Sentiero dei Ducati (The path of the dukedoms) was designed to retrace the historic routes that frame the borders of the dukedoms that from the 16th to 19th centuries ruled over a vast territory between the river Po and the Tyrrhenian sea. The route takes in the dukes of Estensi, those of Modena and Reggio, the duchy of Parma and Piacenza and the duchy's of Tuscany. This land, now crossed by the Sentiero dei Ducati, is rich in superb places that treasure the traces of this past, a land that's still today known to few and far from crowds.
It's a trail that the Italian Alpine Club of Reggio Emilia, in collaboration with the CAI branches of Fivizzano and Sarzana, wanted to return to its original glory, passionately dedicating an important project for its maintenancce and promotion.
The first stage in Lunigiana is quite long but very interesting and pleasant. It allows you to cross the bioclimatic and agri-food border between continental Europe and the Mediterranean basin, while remaining in a fairly similar environment due to the altitude. We head away from beech woods to meet extensive oak and chestnut groves, furrowed by lush streams with the remains of centuries-old mills, and the charming villages of Torsana (with the annexed church of San Giacomo of the 12th century) and Camporaghena (with the church of Saints Peter and Paul), real gems of rock and stone in the heart of the Tuscan-Emilian Apennine National Park that's now inhabited by very few. On the horizon, we can begin to see the jagged profile of the Apuan massif, towards which we are headed. First, the route develops along a beautiful mule track with various votive chapels, it then heads slightly uphill to meadows and then descends to Sassalbo, greeted by a magnificent chestnut wood that's the final destination of this leg of the itinerary.
The second stage in Tuscany offers a wide and spectacular view, especially from the Prati di Massicciano, of the ever-closer chain of the Apuan Alps. The view spans from Mount Roccandagia to Mount Borla and to the mighty north faces of Pizzo d'Uccello and of Monte Sagro. After passing the village of Regnano and the pleasant Parish Church of Offiano, you reach the village of Casola Lunigiana with its charming historic centre where you will be able to visit the small, but interesting, Museum of the high Aulella valley territory.
This magnificent stage, that's no less long or demanding than the others, features olive groves and centuries-old chestnut groves and leads to fascinating villages such as Argigliano, Ugliancaldo, Aiola and places of extraordinary naturalistic interest such as the Solco (furrow) and the caves of Equi Terme. This leg skirts the western flanks of the Apuans and the park of the same name, right at the foot of the Pizzo d'Uccello massif. This also leads to the railway line connecting Aulla to Lucca, that can serve as a possible means to interrupt the journey, returning by train to the starting point (via Parma), but not before having enjoyed the benefits of the thermal waters of Equi and having visited its important natural sites.
This is a lengthy stage that leads from the slopes of the Apuan Alps through one of the wildest corners of Lunigiana. Wooded hills, chestnut forests, gorges and streams and isolated tiny villages will be met where time seems to have stopped; there's not even a simple café in sight. Nevertheless, these villages are still inhabited today, proud of the distant memory of the glories of the past, when they were important hubs in the management of the territory during Middle Ages and the Renaissance. With its ruggedness, perhaps this stage best represents the land of Lunigiana. The final destination of this stage is the beautiful village of Fosdinovo and its magnificent Castle of Malaspina, where we can admire the nearby Ligurian Sea and the Gulf of Poets.
From the village of Fosdinovo, you start a long but relaxing descent towards Sarzana, in Liguria. The ruins of the ancient Roman Luni represent the last destination to be appreciated on our journey.There's also an entire path dedicated to MTB and gravel bikes.
More information on the official website of Sentiero dei Ducati.