Lunigiana, Tuscany

Casa Glyn is situated in the heart of Lunigiana in Northern Tuscany, Close to the borders of Liguria and Emilia Romagna, Lunigiana is a stunningly beautiful and undiscovered area where life remains traditional.

Nonetheless, access to the area is easy with flights into Pisa, Genoa and Parma. The coast is only 40 minutes away with the gorgeous Ligurian town of Lerici and the scenic Cinque Terre. A little further away is the glamorous village of Portofino whilst south of Casa Glyn is one of Tuscany’s gems – Lucca.

A large and varied region of Italy, many observers regard Tuscany as the area which is quintissentially ‘Italian’ and offering the ‘best’ of Italy. Certainly for anyone visiting Italy for the first time Tuscany is the ideal starting point. The ‘lingua Toscana’ is the purest dialect in the country, the countryside is gentle with rolling hills and natural beauty (often seemingly untouched since the Middle Ages) and of course, Tuscany was the birthplace of the Renaissance. The Tuscan people are more reserved than the people in the South but nonetheless they are friendly and open and fiercely proud of being ‘Tuscan’. They live comfortably and happily amid the history and natural beauty of their surroundings with hearty food from the land including a host of wild game as well as fish stew from the Mare Tirreno not to mention the excellent red wines – the very best being from Chianti in the centre of Tuscany between Siena and Florence.

Everywhere there is beauty, history and culture and every fantasy from your days as an armchair traveller will be satisfied. The steep hills of the eastern and central part of Tuscany, latticed by olive orchards and vineyards, are if anything more beautiful than in the photo books. The coast and countryside of the Maremma near Porto Ercole and Monte Argentario is stunningly beautiful and unspoilt and everywhere there is history, from the Etruscan stronghold of Fiesole to the Roman colony of Volterra to the Renaissance splendour of Florence.

Lunigiana

Lunigiana is the region to the extreme north of the Tuscany, situated between Liguria and Emilia Romagna along the course of the river Magra and its affluents and to the north of Lucca and Pisa. With its hills, steep valleys, green meadows and high mountains, it is surrounded by the Appennines and the Apuan Alps. Lunigiana is a small homogenous region, relatively undiscovered by visitors with hot summers and cold winters.

History

Lunigiana is an historical region of Tuscany and Liguria. It owns its name to the city of Luni, an ancient Etruscan city, and then Roman colony since 2 BC. Here, the Liguri people settled and they left as their legacy ‘le statue stele’. In the fifth century Lunigiana was robbed by the Vandals, and then by the Longobards of Rotari.
At the end of the first millenium, the earl-bishops of Luni and the Malaspina family fought for domination of Lunigiana. The dispute was finally resolved in favour of the Malaspina who then started their rule of the region. The successive fragmentations of several feuds, due to the peculiar division of the Malaspina (every male descendant inherited a part of the feuds) led to a quick decline in favour of The Republic of Florence, and also from time to time, Lucca, Genova and Parma.

In 1797, Napoleon included Lunigiana in the Cisalpina Republic, and in 1802 Lunigiana was made part of the Italian Republic that included Austrian Lombardy, Valtellina, part of the State of the Church and Modena. After the Congress of Vienna in 1814, the ancient Lunigiana Region was divided amongst the Rulers of Sardinia and the Dukes of Modena and Parma. Most of historical Lunigiana is consequently within modern day Tuscany although it is very mcuh an area with its own character, history and culture.

Fivizzano is situated in the widest valley of Lunigiana extending from the Appenines to the Apuan Alps. The numerous valleys, with the tributaries of Rosaro, Mommio and Lucido all meet the course of the Aulella River. The landscape here is beautiful with fabulous views everywhere. Considered the Florence of Lunigiana, Fivizzano has always been an important centre and the many castles, churches and noble palaces are evidence of this. Fivizzano gave itself to the Medici family in the XV century and remained in their possession until the arrival of the Lorena. The walls of Fivizzano were erected by order of Cosimo de’ Medici in 1540, while the baroque font of the main square was constructed during the rule of Cosimo III in 1683. Beyond the walls, is the village of the Verrucola where the castle of the Verrucola lies, erected by Spinetta Malaspina the Great. Fivizzano was the birthplace of Jacopo of Fivizzano, one of the first printers.

Every summer in July, the “Disfida degli arceri di terra e di corte” fill with people from the medieval villages. Nearby, one can visit the Romanesque church of Saint Paul of Vendaso, the village of Soliera with the sanctuary of the Madonna of the Necks, the villages of Gragnola with the castle and Vinca, famous for its bread. In addition there is the Botanical Garden of the Frignoli, the village of Sassalbo and the delightful villages of Casole, Bagnone and Fosdinovo.

Food

Lunigiana is located among regions of strong gastronomic traditions. It is characterised by delicate and strong tastes, and its specialities originate from simple ingredients. Before being famous for its history or its nature, Lunigiana became well-known for its cuisine, thanks above all to the expert use of the many wild herbs  growing in the area. The cake of grass (torta d’erbi) is a splendid example. It is a local pie made with a base of light pastry and filled with field grasses, leeks and spinach. Testaroli are perhaps the most famous dish made from a batter of wheat flour, water and salt which is cooked in large cast iron pans with lids. They form a sort of pancake which is then boiled and cut up into small strips, usually served with pesto or mushrooms sauce. Panigacci are another speciality of the area and they are made of a batter which is cooked in red hot clay dishes over an open fire. They are then served as hot crispy pancakes filled with Parma ham, salami, coppa, stracchino cheese or nutella.

Lunigiana is proud of its cured mearts such as spalla cotta, culatello, salami, and its sheep and goats cheeses. Chestnuts and the mushrooms are a great resource of Lunigiana. Chestnuts are used for the flour, and its leaves for the baking of foods. Pattona is a chestnut batter cooked in clay dishes and served with ricotta and salami .  Funghi  can be found everywhere in the woods of Lunigiana. They can be served with pasta in a sauce or often with cream in a sauce with meat. Cakes vary from dry ones like the almond cake such as Pasteriala to the creamy ones such as the Amor in Pontremoli.

Francigena Way

At the beginning of the second millenium, Europe was covered by a multitude of pilgrims visiting the sacred places of Christianity. There were three key places to visit: Rome, Jerusalem and Santiago de Compostela. One of the most important roads leading to Rome was the Francigena Way or Romea Way. The memory of the Francigena Way was saved by great pilgrims of the past, the most famous and the first in describing it, Sigerico, Archbishop of Canterbury. He recorded his pilgrimage from Rome to England, and in particular the six stages passing through Lunigiana: the monastry of San Benedetto next to the step of the Cisa (Montelungo), Puntrembel (Pontremoli), Aguilla (Aulla), Santo Stefano, Sanctam Mariam de Sardena (Sarzana) and finally Luni.
The Francigena Way was the most important road in Italy in the Middle Ages. The Longobards chose it as strategic axis for the conquest of byzantine dominions. From Pavia, center of the italic reign, to Rome, the Appennine route of the step of the Cisa, (coinciding with the step of the longobard Mount Bardone), was an obligatory choice for the Longobards. The coastal roads, Aurelia, Flaminia, Emilia and the inner one, the Cassia, in the byzantine Esarcate territories were too dangerous. The Longobard Kings ensured the safety of the way through the foundation of monastries and abbeys, controlling politically and administratively the territory and at the same time, giving “spiritual” services and recovery to the pilgrims.
From the IX century, this road was called Via Francesca, coming from the reign of the Francs, and then took the new denomination of Francigena. The importance of the pilgrimage, related to the deep spirituality of the Middle Ages, contributed to the cultural development of the Francigena Way with the mixing of languages and peoples.

In Lunigiana, the Francigena Way began passing the step of the Cisa, reaching Montelungo, where the Monastery of San Benedetto, today destroyed, offered hospitality. It then came down to Pontremoli, where in the church of San Pietro is still conserved a fragment in sandstone representing the Maze, symbol of the pilgrimages. The road headed towards Filattiera, through Ponticello, with Pieve di Sorano and the church of San Giorgio. Here there is a stone with an epigraph of the VIII century, witnessing the passing of the pilgrims. From Filattiera, the Francigena Way continued to Villafranca, where the Malaspina family imposed heavy tolls for the passage at the Malnido castle, today in ruins. In Fornoli, near VillaFranca there is still part of the old pavement near “la Chiesaccia”. The Francigena then followed the Magra River reaching Aulla and then entering Santo Stefano Magra and then into Luni and finally to Massa.

Around Fivizzano
Between Moncigoli and Soliera there are stunning views of the mountains to your left. If you are going to the coast by car, it’s worth taking this detour, especially on your way back in the evening. In Fivizzano the library (opposite the town hall) is worth a visit: it is an old convent with restored frescoes (interesting but not great art) in the cloisters. Next door, see the Church Tower, but no church: it fell down in an earthquake in the 1920’s. There are good photos of this in the side room of Caffe Elvetico as well. The town hall has good cartouches and tablets commemorating heroes of the risorgimento. The fountain was a gift from a Tuscan grand duke and has rather fine white dolphins and ironwork. The central part is a later ‘romantic’ excrescence (a monstrous carbuncle).
Towards the top of the street towards La Locanda del Borgo Antico are the grand palazzi of the 18th/19th century rich who spent their Summers in the cool of the town instead of sweltering in such places as Milan. There is a fine walled garden in the highest palazzo (Fantoni) on the left. If you turn left here, just before the old North gate of the town, you can then walk back along the ancient town walls, with great views across the valley. Between the church and the walls are many small alleyways to explore, with interesting wall plaques and old houses.
Around Fivizzano and the surrounding area
The main road (63) above the town first passes the castle of Verrucola, restored by and lived in by an Italian sculptor, some of whose works can be seen in the hamlet that hugs the castle base. It’s worth walking around to see these and the view down the valley towards Fivizzano.
The 63 then twists and turns its way up to the Passo del Cerreto, the border between Tuscany and Emilia Romagna, with spectacular views of the valley and mountain on the way. The alpine botanical gardens (orto botanico) on the left near the top, are well worth visiting. There is also a great walk down through chestnut groves to the river and the village of Sassalbo. It is marked with red and white signs on rocks and trees etc. A road right at the top of the 63 takes you to the small ski resort of Lago del Cerreto, where there is also a year-round ice-skating rink.
If you fancy exploring, take any of the side roads off the 63. You’ll be rewarded by coming across tiny mountain villages and marvellous views over the ranges. If you drive over to the valley of the Taverona you will reach Licciana Nardi and going the other way there are great drives towards Casola in Lunigiana.
The drive through the mountains to Carrara (famous for its marble) is also fabulous but it takes a long time as is the drive over the mountains to the wonderful town of Lucca – stunning but a much longer journey than the motorway route. Parking is outside the city walls and inside the city walls there is interesting architecture, delightful streets with elegant shops and historic buildings.
Pontremoli – Just north of Aulla, the medieval town of Pontremoli is worth a visit with its small cathedral, lovely Piazza della Repubblica and narrow streets in which to wander.  The Trattoria da Fernando is well worth visiting for lunch.
Equi Terme – Just 23 km from Cotto, Equi Terme is in a beautiful setting with dramatic waterfalls, sulpher springs ad caves. There is an outdoor spa where one can swim in the pool with water from the springs.
Parma – A charming town with beautiful architecture – not touristy and very unspoilt. The Cathedral is fabulous.
Sarzana – enchanting little town with lovely piazza, stylish shops and bars.
Festival of Puccini, Torre del Lago 19th July-24th August
This year includes performances of Manon Lescaut, Turandot, Madame Butterfly and Tosca featuring Andrea Bocelli.

Cinque Terre, Liguria – well worth visiting are the beautiful Cinque Terre on the Ligurian coast. Along the coast from Portovenere and Lerici are the ‘five lands’  originally only accessible by boat or on foot. Now, visitors take arrive by car or train –  we recommend taking the train from La Spezia (cheap and frequent) and visiting the villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Vernazza, Monterosso and Corniglia. The walking paths are relatively easy and the views are astonishing.