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.
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.