bush – the monumental olive groves, the secular holm oaks – where the precipitous rocks bound into the beach. Porto Venere and the Islands of Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto are just there: what a spectacular view!

The Blue Bay is not an isolated cove though; it’s not about you, the sea and nothing more: it is a fully equipped beach, with all the facilities one might think of – a lift included to make the access easy for those who can’t walk down the track, from the upper road to the beach. There are also a salt water pool, a restaurant, some kids areas: the Blue Bay is the place to be if you have children and you want to enjoy the sea at leisure

 

 

Bocca di Magra Roman Villa

 

When the coast line moves for the retreat or advance of the sea, the buildings constructed near the coast apparently change their position. That’s what happened to the Roman villa of Bocca di Magra, made from the middle of the first century BC, when the bay of the Gulf was much deeper and the river mouth was located a few miles upstream.

The building was born in fact as a panoramic villa, with a complex architecture and rooms arranged in terraces down to the sea, which adapt to the rocky nature of the slope and the cliffs below, today buried. From the documents it is possible that at that time there were several similar villas, located in suggestive and sought after positions, ideal for leisurely of Roman aristocrats, but Bocca di Magra and Varignano, not far from Portovenere, are the only villas survived.

One can imagine the pleasure of staying in this rich house, equipped with a thermal plant that can still be admired in the archaeological excavations, through the remains of the caldarium and its heating system, obtained by a wood stove and a conduit for hot air movement. The luxury and refinement of the interior are also testified by fragments of painted plaster and marble slabs, found with two marble Corinthian capitals.

Overlooking the sea and away from the clamor of the city of Luni, this comfortable villa became also ideal for Latin poets, as Statius and Persio, who perhaps stayed here and to which they sang their love and their regret: “…Ligurian beach and the sea and the large bay with huge rocks…”

Along the promenade that leads from the village to the little harbor, you can look through the gate, the remains of a distant past, with which, however, still share a love for the scenery, the serenity of a pleasant place and the mild climate even in the winter months, features that make Bocca di Magra a pleasant meeting place for contemporary poets.

 

 

Fiascherino Beaches and Cliffs

 

A succession of steep cliffs overlooking the sea and three large bays characterize the coast between Lerici and Tellaro, where the small village of Fiascherino is placed. Beaches with their expanses of sand or gravel alternate with rocks to lie down on and or dive from into the crystal water.

On the road that runs along the beautiful coast you’ll find many hotesl and restaurants where to find refined hospitality and the typical Ligurian cuisine.

The first large cove is the famous Eco del Mare, renowned seaside resort that has made its large sandy beach a real idyll for body and soul, in which the hot summer days allow all the amenities of an exclusive welcome, capable to pamper visitors, while at sunset turns into a living on the sea, like a literary cafe, welcomes meetings of culture, art, poetry and music.

Continuing on the coast you can meet then, one after the other, two free beaches, which can be reached by stairways immersed in the Mediterranean bush. In the first one you can see, between sand and vegetation, a military bunker of Second World War, located at the end of the bay. Both beaches are characterized by pines, oaks and olive trees that frame the beaches with coarse sand, where you can rent beds, chairs and umbrellas to make more comfortable staying at sea. Numerous coves near the beach, with rocks that emerge from the water, are suitable for those who love a more natural and wild bathing, funning between dipping and climbing or scuba diving and snorkeling.

The landscape then becomes even more amazing when you come into bays by sea: just a small boat to enjoy an unforgettable view of the indented coast and then come to shore swimming or by a dinghy. A few meters from the beach, the clarity and depth of water allow to see fish and small jellyfish, even with the aid of a simple mask, for a unique experience for adults and children.

Historically, these were the beaches of the inhabitants of the village of La Serra above, coming down to the sea from the path that connected the country to the creeks, with a wonderful view of the open sea. These same places fascinated D.H. Lawrence who, between 1913 and 1914, stayed in Fiascherino, with his companion Frida, attracted by the myth of the Golfo dei Poeti and then charmed by the beauty of this sea.

 

 

Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto Islands

 

When newborn birds try to take their first flight, they hardly get away from the ground. It’s the same with the archipelago of islands in the La Spezia Bay: the triad of Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto seem to be on the edge of independence, keeping in touch with ground control though.

The biggest island, Palmaria, is less than 150 meters far from Portovenere. It is covered by a very typical thick Mediterranean vegetation that almost slopes into the sea. The west side facing the open sea is characterized by rough edges where high cliffs overhanging the water and unveiling numerous caves make these shores almost inaccessible on one hand, and a paradise for divers on the other. This is the side of the Grotta Azzurra and the Grotte dei Colombi, where 5000 years old human bones and Pleistocene fossils have been discovered.

The east side fronts the Gulf, the Lerici Bay and its tiny coves of Fiascherino and Tellaro. The coast is more gentle and it is easier to reach the shoreline without climbing up and down the ropes. The Pozzale beach is undoubtedly the most renewed and crowded beach on the island, thanks to the ferryboat commuting back and forth from La Spezia and Porto Venere. The northern side facing Portovenere embraces a rather calm and tepid inlet where both dolphins and fin whales have been spotted. The cobbled beaches make the bathing easy and this coast is the liveliest at night, thank to the presence of one the most popular restaurant in the province.

The inland tracks climb up the ridge in the shadow of brooms, holm oasis and many other Mediterranean bushes. It is easy to get the Forte Cavour – a fort that was build in the Nineteenth Century as a military base and used today for environmental education classes – and the Fortezza del Mare that it has been recently housing workshops and conferences.

At 550 meters from Palmaria, Tino is a inaccessible military zone that is open to the public each September 13th, on the occasion of Saint Venerio’s patron day. The last one of the archipelago is Tinetto, a steep rope emerging from the water, the perfect rock for the daredevils who want to climb up and down for a dive into the open sea.

 

 

The Magra River

 

Backbone of the valley by the same name, the Magra River originates at 1200 metres a.s.l – in between the Tavola and Borgognone Mountains – not far from Pontremoli from where it descends towards Aulla where it meets the Aulella torrent. From here the river reaches Liguria, where it merges with the Vara River, the longest river in this region. The river bed widens and it runs all the way to the sea, where it flows through Bocca di Magra and Fiumaretta into the Thyrrhenian waters.

As a torrent that becomes a river, it is very unpredictable and feared in the winter because of its frequent floods. It flows through alluvial forests, rural landscapes, wetlands and pebble banks, natural reserves and ever chancing scenarios, both in the area protected by the Montemarcello-Magra Regional Park, both in its tuscan segment where it is at the heart of two Natural Reserves and of a bird LIPU oasis.

It’s possible to enjoy pleasant days along the river banks, into the nature, by bike, in the paddle, walking and photographing the many idillic sites. You can also go swimming and fishing if allowed.

 

 

The Southernmost Magra River Protected Area

 

This is one of the most interesting sites along the Magra river: in this point its bed widens in order to welcome the waters of the Aulella stream and its numerous tributaries that flow through the valleys descending from the Cerreto and Carpinelli passes.

Upstream from this confluence, along the stretch of river that flows parallel to the Appennine mountains before rapidly turning right towards the town of Santo Stefano di Magra and the territories of Liguria, there is a natural reserve that covers 373 hectares of land. A safe haven for migratory and sedentary birds  offering the ideal conditions for life and reproduction with its willow groves, black alder forests and mixed vegetation that provide food and protection. An oasis that also fosters aquatic invertebrates and trout, vairones, south european roaches and barbels – the typical fish of the Tuscan-Lazio freshwater areas that are now increasingly at risk due to the destruction of many fluvial environments.

The management of this natural reserve – as well as the Filattiera reserve – is entrusted in the hands of Legambiente Lunigiana that also supervises the guided tours, the entertainment activities and annexed equipped areas. Therefore, not only is it possible to stroll down the nearly 10 kilometers of trails that develop along the river’s course but there are also easily accessible play areas and a recreational fishing lake where the management  often organizes educational and fun activities for children.

Collective outings dedicated to birdwatching, naturalistic photography workshops, study field trips, events consecrated to the promotion of biodiversity and summer camps for children really make this place one of a kind, a must-see destination for nature lovers.

 

 

Venere Azzurra

 

In the heart of the Bay of Lerici, protected from behind by the Marigola hill – with its splendid villa and its lush vegetation – framed by the castles of Lerici and San Terenzo and overlooking the islands of La Spezia archipelago, there is a large and sunny beach of Venere Azzurra.

Uts evocative name well represents the beauty of the place, where its stunning scenery together with the crystal clear waters, the cleanliness of the beach and the excellent level of services offered to bathers, have allowed it to obtain uninterruptedly since 2000 the Blue Flag of the Fee.

Together with the other beaches of Lerici the Venere Azzurra is managed by a company that allows you to have the best deals bathing maintaining free access to the beach. You can spend your day at the beach here, choosing to make use of beds, chairs and umbrellas rented daily, but also rent a pedal boat for a romantic trip off, where to take a bath in the cool and blue water, or watch the coast with all its colorful umbrellas, lulled by the waves away from the clamor of the beach.

The Venere Azzurra beach, however, is not less charming in winter when, facing the balustrade of the upper terrace, on the deserted beach, you can see only the gulls walking, resting after a flight with fishing immersion, in the stormy sea.

You may well remember the words of Mary Shelley, came with her husband on this coast, who wrote: “ The beauty of the place seemed unearthly in its excess: the sea at their feet… A sort of spell around us.

 

 

Luni

 

THIS IS WHERE THE ORIGINS OF LUNIGIANA FIRST SETTLED THEIR ROOTS

Perhaps as early as the third century BC fierce battles were fought between the local Apuan-Ligurian tribes and the roman army.

It appears that in those days the harbor – the port Lunae – was already of strategic importance and was also known to the Greeks. The origin of this village’s name is still a mystery: maybe it has to do with an ancient goddess – LUNA – of the primitive Italic religion or, more likely, with the crescent moon shape of its harbor: the coastline was quite different from what we can see today, the sea level was much lower and it created a large inlet where today we find the estuary of the Magra river.

This wide flat marshland was chosen by the Romans for the foundation of the colony of Luni. Why, you may ask? Mostly for economic reasons. Luni was an agricultural colony and an important temporary stop-over for the marble that once extracted from the quarries of Carrara was then transported to Rome by sea. Since then, the historic records see-saw between moments of maximum splendor and sudden declines, flourishing productive activities of art and commerce and terrible epidemics which decimated the population. The epochal change took place with the advent of Christianity: around the third century Luni shed its pagan skin erecting religious buildings, first abandoning its previous folkloristic habits and then its entire political system.

The fifth century saw the construction of the Luni Diocesi that not only had religious power but it was the main political and administrative organ of the city until 1204, when the bishops headquarters were moved to Sarzana. Since the year 600, Luni was the victim of a series of invasions and raids first by the Lombards and then by the Saracens. Legend has it that in 860 the fierce Danish pirate Hasting arrived in Luni with his fleet and, mistaking it for Rome because of its utter magnificence, managed to cunningly and deceitfully penetrate it, plunder its riches and feed it to the flames

Perhaps there is little truth in this story but what we do know is that the numerous attacks were followed by the gradual silting of the Luni harbor, the abandonment of its lands and plantations and the inevitable depopulation of the city’s inhabitants that searched for better life conditions in the new villages that were forming in the surrounding hills.

Dante wrote about this phenomenon in the sixteenth Paradise canto “How they have passed away… Seeing that even cities have an end.” and even Petrarca wrote “once famous and powerful and now nothing but a bare name”.

What is clearly highlighted by the archaeological excavations, started in 1951 and still in progress, is the historical stratification of interventions, a sort of time-lapse photograph that freezes together events and signs belonging to different periods. In addition to the insulae system of late republican construction, it is possible to admire the urban layout based on the well-known Roman centuriation and on the perpendicularity between the cardo maximo – the main artery that went from the port and the centre of the city – and the decumano maximo – corresponding with the ancient Via Aurelia route.

Among the most impressive constructions visible to this day: the Great Temple, one of Luni’s most ancient sights, dating back tot the years immediately following the founding of the colony, the Foro and its annexed buildings fabricated in the great central public area around the first century AD and the coeval Theatre at the very north-east extremity of the city walls, active probably until the sixth century, renovated in the fifth century and extensively rebuilt between the end of the eighth and the early ninth cents.

 

 

Luni’s Amphitheater

 

Luni’s amphitheater is quite unique and its position still has many people wondering: why did they build a colosseum on the outskirts of town? We’re accustomed to the centrality of Rome’s Colosseum or Verona’s Arena, the fulcrums of the Roman urbe’s social life.

Although the original second century AD building is now reduced to mere ruins, we can still intuit its past magnificence: able to accommodate up to seven thousand people – out of a eighteen thousand people population – Luni’s amphitheater was reserved for performances involving animals and gladiatorial games. Just imagine the scene: thousands of people lined up to get in to witness the games, a swarming flow of humans and their expectations. Sort of brings a smile on your face, and we must say that we are not exaggerating: the Amphitheatre of Luni attracted so many people that sometimes it was difficult to manage. Its elliptical form was probably surrounded by terraces meant to host the numerous audience, the circulation was ensured by a complex network of stairs and corridors.

We are only a few kilometers away from Sarzana, not far from the ancient settlement of Luni: surrounded only by vineyards, orchards, olive groves, a few scattered houses – some old, some new – and in the distance the hills and the villages of Nicola, Ortonovo and Castelnuovo Magra. A bit further away, we can spot the geologically monolithic Apuan Alps. In the fifth century AD, Rutilio Namaziano described this land as “covered with marbles resembling pristine snow”.

The first documents related to the amphitheater date back to the year 1185; in 1442 Ciriaco d’Ancona depicts it as already in decay, largely collapsed, its mighty marble columns broken and its statues shattered. Freed from the rubble and brought back to light at the end of the 1800s, it was later plundered – most of the remains are part of the Museum of La Spezia’s permanent collection – and damaged by the free access policy that granted the visitors complete freedom and certainly didn’t safeguard the historical site. The recent restoration work has assured greater protection and security of the amphitheater, though it also exposes the difficulty Lunigiana encounters when dealing with the preservation of its many invaluable assets.

 

 

Luni’s Museum

 

An integral part of the tour of the Luni Archeological Sites, the Museum collects part the statues, of decorative and coin found during the excavations, alongside historical reconstructions of domestic environments and explanatory panels that illustrate the habits and customs of the time.

Unfortunately the building is charachterized by unhappy architectural choices, both fot its location and organization. Located at the intersection of cardo and decumano, in the most sensitive area of the entire city, was built on stilts so that they could continue the excavations in the area below, where today are the ruins of the ancient walls and floors of the Capitolium the main sacred building of the Forum. In the porch obtained under the volume of the building are also collected important elements of architectural decoration in marble and terracotta.

The visit to the exhibition halls begins with the amazing collection of marble statues and portraits that highlight the artistic skill of the sculptors and the cultural and political importance of the colony of Luni. This is followed by a section dedicated to ceramics, in which a sample is exposed typological productions attested, ordered chronologically, and that of the numismatic collection, in which you can see a vast repertoire of coins from the Republican arrives until the Middle Ages. An additional exhibition space allows you to appreciate the fine craftsmanship of jewelry and tools from the toilet, clear evidence of an elegant and stately culture, even though it was an agricultural colony. You can also observe evocative reconstructions of the eating habits of the time, thanks to the preparation of a banquet hall and a kitchen that bring Roman pottery, tools and furniture used daily in the homes of the city of Luni. Once out of the museum you can then resume the visit of the excavations and go to the great amphitheater to be amazed by its imposing size lying placidly in the countryside.

 

 

The Gulf of Poets

 

The Gulf of La Spezia, also knows as Gulf of Poets, is a drammatically beautiful bay where astonishing coves, steep and woody cliffs give way to burgs and medieval castles just in front of the crystalline Ligurian Sea: Tellaro, Lerici, San Terenzo and Porto Venere on solid ground and the islands Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto a few minutes by boat from the coast. The Gulf is a marvel that has enchanted many poets and artists in the last few centuries.

One of them, surely one of the most famous is Percy Bysshe Shelley who – together with his wife Mary, Frankestein’s author and his pal Lord George Byron – inhabited for a while Villa Magni in San Terenzo. The myth of such great poets inaugurated a fertile season for the Gulf: writers such as D.H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, Henry James and Gabriele D’Annunzio, artists the likes of Arnold Böcklin and William Turner, anthropologist Paolo Mantegazza and more recently Italian director Mario Soldati and journalist Indro Montanelli landed on its shores. To give it the nickname it is famous for, it was comedia player Sem Benelli who wrote his renowed play The Jesters Supper here.

On first arriving in the Gulf of Poets, one cannot be amazed by the incredible spectacle opening to the eyes: green hills overlooking an intense blue sea, small fishermen’s villages with colorful houses and medioeval castles overlooking the bays.

The bay where the villages of Lerici and San Terenzo are, probably is one of the most suggestive places to see with the promontory – which closes in the city of La Spezia and culminates with the village of Portovenere – separating the Gulf from the Cinque Terre’s coast and culminating with the tree islands of Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto.

The view from the sea is one not to be missed. From the water perspective it is possible to fully appreciate the whole of it: from the Caprione promotory with the village of Montemarcello to the Punta Corvo beaches and the hamlets of Tellaro, Lerici and San Terenzo, from the Blue Venus Bay to the commercial port of La Spezia, Portovenere and its islands

From the pier of Lerici, just i front of Piazza Garibaldi, it is possible to take one of the many boats and ferries offered by the Consorzio Marittimo “5 Terre Golfo dei Poeti” so the explore from the sea the natural beauties of the Ligurian Eastern Riviera (and not only).

 

 

San Rocco’s Tower and Oratory

 

In the heart of the oldest historical center of Lerici, overlooking the main square, home to artistic and cultural events and the main gathering place for all year, there are the Oratory and the Tower of San Rocco.

Together they form one of the symbols of the community of Lerici, but their origins are very different. The tower probably dates back to Roman times and was founded as a watch tower, while the oratory was built in 1287, modifying the existing hostel that welcomed the pilgrims who arrived in the port directed to Rome along the Via Francigena.

The old tower was transformed into a bell tower during the Sixteenth century, together with the expansion of the adjacent oratory, already dedicated to St. Martin and St. Christopher as testified by the plaque on the tower dedicated to San Rocco in 1524, protector of plague victims, following the great epidemic that hit the country in that year. The tower was then modified by the addition of a belfry and the octagonal oriental-style spire, that characterizes it and makes it unique and recognizable.

The visit inside will reveal a single nave with four side chapels, guarding some valuable paintings, including one by Domenico Fiasella. In the tower, however, there is the emblem of Genoa that indicated the entrance to the port, with a function similar to that of the famous “Lantern” in Genoa

Like a witness looking over the village, nowadays the Oratorio and Tower remain deeply attached to their role as a lookout and pinnacle.

 

 

Punta Corvo

 

The first time you’ll see Punta Corvo – and every time since – you will be dazzled by so much beauty: an inlet of dark pebbles washed by crystal clear waters and protected by green reef which stands out behind it for 260 meters. It is a unique show that earned Punta Corvo the title of one of the most beautiful beaches in Italy, according to Legambiente.

It can be reached by land or by sea, and every the scenario is unforgettable. The small bay can be spotted from the paved path that starts form the village of Montemarcello, on top of the promontory. From here you can scan the horizon and its curved line, get lost into the beauty of the Gulf of Poets and its three islands Tino, Tinetto and Palmaria, facing the extraordinary village of Portovenere. If you feel like walking and are not afraid of steep ways, you can choose to get to the beach descending the 700 steps that take from the village to the sea, passing through the towering pines that gradually give way to the Mediterranean scrub and its perfumes of broom, thyme and helichrysum.

Easier, but just as impressive, is to reach the cove with the boats that – in the summer time – leave from Fiumaretta and Bocca di Magra. Just a fifteen minutes trip during which you will be able to admire the coast that from the mouth of the Magra leads to the beach. Right before your eyes will pass the charming Santa Croce del Corvo Monastery, the WWII military bunkers of the anti-ship battery and the striking rock called “The lair of the Serpent “, a ravine created by the sea, where it is said to have lived a fearsome sea monster. You’ll come to the white limestone of Punta Bianca and finally you’ll get to the inlet of Punta Corvo.

Definitely a place to go!

 

 

PICAL PRODUCTS

 

The incredible enogastronomic heritage of Lunigiana

Lunigiana combines incomparable environmental diversity with thousands of years of history, one that witnessed cultures and civilizations meet, clash and merge in order to create that wealth of knowledge, flavors and traditions that make it so extraordinary. It is called the Land of Ancient Flavors for a good reason: it has excelled in the preservation and innovation of an immense enogastronomic heritage, whose origins are rooted in a humble farming culture and based on simple ingredients, the result of people’s incessant activity in fields and pastures, the careful procedures developed for processing and production, the traditional slow cooking mostly done over wood stoves – make sure you will have the chance to taste the roasted Zeri lamb before you leave our land – or on the testi, the terracotta hot plates found in every home.

Knowledge, traditions, preparations and recipes have thus been passed down from generation to generation, creating gold nuggets for those who are passionate about food and tradition. Unique dishes born from the skillful combination of what nature and the hand of man could provide: wild herbs for the exquisite torta d’erbi  - a simple and savory vegetable pie - simple preparations of water, flour and salt to make testaroli pasta, eaten with pesto or a tasty mushroom sauce, and the panigacci bread that goes so well with cured meats and cheeses.

Chestnuts, the precious fruit from the bread trees that cover entire hills, dominate numerous recipes, from pasta and roasts to bread and sweets, satisfying even the most demanding palates, maybe paired with a soft fresh ricotta cheese and some sweet honey produced here.

But if olive oil is the green gold of these lands, recognized and protected by the DOP – Protected Designation of Origin label, as is the honey that has long held this seal of guarantee, the variety of DOC – Controlled Designation of Origin wines that Lunigiana’s native grape varieties produce – on the hills of Candia and the Luni Plain, fresh, fruity whites or full-bodied, intense reds – will surely surprise even the greatest critics.  

 

 

Antica Pasticceria degli Svizzeri

 

Nestled between Piazza Duomo and Piazza della Repubblica, the Antica Pasticceria degli Svizzeri pastry shop is a well-established symbol of Pontremoli, together with the majestic bell tower that dominates its entrance.

In 1842 the brothers Aichta, Giovanni Kaspar and the brothers Beelì arrived in Pontremoli from Switzerland’s Canton of Grisons to seek their fortune. In these years, Lunigiana witnessed a strong migration from the North and many stores – usually drugstores, cafés, grocery stores, pastry shops – were opened under the generic name of Degli Svizzeri – Swiss-owned. This migratory flow and resulting commercial activities eventually led to a flourishing economic phenomenon.

Since then – Italy had not yet been unified – the Swiss have always had a special place in the heart of Pontremoli’s inhabitants. The neighboring café and the pastry shop are now managed by the heirs of Meriad Steckli – who joined the founding members in 1851 – who have carefully preserved the decor and feel of its origins: the Art Nouveau wooden displays, the shop’s retro sign, the almost Hasburg-esque elegance of the café dated 1925. This inevitable stop for sweet-tooths from all over the world is a real treasure trove filled with some of Lunigiana’s most renowned and appreciated pastries: the crisp cream-filled Amor (a must!), the typical Christmas Spongata tart, the bocca di dama almond sponge cake and the freshly baked morning brioches.

If you’re just passing through, remember to stop by: when in Lunigiana, it would be a crime to not enjoy the Swiss’s heartwarming patisserie and service

 

 

Birra del Moro Brewery

 

He’s been home-brewing for many years before the big step into his own business. In 2013 Emanuele Sordi inaugurated Birra del Moro, the first and only brewery in Pontremoli, in Viale dei Mille where he welcomes visitors and beer lovers with four diverse beers available: an American Amber Ale, a Belgian Stronge Ale, a weizen beer and a Belgian witbier.

The Birra del Moro zero-kilometer craft beer has been already awarded the Slow Food ‘snail’ of approval, a great kick-off for Emanuele!

 

 

Cantine Belmesseri

 

Cantine Belmesseri are named after beloved poet and globe trotter Paolo Belmesseri, born at Villa La Serra in Pontremoli in the 16th century. Such an inspiring genius loci is still charming the seven hectars estate, where vineyards lay on terrace sorroundings the banck of the Torrente Verde: the varieties are local – the Durella, the Pollera and the Merlarola – together with the most international Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignons and Vermentino. Visitors can buy the wines at the newly restored Villa La Serra Agriturismo, where an old mill and the oil mill dating back to 1600 are still very well kept.

 

 

Cantine Lunae

 

Few family businesses survive into a third generation. The Bosoni Family, the deus ex machina behind Cantine Lunae have made it, producing excellent wines and taking care of the rural landscape of the Magra Valley, where the vineyards are, across the Provinces of La Spezia and Massa, in the Colli di Luni area: forty five hectares are spread across fifteen small farms and cultivated by 150 farmers. Among the Cantine Lunae wines both reds and whites, rosé and spunmante, sweet wines and spirits.

Bosoni is more than wine though; the family is well known in Lunigiana for the many cultural initiatives they support and host at Ca’ Lunae, an ancient newly restored farmstead in Castelnuovo Magra: shows, concerts, conferences and wine tastings among the many events that warm the house up.

 

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CULTURE AND TERRITORY IN LUNIGIANA

An astonishing journey between Tuscany and Liguria

 

 

A Shakespir Edition

 

 

© Copyright 2017 – Fondazione Italiana Accenture | Trame di Lunigiana

 

 

 

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Culture and Territory in Lunigiana

Of all the less-traveled routes in Italy and Tuscany, Lunigiana is one of the last real Italian destinations. Its authenticity is undeniable, all you have to do is walk through the saturday morning street-market, down the village's narrow alleys where everyone knows each other, to discover a world of ancient heritage and rhythms. Life flows naturally, the stores close at lunch-time, the gastronomic varieties are countless and just waiting to be explored. This is the face of real Italy, a place that recognizes and safeguards its particularities and cherishes its differences. This is the rare Italy that exists off the beaten tourist tracks, a land of archaic traditions and ancient legacies, the land of a new generation and long-standing passions. A land of booksellers, explorers, valorous soldiers and illustrious intellectuals, extraordinary women infused with inventiveness, courage and perseverance. A land of farmers, millers, innkeepers and shepherds that to this day still believe in the value of their earth. A border territory that is just waiting to be discovered and to conquer your hearts: you might ask yourself where you've ended up, you might feel lost while you're walking up steep country pathways in search of a castle. There are hidden points where you might be astonished that your phone still has reception - or you might thank God that your mobile service is down. You will be swept off your feet by natural views of rare and enthralling beauty that will make you delve deep into your memories in quest of similar landscapes, experiencing adventures and the unexpected just a few kilometers away from the unwinding highway. You will discover the surprisingly modern forms of prehistoric idols, the austere charm of Romanesque parishes, medieval castles that will send your imagination into a frenzy, Renaissance forts, welcoming and prosperous towns, abandoned settlements in the woods, fishing villages. From up on the hills, your eyes will feast on the sea, while from the seaside your glance will embrace the vast spectacularity of the hills. In less than an hour, you will encounter chestnut groves and the typical Mediterranean scrub, deep caves and high peeks. Like a diviner in search for water, you will discover the refreshing and abundant source of a thousand-year history, an incessant flow that will spin you into the weave of your own personal narrative. Your very own tales of Lunigiana. Source: Trame di Lunigiana

  • ISBN: 9781370358441
  • Author: Massimo Conti
  • Published: 2017-10-02 16:05:20
  • Words: 35973
Culture and Territory in Lunigiana Culture and Territory in Lunigiana