More than 100 small castles dot the Lunigiana landscape, which is composed of three valleys cut by rivers. There are abundant hiking trails in the woods and along the ridge tops. Pristine medieval villages are tucked into hillsides. It's a wonderful and compact place to visit--and the 5 little villages everyone loves are very close; the Cinque Terre are only 45 minutes away to the west.
These are some of the reasons I have chosen the Lunigiana as a place to live during the spring and fall.
People still make their own food here. The butchering of hogs to make all the delicious "cold cuts" that got them through the year without refrigeration takes place in winter, usually December. You will eat authentically and inexpensively in the Lunigiana.
When to Visit the Lunigiana
The Department of Tourism recommends spring and summer, but locals tell me that any time except November and December are good times to be in the Lunigiana, although I love the light for photography in the first half of November. "January has some spectacularly clear days, and the views are tremendous," a local restoration expert told me.
My favorite time to visit is fall, but the spring offers many food festivals (called sagre) and wildflowers.
Towns to Visit in the Lunigiana
Pontremoli - Pontremoli, once one of the richest and most powerful of Lunigiana cities, stands at the confluence of the Magra and Verde Rivers.
Positioned at the door to Tuscany, it was also open to sieges. During the middle ages Pontremoli was host to a fierce rivalry between the Guelphs and Ghibellines, so a wall was built dividing the city in two by Castruccio Castracani, conqueror of the Lunigiana, hoping to create a little peace. Visit Pignaro Castle, home of the Museum of Statue-Menhirs (see the Lunigiana History page for more).
Festivals: Fourth Sunday in July, the Bancarella literary award in honor of the street book-traders in the Pontremoli area.
Filattiera - 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), 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 which is now a private residence, so you'll have to admire it from afar.
Bagnone - 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, it's a fine trip. Afterwards you can stop in the village below to have a bite to eat while enjoying the view. (Photo Gallery of Bagnone)
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.
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. The Verucola castle is nearby.
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 though. (Fosdinovo Pictures)
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, 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!"
Lunigiana Travel Notes
You can see pictures of my favorite Lunigiana villages in Introduction to My Lunigiana.
If you'd like to spend a bit of time in the Lunigiana, you may wish to rent a villa, apartment or country house there. See: Lunigiana Rentals.
See the current weather, climate information, and other travel information for planning a trip: Lunigiana Travel Planning.
For a little history of the Lunigiana, see our article: A Short History of the Lunigiana Region of Tuscany.
Italy Pictures - Italian Photo Gallery of over 200 pictures including Florence and Pisa.