Is Lunigiana in Tuscany? Some of you must be wondering. After all, you just have to hear someone speak in Lunigiana dialect to realise just how different it is from the standard Tuscan dialect. As a matter of fact, this beautiful land is divided amomgst three regions: Liguria, Emilia and Tuscany. So where exactly is Lunigiana in Italy? It basically corresponds to the basin of the river Fiume Magra, the upper and middle parts of its course up to the villages of Albereto and Minucciano, and the lower part around Sarzana and Val di Vara and as far as the areas the province of La Spezia. We at toscanainside.com will naturally focus on the Tuscan area that coincides with the northern part of the province of Massa Carrara. It is a vast and varied territory that offers an ample range of outdoor activities. Are you wondering what to see in Lunigiana? Lunigiana is called the 'Land of a hundred Castles’: the Fosdinovo castello is one of the best known examples, but you will find many more. You can visit larger towns like Pontremoli and Aulla, but also small villages like Bagnone and Filattiera. In such charming locations you must expect lots of events: either medieval, musical or dedicated to the various seasons, sooner or later you end up eating ‘tarallucci’ and drinking Lunigiana wine!
HOW TO GET TO LUNIGIANA. If you come from the north, follow the A15 motorway Cisa Parma-La Spezia and, depending on where you are headed, exit at Pontremoli, Aulla, S. Stefano Magra and Sarzana. From the south, choose the Firenze-Mare A11 motorway, continue along Livorno-Genoa and finally connect with the A15 motorway Cisa Parma-La Spezia. If you want to reach Lunigiana by train, the railway stations in the area are served by three lines: reach Aulla by the Lucca-Aulla line, whereas the Parma-La Spezia line also crosses the stations of Villafranca Lunigiana, S. Stefano Magra and Pontremoli. From Lunigiana cities of art such as Pisa and Lucca, respectively 78km and 75km from Aulla, are within easy reach. If you instead fancy going to the sea, drive 60 km for Versilia, 30 km for Marina di Carrara and 25 km for the Gulf of Poets in Liguria.
A BIT OF HISTORY. I know you are curious to find out right away how to discover Lunigiana, but to understand the peculiarities of this land we must firstly search for its origins in history. I shall be brief, I promise! So let's start from the beginning, right back to the Neanderthals. As you will discover by visiting the Tecchia of Equi Terme, they once occupied the numerous caves and caverns in the area. During the Iron Age, the area was inhabited by the Ligurian-Apuani, a population that opposed the Romans with all its strength but, in the end, was deported to Sannio (a region between Campania and Basilicata). After the deportation, the territory between the colonies of Lucca and Luni was distributed to veterans of the Battle of Anzio. Following the fall of the Roman Empire, Lunigiana was occupied by Ostrogoths, Byzantines, Lombards and Franks. Charlemagne granted the property of many lands to the family of Adalberti, ancestors of Malaspina, and it was in this period that what is now called ‘historical Lunigiana’ began to take shape, to distinguish it from the present Lunigina. It is a vast territory under the diocese of Luni and that included today's provinces of La Spezia, Massa-Carrara, part of the Province of Parma, Versilia and Garfagnana. Dante, who referred to Lunigiana in his Divine Comedy, spent long periods of time in the area and made a lasting bond with the Malaspina family, so much so that in 1306 he was entrusted with dealing with the Peace of Castelnuovo. This period also marks the end of the temporal power and the inevitable decline of Luni. Lunigiana was later divided into a large amount of imperial and marquistates feuds, in most cases governed by the Malaspina descendants. During the 19th century the whole area was disputed and became the subject of territorial exchanges between the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, the Duchy of Parma and the Duchy of Modena. With the advent of the Second World War Lunigiana, traversed by the Gothic Line, became the scene of many battles. Also strong was the presence of partisan brigades that fought against the units of the Wehrmacht.
LUNIGIANA: WHAT TO VISIT. Lunigiana is known as the land of castles. More than a hundred are perched above the villages of Lunigiana and testify to the importance of the noble Malaspina family. But it is also the land crossed by Via Francigena, the old route described for the first time by the Bishop of Canterbury. Along Via Francigena, in the historical part of Lunigiana, there are still many Romanesque churches, where you can experience the peace and tranquillity of travellers and medieval pilgrims.
AULLA in Lunigiana is one of the most vibrant centres and has always been a bustling crossroad for traders and pilgrims. The historic centre, which was destroyed during the Second World War, retains the beautiful marble fountain in Piazza Cavour. Even the Abbey of San Carpasio, a crucial point along Via Francigena, did not escape the bombs: largely rebuilt, it contains the tomb of the homonymous saint and the chapter house. Aulla has its own castle too: the Brunella fortress, reachable by car in quarter of an hour. You will be impressed by its grandeur and just by staring at its thick walls you will understand why nobody was able to conquer it until 1733! Interesting to visit especially for the 'Natural History Museum' contained inside. Are you a lover of nativity scenes and never get enough Christmas atmosphere? Well, go to Pallerone, it only takes ten minutes. Whether it is August, October or March, it is always Christmas there: in the Malaspina castle, through the porch of the Church of St. Thomas Beckett, you will find a spectacular mechanical nativity scene on all year round.
PONTREMOLI. The medieval bridges of the town are magical passages into a past that seems to come alive when walking along the sandstone paved streets. Talking about bridges... ‘Pontremoli’ literally means 'shaky bridge'! What to see? Start from Porta Parma and continue crossing Piazzetta San Gimignano and another two squares that testify the struggle between the Guelphs and Ghibellines: Piazza Duomo (Ghibelline) where the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta stands, dating back to the seventeenth century and containing frescoes by Natali, and Piazza della Repubblica (Guelph) where you will find the Town Hall, the courthouse and the Pavesi and Bocconi palaces, typical examples of Pontremoli Baroque architecture. The two squares are separated by a tower built by Castruccio Castracani.
Are you a sweet tooth? Then stop by at ‘Caffè degli Svizzeri’, open since 1842 in Piazza della Repubblica. The Church of San Francesco is also worth a visit, and is otherwise known as Church of San Colombano. A 10-minute drive from the centre will take you to the unmissable Piagnaro Castle with the 'Museum of Stele Statues', the typical menhirs of Lunigiana: here you will find the originals and the copies of all those discovered in this land. Pontremoli holds the ‘Premio Letterario Bancarella’ which, to tell the truth, started in Mulazzo with the fair of the booksellers. However, do you know who won the first edition? A guy called Ernest Hemingway with 'The Old Man and the Sea', does this book sound familiar?
FOSDINOVO in Italy hosts probably the most famous Tuscany castle of Lunigiana, one of the many things to visit. The Fosdinovo Malaspina Castle, still owned by the Malaspina-Torrigiani family, like any castle has its stories and its mysteries to tell: a mystery of Dante in Lunigiana has it that the famous poet stayed here and that there is a ghost, Bianca Maria Aloisia Malaspina, who wanders among the countless rooms. Are you truly fearless? Go to the Fosdinovo Adventure Park where there are adventure trails for adults and children, but also for younger children aged 4 or above.
FIVIZZANO is called the 'Florence of Lunigiana' for the number and quality of works of art that can be found here. Some examples: Cojari Palace, the town hall, Fantoni-Chigi Palazzo and Palazzo Benedetti, the walls built by Cosimo de Medici and the fountain commissioned by Cosimo III. 'The Press Museum’ is very interesting to visit. It is housed in Palazzo Fantoni. Just outside the walls, admire the spectacular Fortress of Verrucole.
Equi Terme is also under Fivizzano. Do not miss its beautiful caves and karst phenomena like the pools of the Giants and, of course, its thermal waters... don’t forget the charming live nativity scene in the cave either!
FILATTIERA. It is one of the prettiest villages of Lunigiana and the Filattiera castle is one of the pearls of Lunigiana. Visit the Church of San Giorgio too, with the epigraph of Leodgar and at a short walk from the village the parish church of Santo Stefano di Sorano.
BAGNONE Toscana is another wonderful example of a typical village: it has its fourteenth century castle with a soaring cylindrical tower and to which the Church of St. Nicholas is annexed. Nearby also the ruins of the Castle of Teschietto.
The Lunigiana region is not all just history, art and architecture (please excuse us if you think this is not much!). It also offers a nature that must be experienced! It should suffice to say that Lunigiana in Tuscany has two parks: the National Park of the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines and the Apuane Park. So in Lunigiana, trekking or even a simple walk is not a problem at all! Let’s name a few destinations: the ‘piscio' waterfalls in Pracchiola and the ones in Fanfarà; the protected paths along the river Magra; the canyons carved by the River Gordana, called the Straits of Giaredo, on the border between the municipality of Zeri and Pontremoli: provided you are good swimmers, in summer you can go for a bathe too! If you like canyons, try Equi Terme groove too. For a different route, walk along one of the trances of the Via Francigena and you will feel like Medieval pilgrims for a day. Do you prefer cycling? Well, in this case too you are spoiled for choice... even if you have not brought a bike with you! In Sorano and in Filattiera you can rent electric bicycles, fitted on request: with child seats or trolleys for children a great way to travel along the itineraries between Lunigiana valleys, villages or parks. Since Lunigiana castles are abundant, you might be enticed to emulate the feats of ancient knights... do not worry, get on a horse saddle and choose one of the special Lunigiana itineraries! If you happened to be horse riding enthusiasts, do not miss the three-day 'Comano Cavalli’ festival in September, with horse shows, livestock fair and conferences.
LUNIGIANA EVENTS. A land rich in history and art enhances these characteristics during a series of events that punctuate all seasons. Let me give you some examples, but I advise you to look for information for the events specific to the area you wish to explore. Among the Lunigiana medieval festivals, the 'Challenge of the maples of the Earth and of the Court' is particularly impressive. Among Fivizzano events, this is one of the most anticipated ones that takes place in mid-July. In Pontremoli, take part in 'Medievalis', four days during which Pontremoli really goes back in time: cars are banned from the town centre, only ladies and gentlemen are allowed to walk about! If you want to enjoy - and maybe buy – Lunigiana typical food, just go to one of the many gastronomic events: in Licciana Nardi 'Olea Luna' dedicated to the oil producers of the valley; Podenzana, the ‘capital city’ of panigaccio bread (a flat bread, cooked in special terracotta dishes), holds 'The festival of Panigacci' in August. But if you want a real flavour explosion, 'Fivizzano flavours' is the event for you: it takes place in June and there is a Christmas version in December. Taste the ‘Sgabei’ (strips of fried bread), accompanied with cold cuts and cheeses. Pair it with some good wine - 'Colli di Luni' or 'Val di Magra'. In short, unless you want to ask for the moon itself, in this so-called 'land of the moon' you will find everything you desire to make your holiday truly unforgettable.
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