Do not be fooled by its name: Equi Terme is not only the perfect location for long-awaited relaxation with waters full of miraculous properties. It also offers a spectacular nature: you can visit 'The Equi Terme Caves’, once inhabited by the Neanderthals, admire the majesty of the summit of Pizzo d'Uccello, the extraordinary features of 'Solco di Equi', a narrow and untouched deep canyon and of 'Marmitte dei Giganti', natural pools full of water and up to 4 meters deep. And if this were not enough, you can also visit the ancient Equi Terme village with its stone houses perched near the mountains or other neighbouring towns such as Vinca or Gragnola.
EQUI TERME: HOW TO GET THERE. The spa town of Equi Terme in Italy boasts an enviable location: it is situated in the province of Massa-Carrara, within the municipality of Fivizzano and on the slopes of Pizzo d'Uccello, one of the highest mountains of the Apuan Alps. The location, at 250 meters above sea level, explains its cool and breezy climate which continues even in the hottest summer days. This is the reason many tourists staying in Versilia choose to relax at its spas, surrounded by green nature, pleasantly refreshed and restored by the cool temperatures. The road to escape the crowded beaches is not long: Equi Terme is in Lunigiana, at only 80 km from Viareggio (its Carnival is renowned worldwide) and 70 km from nearby Massa or Forte dei Marmi. How do you get there? By car you have to take the motorway Parma-La Spezia, take the exit at Aulla, follow the signs and after passing through the villages of Pallerone, Sericolo, Rometta, Gassano, Gragnola and Monzone you will arrive in Equi Terme.
EQUI TERME VILLAGE: FROM NEANDERTHAL TO THE SECOND WORLD WAR. Now that you know how to reach it, before giving you some advice on what to do in Equi Terme in Tuscany, I want to tell you something about the history of this area which, as we shall see, was inhabited by Neanderthals. A little later, precisely in the fifth century BC, the Segauni or Ligurian-Apuani populations, under pressure by the Celts, moved to these inaccessible areas. The 4th century BC was a period of relative tranquillity in which the inhabitants were already engaged in what will be the main activities of the area: farming, woodcraft, viticulture. In fact, they traded wool, timber and wine with the Etruscans and other coastal populations of Versilia. In the 3rd century BC peace ended with the first clashes with the Romans who were pressing to expand north. The Apuan inhabitants allied with Hannibal (the man who crossed the Alps with elephants) and tried in every possible way to resist but were forced in the end to succumb and were subsequently deported to the colonies of Lucca and Luni. During the Middle Ages the area where Equi Terme is now located was part of a vast 'province' which included the existing Spezia, Massa Carrara and Garfagnana. The destructive force of the Lombards ravaged these areas and with the ensuing decline of the Roman Empire, famine and pestilences were widespread in the following years. Local fortifications are concrete proof of the attempt to withstand the tumultuous events of the Middle Ages. Many of these castles were owned by the Malaspina family and had been passed to them directly by Charlemagne. With the French Revolution the feuds were initially included in the Cisalpine Republic and later passed to the Kingdom of Italy. The area, like many other mountain areas of northern Tuscany, will again take on a strategic importance during the Second World War thanks to the demarcation of the Gothic Line.
A MARBLE CORE THAT EXUDES HEALTH. If you decide to spend your holidays at the Equi Terme Baths or simply just want to stay for a weekend or a single day, do not expect to find anything futuristic and modern. In short, it is not one of those futuristic spas that have become increasingly popular in many of our cities. So, one asks, why come here? For the wonderful water that for thousands of years carries its beneficial and healing properties ... and also for the breath-taking scenery that unfolds around you. A few small organizational and infrastructural improvements could certainly make your stay even more comfortable, but I can assure you that in the end, all you need to make your stay enjoyable is at your disposal. As we were previously saying, the prosperity of Equi Terme Fivizzano come from its waters which derive their properties from the marble core of the Alps, and then feed the springs of Equi Terme. After seeping through the surface, the waters flow underground to a high depth where they are then heated. Underground temperature in fact increases by 1 degree every 30 meters. Now let's see how good you are at maths: if the water reaches 300 meters, what will its temperature be? And what happens? Right, time’s up: the water evaporates and pressure pushes it back to the surface. In this rising process, thanks to its temperature, the water is enriched with minerals, gas and reaches its springs preserving a temperature of 25 degrees Celsius. These are salt-sulphate-alkaline waters that, due to their average dry residue, can be defined as mineral. There are three springs in the area, each with different characteristics: besides Terme di Equi the other two are in the nearby Monzone village and present black water, deriving from the colour of the pebbles on which the water flows, and salt water. The springs were already known in Roman times - as it is well known, when it comes to spas, the Romans were great connoisseurs!
What is this treasured water good for? It is used for the treatment of respiratory illnesses and for ear, nose and throat problems, other than for skin and osteoarticular and angiology ailments. Depending on the pathology, different balneotherapy techniques can be used, such as whirpools and hot baths in tanks with temperatures from 36°C to 39°C or in pools which have a temperature of about 27°C. Inhalations, aerosols, facial steaming, nasal showers and irrigation are also routinely used. Finally, guests can indulge in general or partial massages. The centre also offers the usual beauty services ranging from manicures and pedicures to mud baths and bandages.
The centre has two outdoor pools continuously fed from the thermal water spring. Besides their therapeutic effects, the free thermal baths in Equi become a real gathering place in the summer where people spend even just a few hours immersed in the water and breathing in the fresh air. The largest pool is oval (measuring 40 meters by 14 meters) and has a depth ranging from 1.20 to 2.20 meters. Too deep for the kids? Do not worry: there is a pool for them where they can splash around in safety: it is rectangular (measuring 16 x 8m) and is much shallower, ranging in fact from 60 cm to 1.50 m. Maybe the magical power of these waters could also calm down even the liveliest children - try it and then let us know!
EQUI TERME AND THE CAVES: A NATURAL TREASURE IN VALLE DEL LUCIDO. After relaxing, what you need is a bit of exercise! Ready for a fantastic excursion to the Equi Terme Caves? Valle del Lucido where Equi Terme is located is, in fact, a true natural pearl with exceptional geological features. Let’s start with the Caves, an experience that will intrigue adults and get your children really excited. A quick admonishment: only children who can walk unaided are allowed to enter and access with pushchairs, waist packs or similar is not allowed. Therefore, if your children are younger than 3-4 years, for the time being you'll have to wait. Another recommendation: do wear warm clothes because even in August the temperature does not exceed 13 degrees - and forget about flip flops and 5 inch high heels! In case of rain make inquiries beforehand, since parts of the cave do get flooded and consequently the site remains closed to visitors. The ticket office and reception room are located in a renovated old mill where a slightly unnerving presence dominates the room: a huge bear with menacing and gaping jaws. But I’ll tell you about him later... The Equi Terme Caves, just like the spas, owe their formation to water and its erosive force that over thousands of years has carved pools, gullies, cavities and underground lakes. They span almost 1,000 meters and are divided into three parts:
- la Buca, the entry to the caves where water no longer flows
- the proper caves where the water still exerts its magical power creating stalagmites and stalactites. This part consists of several 'rooms', each characterized by surreal, fantastic and enchanted features
- the last part which alone stretches for almost 500 meters, and is for cavers only, hence only accessible to experts
Inside the cave complex there is an archaeologic and paleontological site of international importance: 'The Tecchia of Equi'. This is also a cave that winds for 30 meters into the mountain side: from the finds collected inside it, it has been ascertained that it was a shelter for animals and groups of humans. Substantial quantities of bones have been unearthed, among which those of the cave bear (ursus spelaesus) which we encountered at the entrance of the cave. In addition to finds from the Neanderthal period, objects and artefacts of the Copper and Bronze Age have been found.
After completing the visit to the two caves, you can follow one or more of the geo-nature trails that are around and are not too challenging:
- the 'Marmitta dei Giganti' also called 'Buca delle Serpi': it is a deep vertical cavity carved by the water up to 4 meters deep. It owes its name to the fact that snakes try to drink its water in the summer, but end up falling in it and remain trapped inside it. You are right, it is not probably a pretty sight but this is a part of nature too!
- the karst springs: along the bed of the River Fagli there are two karst springs: 'Buca' and 'Barilla'
Both in the cave and Tecchia, you will be guided by knowledgeable experts who will also know how to engage the younger ones. If the information received has aroused your interest, you could also visit the Museum of the Caves where in addition to the star - our friend the giant bear - you will even find a Neanderthal replica.
From the Museum of the Caves, continuing along Via Buca, I also recommend visiting the 'Apuangeolab', an interactive museum where, through special devices, the most important geological phenomena are demonstrated: the origins of the mountains, earthquakes, the creation of the seas. If you have slightly more grown-up children - school-age, to be clear - they can play and have fun pretending to be geologists.
THE LIVING NATIVITY IN EQUI TERME. After the hot springs and caves, I recommend going for a walk through the narrow streets of the village of Equi Terme. You will see stone houses with well-groomed geraniums embellishing their windows and balconies. The S.Francesco Church in Equi, with a spire bell-tower and a gabled stone façade, is located at the highest point of the village. You can reach it after passing under a picturesque vault, continuing along the street until you get to the stairway leading to the churchyard. The interior is simple with a single nave and the typical semblance of a medieval chapel, thanks also to the marble balustrade placed before the altar. A particularly evocative moment for a visit to the town is during the Christmas period (a few days before Christmas until Boxing Day): the streets of the village and the cave of Equi Terme house a Living nativity scene. While we are on this subject, I cannot fail to tell you about the Equi Terme miracle: the apparition of the Madonna del Bosco. It is said that the Virgin appeared in front of two shepherdesses and asked them to build a chapel on the location of the apparition which reportedly took place on June 7th, 1608: on this date, a procession in memory of the event is held in the modest sanctuary located in the woods above the village.
THE SURROUNDING AREA. If you think that after the Terme in Equi, the caves, nature trails, the Equi Terme Geopark and the old village, the area does not have anything else to offer, think again! If you have a few days to spend here you will have the opportunity to discover other interesting sites visiting the other villages in the area. Among the nearest ones, I recommend Monzone, just 3 km away. In addition to the seventeenth century Villa Giannetti, you can also visit the interesting 'Museum of Work of Lucido Valley’ with a display of objects, photographs and films on the activities of the past: the marble and quartzite quarries, the kilns producing bricks and lime, sawmills and hydroelectric power plants. In addition, Vinca village- 9 km away- is the destination for trekkers who walk the trail between Equi and this village. It takes about two hours one way, so it's not exactly a walk for everyone... especially as it is uphill! But if you are fit, it is truly worth it. Gragnola, 6 km away, is another unspoilt village where you will find the Eagle's Castle, an imposing fortified structure which apparently dates right back to the ninth century.
What’s that sad look upon your face: did you think you were coming to Equi Terme in Tuscany just for a quick dip in the pool and you must now review your agenda and plan a longer visit? How could I blame you! Do not forget the food and wine enjoyment: you cannot fail to taste the renowned ‘testaroli’, a cake made with chestnut flour called 'pattona' and another with nuts and aniseed called 'carsenta'. It is really worth it.
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