The Lunigiana is the far northern tip of Tuscany, a rural and mountainous area, its landscape dominated by the upper (northern) section of Italy's backbone, the Appenines.
The Lunigiana isn't a hotbed of tourists nor is it a hotbed of tourist infrastructure. Yet there are over 160 castles to discover tucked into the landscape. Artisan food is readily available. You must taste Zeri Lamb in springtime.
In 5 or so steps you can plan a reasonable visit to the Lunigiana from resources compiled by expats who have a passion for introducing newcomers to the rural charm of the Lunigiana.
Pontremoli was once one of the richest and most powerful of Lunigiana cities. It stands at the confluence of the Magra and Verde Rivers. Being the northernmost significant town, it was also open to sieges. During the middle ages Pontremoli was host to a fierce rivalry between the Guelphs and Ghibellines such that a wall was built dividing the city in two by Castruccio Castracani, conqueror of the Lunigiana, hoping to create a little peace. Pignaro Castle, which sits high above the town, is home to the Museum of Statue-Menhirs.
Festivals: Fourth Sunday in July, the Bancarella literary award in honor of the street book-traders in the Pontremoli area.
Equi Terme is a spa town in the Lunigiana with caves that have been in continuous use since Neandertal times. You can visit the Equi Caves Geo-Archeo-Adventure Park and see an excavation with prehistoric artifacts and bones (and amazing cave bear skulls) on a tour--and then zip line through the valley.
Filattiera has been known since Roman times, where it was an important junction between Luni (the Roman marble port for which the Lunigiana was named in the region of Liguria), Lucca, and northern Italy. It was the center of fortifications that protected the important port of Luni from Longobard attacks. At the entrance to Filattiera is the 14th century Malspina castle, now a private residence.
Bagnone is one of the prettiest villages in the center of Lunigiana. 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, churches and squares. From the lower town, take the bridge and walk up to the castle, shown below. It's a fine trip. Afterwards you can stop in the village below to have a bite to eat while enjoying the view.
Villafranca - Here the Malaspina castle was destroyed by bombing during the second world war. At the nearby Byzantine town of Filetto, built to the square plan of a Roman Castrum, the first and second Sundays of August are devoted to a slew of medieval cultural events featuring medieval banquets and folks in traditional costume.
Tresana - Like to visit abandoned and overgrown ruins? Tresana and it's environs may be just for you. A few ruins of the Giovagallo castle remain, formerly the residence of the Alagia Fieschi cited by Dante. The Tresana Castle and borgo are abandoned, but the Villa Castle has been restored.
Podenzana - Here you'll see the castle, which is privately owned. Podenzana, along with Aulla, are pretty much the only two places where you can eat the traditional panigacci and sometimes chiodo di maiale.
Aulla - Most of the town of Aulla was bombed during the second world war, but the Brunella fortress still looks down upon the town. It is now the seat of the Lunigiana Natural History Museum. One of the benefits of rebuilding the town is wide sidewalks. If you've ever walked in medieval hill towns you've missed them.
Fivizzano - For almost four hundred years Fivizzano was titled the "corner of Florence" as a symbol of Florence's domination of the region. Fivizzano was an epicenter of the Resistance in the Lunigiana, making it the scene of innumerable reprisals by Nazis and Fascists. Along with the earthquake of 1920, the 20th century has been a little rough on Fivizzano, but it remains one of the more interesting of Lunigiana cities. Verucola castle is nearby. If you come in June and like food, don't miss Sapori Fivizzano. In mid july you can see Disfida degli Arcieri di Terra e di Corte, an archery tournament that's been going on since 1572.
Casola - Home to the Museo del territorio dell'Alta Valle Aulella in the old town hall, you can learn of the history and see some stele statues of the region.
Fosdinovo - A well-preserved fairy tale castle, mentioned as early as 1084, rises majestically above the borgo below. It's now a private residence, but part of it is a small B&B. See the FaceBook page for booking info. Writer Eric Newby settled near Fosdinovo after the war and wrote several books, including A Small Place in Italy (more below).
Equi Terme - interesting hamlet and portal to the Apuanian Alps Park. Also worth visiting: Prehistoric grottos and a famous spa (Terme di Euqi, Via Noce Verde, 20).
Carrara - Marble comes from around here. It is an industrial city, and one of the poorest in Tuscany these days, but you can visit many of the workshops and marble mills in Carrara. Marble has been quarried from around here since the second century b.c. You can hire a guide to visit the quarries. The Civico Marmo Museum is found on Viale XX Settembre near the Stadium, in Carrara. If you're around Carrara (actually the town of Resceto) at the beginning of August, you might want to visit La Lizzatura, the ancient marble quarrying festival.
When asked what the cheapest material one can use for a kitchen countertop in the Lunigiana, the answer is "marble, of course!"
Vinca is a small village that's not on the map, but with a fascinating history, not all of it happy. It's said to have the best bread in the Lunigiana.
Malgrate is home to a small castle that dominates the village.
Montereggio has a facinating history as a booktown.
Bastia has a very well-preserved castle.
Dimora alla Cascata is an old tannery converted first into a mill, then restored in recent times as vacation lodging with three self catering apartments, the smallest of which is a studio apartment with a full kitchen. It's in the town of Verrucola, a very evocative castle town, certainly one of the prettiest in Italy. See our review and pictures: Lunigiana Love Nest.
If you're looking for a hotel with a very good restaurant and a wine cellar, Albergo Ristorante da Remo is a fine one in Monzone. The train station is just behind, although not all trains stop at the small station.
Spino Fiorito has four rooms in a very evocative corner of the Lunigiana, plus they serve a great and inexpensive Worker's Lunch.
Most folks rent or lease a car to explore the rural treasures of the Lunigiana, and there are many more rental properties than hotels here. Take a look at some places organized by location at Lunigiana Rentals.
In case you're wondering, those jagged mountains you see, the Apuan Alps, mark the start of the marble mountains of Massa and Carrara.
Ilaria Bacherini is your host at this sprawling agriturismo, a historic building in a small village which seems deserted when you first trundle down the raggedy road to explore it. Then you notice the barn with a cow. Then dogs bark. Then you realize the town is not deserted at all, but filled with life.
Ilaria speaks English perfectly. When you eat she will guide you through the local cuisine. Once enthralled with the food, you can take a cooking class and learn to make the traditional foods of this historic territory. And if you're really ready for the country life, you can take the donkeys out for a spin.
Our current favorite restaurant is Ristorante Venelia. We're recently discovered Ristorante Bernardi, south of Tresana on the map. Eating under the trees on a fine day is best done at Vecchia Bruxelles.
Aulla, in the center of the Lunigiana and an important market town, exhibits a typical Mediterranean climate, with wet, cool winters and dry summers. The best times to go are May through August, although we have enjoyed October and the first half of November as well. The second half of November seems to bring on the worst of the cold and rain. It can snow in December and January.
The temperatures in Aulla rise somewhat slowly in the spring and fall off quickly after September, as you can see from the historic average temperature chart below.
Convert Temperatures - Enter a temperature in any box and then click outside the box.