Lunigiana is a land rich in nature, history and faith. Not only does the Francigena cross this region, but it also includes the first part of the Via del Volto Santo. The final destination is the Cathedral of San Martino in Lucca, where the venerated wooden statue of Christ carved by Nicodemus hangs.
In the Middle Ages, the city of Mura was a destination for many pilgrimages. The devout started their journey in Pontremoli, crossed the Tea pass and arrived in Garfagnana.
The Via del Volto Santo is an alternate route that begins in Pieve di Sorano, in the Filattiera plain along the Francigena. The first village on the itinerary is Bagnone, home of one of the most successful merchant squares during the fifteenth century. It served as the meeting point for farmers, tailors and shoemakers, but also for gamblers and usurers. The modern and lively castle of Bagnone has long been home to one of the Florentine and Tuscan enclaves in Lunigiana.
Consider heading just south of the town to the village of Castiglione del Terziere, which stands on an ancient Byzantine settlement. Years ago, the powerful Malaspina family once owned the castle, but today it houses the “Centre for Humanistic Studies Niccolò V”, which boasts the legacy of Lunigiana - a valuable archive and library.
The route proceeds into the territory of Licciana Nardispeckled with impressive fortifications and castles. Travellers then encounter Monti, which lies at the intersection between the Via del Volto Santo for Lucca and the road that connects Emilia Reggiana with the Via Francigena through the Abbazia di Linari pass.
After passing Pontebosio, complete with a castle and a typical medieval layout, travellers reach the fortified centre of Licciana. Here, visitors can visit the old residence of the Malaspina family that looks out over the entire town. The village streets are alive with restaurants and artisanal food and agricultural shops.
Passing the castle and the historic centre of Bigliolo, following along the Taverone stream, pilgrims enter the town of Fivizzano, “the pearl lost between worlds,” as described by Carducci. It is recommended to visit the Museum of work in the Lucido valley, which houses industrial archaeology objects and machinery, the Botanical Gardens of Frignoli, the Arlia Mill and the Sassalbo park, known for its large gypsum deposits.
The journey continues and travellers approach the Parish of Offiano, in the town of Casola in Lunigiana. Unfortunately, the building no longer retains its original Romanesque style after a restructuring project in the eighteenth century. The church is dedicated to St. Peter and has always been a place of meditation along the Via del Volto Santo. In fact, a white tile on the façade depicts a traditional pilgrim with a shoulder sack.
Casola in Lunigiana is the last village in the passo della Tea before entering Garfagnana. Casola has ancient origins. Its valleys have been inhabited since the Iron Age. Palazzi and stone houses testify to the rich past that profited from the surrounding medieval shops. An interesting local museum in the upper valley Aulella, is the “Augusto Cesare Ambrosi”, which has collected the history of the area stretching from ancient stele statues to artefacts from after the war.
What to eat
A trip would not be complete without tasting some of the local gastronomy. Luckily, Lunigiana certainly has a lot to offer. Ranging from necci to products produced from chestnut flour, there are numerous foods typical of Fivizzano.
Other must-have dishes include the rare onion of Treschietto, planted, then transplanted in the fertile plain dominated by the Malaspina Castle; the cherished braised shoulder, produced in the Val di Magra; and finally the Marocca di Casola, a bread made with chestnut flour. The recipe for Marocca di Casola dates back to the fifteenth century and is still used by Fabio Bertolucci in Casciana.
A good Lunigianese meal should always conclude with the taste of the one-of-a-kind Elisir di China, a product from the farmacia Clementi di Fivizzano that has kept this liquor’s recipe secret.