Apuane Alps

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Apuan Alps: Carrara marble and Colonnata lard! These two 'white’ treasures of the area, for however important and famous they may be, are certainly not the only ones of the area! Visit the Apuan Alps Italy: an unforgettable experience where the majestic nature of the rugged peaks that stand out against the sky offer various activities such as hiking, climbing, skiing, horse racing and mountain biking. For a nice spot of relaxation after your sport endeavours, stop off at one of the villages perched on the mountain slopes: enjoy authentic food and have a look in to the shops where products are still made following traditional craftsmanship procedures.

But where exactly are the Apuan Alps in Tuscany located? They extend in the northernmost part of Tuscany, and are bounded to the northwest from Lunigiana, on the east by Garfagnana and from middle valley of Lucca and to the southwest by the Apuan Riviera and the Versilia. Since 1985 part of the territory is under the ‘Apuan Natural Park’ which since 2015 is also one of the UNESCO-protected parks. The Apuan Alps are mountains that extend just for a few kilometres but reach almost 2,000 meters of altitude, as is the case of Pisanino mountain (1947 m). Other mountains in the chain reach respectable heights as well: Mount Cavallo 1985 m, Mount Tambura1885 m, Pania della Croce 1858 m, Pizzo D'Uccello 1783 m and Mount Sagro 1753 m, Monte Altissimo 1589 m, Monte Forato 1230 m. The area is also affected by karst phenomena, hence why it is so rich in caves: Grotta del Vento in Barga in Garfagnana, the Caves of Equi Terme and the Antro della Corchia in the village of Levignani, in the municipality of Stazzema. Corchia caves consist of 60 km of caves and pits and reach 1,200 meters in altitude in the Mount Antro Corchia. As in all karst phenomena areas, the more water flows underground than on the surface, hence why you will not find many streams in the Apuan area.

As for the lakes, in most cases these include artificial reservoirs created by hydroelectric power: the Lago di Isola Santa along the road that connects Versilia to Castelnuovo Garfagnana and Lago di Vagli which houses, in its depths, the submerged village of Fabbriche di Careggine that emerged during periodical emptyings. Finally, Lago di Gramolazzo in the municipality of Minucciano, which is also a balnear lake. Particularly pleasant in the summer: there are benches, picnic tables and you can rent canoes and paddleboats.

Extending for more than 400 square km parallel to the coast, depending on the place you choose to visit, to reach the Apuan mountain range you can start from the motorway exits of the A12 Genova-Rosignano, namely Versilia, Massa and Carrara. If you decide to head to the eastern part, then it is most convenient to follow the A11 Florence-Pisa, exit at Lucca and cross Garfagnana. The Apuan Alps and its villages are the perfect destinations for holidays of several days, you will not be short of activities and places to visit! A quick visit to the Apuans is a classic destination even if you are spending your summer holidays in Versilia, Lucca or Pisa.

The Apuan Alps: name origin. The nickname 'Alps' originates from its sharp and steep peaks that resemble the mountains in the Alps, a range in northern Italy. The adjective 'Apuan’ is most likely to have something to do with the Apuan-Ligurians, the proud and bellic population that lived in areas as early as in 2,800 BC and stood up to the Romans. So much so that the latter, precisely to avoid meeting the Apuans, crossed the northern part of Garfagnana to reach northern Italy. Their presence is witnessed by stone works that have been discovered throughout the area: these statues and steles which are now preserved in various museums i.e. the museum in Pontremoli (Museum of Lunigianesi stele statues) and in Casola di Garfagnana (Museum of Alta valle Alulella). Around the third century BC the Romans managed to rule over the Apuans and it seems that most of the population was deported to Sannio (now the province of Benevento and Avellino). Those who managed to avoid deportation retreated to the mountains of Garfagnana and Lunigiana. In the following centuries, the populations who lived on the mountains had to exploit the possibilities that the mountain itself offered to build their houses. The chestnut trees were used to produce flour and coal, agriculture was practiced by cultivating the small portions of arable land and the method of transhumance was used for livestock. But the activity that has always characterized this area, even in Roman times, is definitely Tuscany marble: the famous, snow white and extremely precious Carrara marble.

The Apuan Alps geology provides an explanation: the tectonic origin of the reliefs, whose rocks generated in the sea, are at the base of the marble formation. The calcareous deposits subsequently subjected to pressure and temperatures arisen by the overlapping of tectonic units have given rise to the formation of marbles with different characteristics. A few examples: the 'statuario', as the name itself suggests, is the whitest type used by Michelangelo to complete the statue 'David' and ‘La Pietà'. The 'Calacatta Oro' with its distinctive veining reminiscent of the precious metal or of the ‘paonazzo’ with pink accents. White marble quarries in the Apuan Alps are still active and it can be really interesting to visit a few. From the square of Cava dei Fantiscritti in Colonnata, for example, in summer (March to September), tours by jeep or van can take you to some of the Italian marble quarries of the Apuan Alps. Particularly interesting and impressive is the 'Cava-galleria of Ravaccione’: a chasm carved into the mountain from which you can extract even large pieces of marble. Still in the Fantiscritti querry you can find the 'Museo di  Walter Danesi' with a set of objects, tools and artifacts on display that tell the long and fascinating history of how marble is quarried, its extraction, transport and processing of marble. Here they will tell you that Michelangelo came to this very quarry, with his workers, to choose the marble. They will tell you the same story in all of the other caves! One thing is certain: Michelangelo’s marble in Italy came from the Apuans.

Apuan Alps: all kinds of excursions! Whether hiking, horse riding or by bike. First of all, however, let us warn you: the Apuan Alps hiking trails alternate steep slopes with suspended trails, often unpredictable and dangerous. So please do not follow paths you do not know or you are not sure you can cross. If you like trekking, you will have specific sources and inform yourselves about the many C.A.I Apuan Alps itineraries on the refuges. ‘Apuan Alps trekking’ can also follow itineraries made by Mountain communities: these are routes that require several days: Garfagnana Trekking, Lunigiana Trekking Alta Via delle Apuane, Footpath Alta Versilia. What about something less challenging? The 'nature trail Campocatino' will take you to the Hermitage of San Viano in about two and a half hours. It is classified as level E (hiking) so anyone who has an active lifestyle can complete it. Campocatino sulle Apuane is one of the busiest locations in the area and if you do not fancy walking, it can also be reached by car. It is glacial valley, situated at 1,000 metres of altitude and facing Monte Roccandagia, in front of Lago di Vagli and Monte Sumbra. It is surrounded by old shepherd houses that have been beautifully restored and is also very suitable for children! Close to the refuge Orto di Donna, in the municipality of Minucciano, among the Apuan Alps routes there is a truly unique one: the 'path for all' fitted to be used by people with impaired mobility or with sight impairment. It stretches for about 500 metres mainly on flat land and is bordered by curbs and palisades that act as tactile indicators for the visually impaired. Just for them there is an area where you can feel the characteristics of the Apuan Alps with the use of touch.

If you like to run, the Apuan Alps will give you lots of space: try the 'Skyrace Apuan', around the Gruppo delle Panie (20km) that starts from Fornovolasco or the 'Trail delle Apuane' (45 km) departing from Gorfigliano. With its steep slopes, of course climbing routes and paths equipped with steel cable are not missing. We certainly do not want you to miss out climbing! Bergiola, Placche di Antona and Rocchette are some examples. Do you prefer two wheels to walking boots? Do not worry, here you can also take advantage of the 'train+bike' option, available both on the Lucca-Aulla railway line and on the line along the coast. Given that we are in the mountains, the routes are all pretty challenging. Keep in mind that the 'Giro of Monte Corchia’, already among the toughest, must be avoided in winter. Because of their shape, the Apuan Alps are certainly no easy terrain for horse riding. So there are three ingredients required: an experienced rider, a docile horse and a local guide! Now for the last sport: Apuan Alps skiing! The Apuans in Careggine also have a modern ski resort where (surprise, surprise!) you can ski with a view over the sea! It is a region with three areas (Formica, Villanova and Monte Cima) where you will find ski lifts and slopes for all levels, beginners and children included.

While visiting the area, you will come across some of the small towns, villages and hamlets that have won the fight against the mountain and have managed to cut out up a bit of space for themselves. And why not visit one of the many events that take place throughout the year? Some examples? In Seravezza, the entrance to the park of the Apuan Alps, just a few kilometres from Versilia, 'Enolia' takes place in April: a challenge between wine an oil in rounds of tasting and 'cooking-shows', each of them accompanied by their team of products of excellence. Whose side are you on? Are you finding it hard to make your mind up? Instead, Camporgiano, located along the state road 445, holds the 'International Festival of Folklore' in July where groups from five continents bring life to the village - and the surrounding ones - with songs, dances, music and traditional rites from their area of origin... It is a bit like going all round the world! In autumn in Colognora 'Mondine nel borgo’ takes place: a day during which, in the characteristic corners of the medieval village, you will be immersed in the past with traditional foods and crafts markets. In summer of course the number of events multiplies, ranging from the 'Summer Festival' on the Pania relief, held during the solstice, to ‘Alpi Apuane in festa’ in the municipality of Careggine in August, with fantastic open air concerts up to a torchlight procession, still on Mount Pania, for the night of San Lorenzo.

By now I should have convinced you that on the Apuan Alps there is much more you can find on top of Colonnata marble and tasty Italian lardo... which is why, bearing all this in mind, you have all the information you need to fully appreciate this area. It is a lovely village near which you will find various lard factories. What is it that makes the lard Colonnata so special? It is the epitome of the Apuan Alps: produced with one of the most unrefined parts of the pig, it used to be a poor but hearty food that gave the right amount of energy to face the hard life of the quarry. It was (and still is) preserved in marble containers and flavoured with herbs such as sage, rosemary, star anise that grow right on the Apuans. So I strongly recommend taking a piece of Lardo di Colonnata IGP home, and sometimes make yourself a 'ripassino' to taste the full flavour of these amazing mountains!