There are a host of things to see and do in the towns in the region. If spectacular castles are your thing then head to Fosdinovo; if you wish to go antique shopping then Sarzana is the place to go with a famous outdoor antiques market in August; for bathing in natural baths visit Equi Terme; to see famous marble quarries go to Carrara; for a beautiful town Bagnone is the place to be; Filetto hosts an annual medieval festival during the second 2 weeks of August; and during the Xmas season there is a living nativity at Equi Terme.
Fivizzano (5 minutes), Verrucola di Fivizzano (10 minutes), Casola (x minutes), Equi Terme (30 minutes), Bagnone (40 minutes), Pontremoli (40 minutes), Villafranca and Filetto (40 minutes), Fosdinovo (45 minutes), Sarzana (45 minutes), Carrara (60 minutes), Aulla (30 minutes)
Verrucola di Fivizzano
First mention of the castle is found in 1044, when it was owned by the Bosi family, although it is built on an earlier Roman site; traces remain of Roman construction in a wall that encloses the castle. It's pretty certain that at the end of the antique period the castle controlled the road and collected tolls from travellers coming from the Cerreto pass.
Pietro Cascella, a very famous sculpture who uses the local marble and travertine, lives and works in the castle today. You can see one of his works at the entrance of the Borgo of Verrucola: the Fontana della Verrucola, the Verrucola fountain, dedicated in 1984. You'll see more of his works if you visit the castle on Friday afternoons between 1 and 5pm.
There is a small Pizzeria at the entrance to the Borgo, which serves pizza and traditional foods, including wild boar with polenta. No other stores are found in Verrucola.
Casola is a small hill village of about 1,500 people located in the higher part of the Aulella river, on a terrace surrounded by the Aulella and the Tassinaro streams. The community lies between the Lunigiana and the Garfagnana, and also between the Apuane mountains and the Apennines. An important resource for this region has always been agriculture, specialised in cereals and in the exploitation of large chestnut forests. The area around Casola is still undeveloped and is superb walking country with stunning views over the surrounding valleys.
Today Casola is a small friendly place with a selection of shops including an excellent butcher and greengrocer, a bank, bar, and even a small petrol station and post office. About a mile beyond Casola is little Pieve San Lorenzo where there is a train station for direct trains to Lucca and Pisa. There is also a good restaurant, Il Borghetto, whose owner speaks good English.
The area around Casola is wonderful unspoiled countryside with high chestnut-covered hills dotted with ancient villages. A significant portion of the region belongs to the Apuane Park and is characterised by untouched countryside and green hills. Many paths cross this region, leading to little villages and ancient ruined castles; among these latter, the Malaspina castle and the Groppo San Pietro castle.
Equi Terme is an ancient hamlet set at the foot of the Apuane Alps. Cross over Equi and you will arrive at the ancient route that leads to the marble quarries. This popular spa town has a slight scent of sulphur and its restorative waters are claimed to have healing powers. Do not expect a luxury resort as after all it is set in the heart of a medieval village but treatments are offered in the spa.
If you follow the path through the old village tucked into the mountain gorge you will reach a bridge, a waterfall and the high roofed caves called Buca del Cane, where remains of Palaeolithic men and dogs were found. They are a vast complex developed throughout the millenia by erosion caused by water, thus creating cavities, tunnels, salt, stalactites and stalagmites that are particularly evocative. Guided tours of the caves are available in July and August. The tour is short - a half hour - but will give you a good history of what happened in the caves - ask for an English translation. While there has been a fascinating history of human occupation here, the archaeology hasn't returned the information scientists wish for - the area has been too jumbled by water and earthquakes to know for certain the exact provenience of found artifacts, so cultural sequences are difficult to determine. One thing is for sure, Neanderthals lived and hunted here, giving way to Homo Sapiens later. In front of the Buca is a museum that allows visitors to the observe the antique past of the territory of the Apuanian Alps and of the Lunigiana.
During the Christmas period there is a living nativity (presepe vivente) at Equi Terme.
Bagnone is one of the prettiest villages in the centre of Lunigiana. It is a honeycomb of village houses, arches and passageways leading down to tiny gardens and the picturesque riverbank and waterfalls below the lively squares. The 15th Century heart of Bagnone, the Castello di Bagnone (Bagnone Castle), is clustered on a hillside above the village with a cylindrical tower and a fine 15th Century bell tower. Topped by a fortress with the typical round tower of Lunigiana, the castle began to lose its defensive function when Bagnone became part of the Florentine republic in 1471. During the Renaissance the city expanded with many fine palaces, cool shady arcades, churches and squares. From the lower town, take the bridge and follow the path up to the castle, it's a wonderful walk. Afterwards you can stop in the village below to have a bite to eat in one of the many little bars, cafes and restaurants while enjoying the view.
Pontremoli is the northern gateway of Lunigiana. It was founded 2,000 years ago in the Roman Era as a military and strategic outpost along the way to the Northern Italy controlling the Cisa Pass over the Apennine Mountains. The road leading to the pass was named "Via Francigena" (it means that leads to France), and was one of the the main Pilgrim's routes to Rome. The town conserves its medieval look - the buildings are positioned in such a way that they seem to defend the historical centre. A town of slate and terracotta roofed houses, palaces, towers and many attractive stone bridges. Wherever you look in Pontremoli there is a multitude of balconies either overlooking the two rivers of the town or one of the narrow streets and piazzas.
Pontremoli developed with the expansion of its ancient central castle. This remarkable castle or "castello" dates from the 10th Century and is situated on the top of a hill above the Cisa main road. Recently restored, the castle now houses the Museo Archeologico with its unique collection of menhirs, prehistoric and bronze age stone monuments. The borough hosts numerous monuments such as the Cathedral of S. Maria del Popolo (17th Century) with its baroque interior, the bell tower Campanone, the Church of S. Colombano, the Church of S. Pietro with its Labyrinth of the Pilgrim sculpture and the Church of SS. Annunziata, built in 1471. The Caveau del Teatro in the centre faces the baroque work-of-art of the
The town is particularly famous today as a centre for the book trade fair awarding the Bancarella literary prize held once a year on the third Sunday of July. The town hosts a selection of bars, restaurants and shops. Around the Piazza della Repubblica and the cathedral are several sixteenth and seventeenth century buildings where the local life in Pontremoli centres. This bustling heart of the town is home to a host of newspaper vendors, weekly markets, cafès, ice cream parlours and is a favourite meeting place for locals. Due to the low altitude and the nearness to the sea, winter is mild and summer is not too much hot: the nights are always fresh.
BACK TO TOP
Villafranca and Filetto
Villafranca acts primarily as a convenient town on the main valley road to Pontremoli. Although initially as you drive through it seems to lack elegance, most of the old centre is hidden behind the main road. It has some notable restaurants and local amenities including banks and supermarkets and hosts a weekly street market.
The nearby medieval
If you travel along the winding road from Aulla to Sarzana through the hills, Fosdinovo is the first fortified village you will stumble across. It is a lovely small town set high in the hills with little piazzas shaded by huge chestnut trees lining the steep twisting streets. Fosdinovo is built around its restored 14th Century Malaspina castle. Beautifully frescoed walls and ceilings and antique furniture have been restored. The castle was built on the orders of Spinetta Malaspina who had understood the importance of its strategic, political, and military position. From the fortress it was possible to control Tuscany, Liguria, and Emilia Romagna. Subsequently the castle was enlarged and transformed to a Baroque style with the adding of the theatre and court chapel. The German Army had a command position here during the Second World War, exploiting its superb strategic position.
From the sunny west-facing escarpment of the castle there are wonderful views to the sea which you can take in whilst also breathing both sea and mountain air. The sunsets in the evening are simply stunning. The 360 degree panorama has to be seen to be fully appreciated with views of the Apuane Alps, the marble quarries and out to sea with views as far as
During your trip to Fosdinovo also include a visit to the Church of Saint Remigio. The church houses the important marble funeral monument of Galeotto Malaspina, which, dates back to the fourteenth century. Next to the church, you can find the Oratorio dei Bianchi (Oratory of the Whites) that was destroyed at the beginning of the sixteenth century and rebuilt during the seventeenth century. The building has a bright façade in white marble and houses a few prestigious works, such as the thirteenth-century wooden statue representing Our Holy Lady, a nineteenth-century wooden sculpture that represents the dead Jesus, and a nineteenth-century canvas of the Madonna and Child.
The village is delightful with some good restaurants and is without a doubt one of the most representative settlements of the Lunigiana region. More recently the famous English travel writer Eric Newby and his wife Wanda had a house close by; detailed in his book "A small place in Italy"
Some may say Sarzana is Lunigiana’s most elegant town, however, it is sadly missed by many people visiting the area. Although not actually in
Historically noteworthy is St Mary's Cathedral (12 Century) representing a real treasure of art history - a Romanesque portal, Gothic pediments, and inside a Baroque altar and ceiling. Other churches such as St Andrew, St Francis and the Church of Capuchins are in no way inferior. Finally, the castles of Sarzana - both the Firmafede fortress, called Cittadella and the Castle of Sarzanello.
The town is famous for its several antique shops and restoration workshops. In August, one of the most important Italian antique markets "La soffitta nelle strade" (the open air loft) is held in the streets of Sarzana. The streets are filled with stalls selling everything from furniture, arts and crafts to memorabilia. Traffic is restricted to residents only in the centre so it is an ideal place to wander its narrow cobbled lanes that lead from the main piazza to the castle and the theatre. There is also a colourful weekly market every Thursday morning so get there early if you want to find a convenient parking space.
The fortress of Sarzana
Internationally renowned for its marble quarries and still the most important source of marble in the world. Carrara’s almost white stone has been visited for centuries by famous sculptors from Michelangelo who carved the famous ’David’ from the precious stone, to the more recently acclaimed Henry Moore. Both of these great sculptors personally visited the site to select their blocks. This is one of the world’s oldest industrial sites still in continuous use today which has excavated here since Roman times decorating many reclaimed palaces, Italian medieval churches and homes of the rich and famous. The town itself offers little to the tourist operating mainly as a commercial centre, however of particular interest in
Aulla is the largest and main commercial town in the Lunigiana located at the A15 exit of the Parma-La Spezia motorway. It is not the prettiest of towns and at first glance, there is nothing special about it. You probably won't be impressed by Aulla's architecture, which consists mainly of boxy, unadorned buildings hastily erected out of cheap materials some time after extensive Allied bombing during the Second World War flattened the old town. Aulla is dominated by the Fortezza della Brunella, a large square fortress built in either the 15th or 16th century. Now restored, the fortress can be reached in few minutes walk from the city centre and is the symbol of the town. The Fortezza della Brunella hosts the Natural History Museum of Lunigiana and is located in the middle of a beautiful park, with a view of the two rivers in the valley.
The other interesting site in town is the Abbazia di San Caprasio (Abbey of Saint Caprasio) smack in the heart of town. It is free to enter and if you walk to the apse at the back of the abbey you will see that there has been a recent archaeological excavation. Exposed is the site of Saint Caprasio's tomb from the 9th century. (The good Saint was a hermit from the Lerins Islands off the coast of Provence, where he died. He was brought here to give his name to the abbey and thereby attract pilgrims at the time of the abbey's foundation, around 884.) Just 10 feet or so away from Saint Caprasio's final resting place is a rather large hole where they excavated an unexploded US bomb. The abbey's outbuildings now house a museum, where the visitor can see the bits of the now exploded bomb, some excavated architectural features, Roman coins and other remains. The abbey also holds relics--including the cranium--of Saint Severo from the 4th century, which are kept in an ornate box.
The town, which has a population of about 12,000, was born on the 27th of May 884 when the Marquis-Count of Tuscany, decided to build a church and an abbey at the point where the Aulella river flows into the larger Magra river.Its strategic position at the foot of three important passes (Cisa, Cerreto and Lagastrello), and on the road to Casola and to the Garfagnana, made Aulla a central place for trade between the inland and the sea. Recently, Aulla has developed a lot, thanks to the Parma-La Spezia railway and to the ever-increasing importance of the Cisa road – the old pilgrim road to Rome. More recently, the motorway and, in 2004 a new railway station, continue to help Aulla to develop and grow as a thriving and lively town. The surrounding countryside is magnificent, and conveys the atmosphere of old times. Some of the more interesting spots are: Caprigliola, whose city walls were built by the Medici; Bibola, with an old ruined castle; Albiano, rich in medieval houses; Olivola, in a dominating position, and Pallerone, a medieval village that hosts a mechanical "presepe" (Nativity representation) made in 1935.