Pontremoli is Tuscany's northernmost town and one of the most quintessential centers of the Lunigiana region. Set on a plain surrounded by hills and mountains, the town is a treasure trove of artistic memory and monumental relics. Crossing its medieval bridges or strolling along its paved walkways is a bit like time traveling back to a mythical age. Indeed, historians widely recognize Pontremoli as the legendary Apua, the ancient capital of the Ligurian Apennines region.
It's no coincidence that Pontremoli's Piagnaro Castle is home to the Museo delle Statue Stele (Museum of Stele Statues), which holds a beautiful series of anthropomorphic sculptures that serve as the definitive relics of the prehistoric Lunigiana. These mysterious works-which are arranged in a context that allows them to stand out, given the contrast between the statues and the old walls of the Castle-were produced in a period spanning the Copper Age up to the times of Romanization. The precise meaning of these fascinating relics is still open to discussion, although the most common hypothesis suggests that they represent protective masculine and feminine divinities aimed at safeguarding varied aspects of human life.
Among the main attractions in downtown Pontremoli is the Duomo, which was designed by Alessandro Capra of Cremona during the 17th century and has a Latin cross plan topped with a giant dome. A scenographic "Ligurian style" lighting system brightens up the interior, which is embellished with numerous altars in polychrome marble. As you stroll through the town, the Campanone will surely catch your attention: this is the central tower of the old Cazzaguerra fortress' curtain wall, erected during the 14th century and today the city's main symbol. The curtain wall, the remains of which are still visible here and there, once divided the major central square. Castruccio Castracani degli Antelminelli was behind its construction, aiming to keep the factions of Guelphs and Ghibellines separate-this way they were contained in different parts of the city. In 1578, the tower was transformed into a belltower.
Also worth noting is the 18th century Teatro dell’Accademia della Rosa, which was commissioned by 25 noble families of Pontremoli and serves as a typical example of a Rococo theatre and is the oldest of the Apuan province.
The Church and Convent of San Francesco (today known as the parish church of Santi Giovanni e Colombano) is also worth a visit. The basilica’s interior features stuccoes carried out in the 18th century by the Ticinese workshop of the Portugalli school, and holds interesting artworks, including a bas-relief by Agostino di Duccio depicting the Madonna and Child, a wooden choir by Luchino of Parma, the Ecstasy of Saint Francis by Gianbettino Cignaroli and a Crucifixion by Guido Reni. Just outside the main town you’ll find the large Church of Santissima Annunziata, home to a beautiful polychrome marble temple inside, a work of Sansovino.
Pontremoli is also an ideal starting point for nature lovers planning to explore the green valleys of the Lunigiana. Walking along its many trails, winding through chestnut, oak and beech tree woods, you end up in a true paradise of deep forest: the wondrous silence helps create the ideal conditions for absorbing the natural beauty of this region. Of the many routes, the one following the course of the Magra river and its tributaries stands out. It is packed with memorable views and set against an unspoiled, pure natural background.
Any trip to the Lunigiana region can’t be complete without some sampling of the rich and diverse flavors of the region’s culinary traditions. Pontremoli in particular is famous for testaroli, along with its iconic sweets, such as the exquisite amor and spongata (a traditional Christmas sweet prepared with walnuts, hazelnuts, honey, almonds, pine nuts, chocolate and candied fruits). Also worth mentioning are the torte d’erbi (savory herb pies) and the regional honey, recognized at the national level with the DOP label.