Lunigiana in Italy is a historical region set between northern Tuscany, western Emilia Romagna, and eastern Liguria. Largely underrated and unaffected by mass tourism, Lunigiana, in Latin Lunensis Ager, is one of our favorite areas in Tuscany. This mountainous area stretches from the Tosco-Emiliano Apennines to the Mediterranean Sea following the flow of the Magra River.
The name Lunigiana probably comes from the devotion to the myth of the Moon, Lunae in Latin, of the ancient inhabitants of Luni. That is the reason why we also call the Lunigiana the Valley of the Moon.
Luni was an important city during the times of the Roman Empire. They found it in 177 BC even if other people lived in this land before the Romans.
Where is Lunigiana Italy?
Today most of the land of Lunigiana belongs to Tuscany and partly to Liguria. As you can see from the map below, the territory falls within the province of Massa Carrara.
It is close to La Spezia and the Cinque Terre, but also to famous Tuscan cities such as Pisa and Lucca. This makes Lunigiana a good option to spend a vacation in a wild and quiet place and still be close to famous places that you cannot miss. Even Milan is not that far, only two hours and thirty minutes from Pontremoli, the main town of Lunigiana.
How to get to Lunigiana Italy
The A15 highway runs through the Lunigiana region. So you can easily reach it from both north and south. There are two useful highway exits: Aulla and Pontremoli. As you drive along minor roads from here, you will reach all the small towns and remote corners of the area.
History of Lunigiana
The Prehistoric Era
Lunigiana has a long history dating back to prehistoric times. The fascinating and mysterious Stele Statues are proof of this. These anthropomorphic stone statues date to the period from the fourth to the first millennium B.C., and their function remains unrevealed. Today you can admire these statues in the Museum of Statue Stele located inside the Castello del Piagnaro in Pontremoli.
The Liguri Apuani and the Roman Empire
The Liguri Apuani were the inhabitants of Lunigiana until the arrival of the Romans in the second century BC. These strong and combative people repelled the troops of the Roman Empire several times before falling. To keep them from continuing to cause trouble, the Romans deported them to southern Italy, in what is now Campania.
The disputes during the Middle Ages
After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 460 CE, Lunigiana experienced turbulent times. It became a land of clashes and conquest by other peoples including the Byzantines and Lombards, and later the Franks.
It was during this period that the Via Francigena developed. This route, which today crosses all of Tuscany from north to south, gains importance as a pilgrimage route and as a military link between northern Europe and the Mediterranean Sea. The Via Francigena connected Canterbury to Rome, crossing France, Suisse, and Italy, along a 1.600 Km/994 miles route.
Nowadays, the Via Francigena is becoming increasingly popular among hikers as an alternative to the more famous and crowded Camino de Santiago in Spain. In Lunigiana, there are three stages of the Via Francigena. From the Cisa Pass, you walk to Pontremoli. Continue from Pontremoli to Aulla and then on to Carrara and the sea.
The Kingdom of the Malaspina Family
Around the year 1000 the Obertenghi, a dynasty of Lombard origin, established their noble family in Lunigiana. Then came the Malaspinas. The family and their descendants controlled this territory for almost two centuries. It was during the kingdom of the Malaspina that important events, battles, family disputes, and legends worthy of an episode of Game of Thrones, enriched the history of Lunigiana.
As is often the case in families, relationships between relatives are not easy, especially if the inheritors desire power. The Malaspina family divided its properties into two distinct branches, the Spino Fiorito (Blooming Thorn) and the Spino Secco (Dry Thorn). Rivalries between the Malaspina led, on both sides of the Magra River valley, to the fortification of many villages and the construction of numerous castles. Many of them still exist. Pontremoli, an important trading center at the time, was the only independent town outside the disputes of the kingdom.
After decades of fighting, the Malaspina family and the count-bishop of Luni signed an armistice in 1306 at Castelnuovo Magra. Legend says that, as the Malaspina’s attorney, was the now-famous poet Dante Alighieri to sign the deal, who was in Lunigiana after having been exiled from Florence since the beginning of the 14th century.
Later, with the decline of the Malaspina kingdom, Lunigiana became the center of interest of the main powerful cities of Italy, such as Florence, Genoa, and Milan.
In 1797 Napoleon abolished the feudal system, but the actual administrative division of Italy did not occur until the Unification of Italy in 1861. Today the historical Lunigiana no longer exists and the territory has been divided into two different regions, Tuscany and Liguria.
Lunigiana and The Divine Comedy, Purgatory, Canto VIII, 115-120
The founder of the Italian language Dante Alighieri mentions the Malaspinas of Lunigiana in his masterpiece, the Divine Comedy. Dante Alighieri probably came to Lunigiana in April 1306. Franceschino Malaspina, Marquis of Mulazzo, invited him as a proxy to end the secular disputes between the Malaspinas and the bishops of Luni.
The Canto VIII of Purgatorio, 115-120 tells about Corrado Malaspina, son of Federico I Malaspina Marquis of Villafranca. The man is in anti-purgatory to purge the guilt of having loved his family too much.
Se novella vera di Val di Magra, o di parte vicina, sai, dillo a me, che già grande là era. Chiamato fui Corrado Malaspina; non son l’Antico, ma di lui discesi. a’ miei portai l’amor che qui raffina."
…“if some true intelligence Of Valdimagra or its neighbourhood Thou knowest, tell it me, who once was great there. Currado Malaspina was I called; I'm not the elder, but from him descended; To mine I bore the love which here refineth."
Things to do in Lunigiana Italy
As we have talked a bit about the history of this region which is unknown to most, it is now time to focus on the reasons why you should come to Lunigiana.
The nicest hamlets to visit
The territory of Lunigiana consists mainly of mountains and narrow valleys. Small villages are widely scattered all over the territory, and visiting them all can take a long time. Some are easy to reach because they are close to the main roads. Other villages, on the other hand, require more time and careful driving along narrow mountain roads. So here is my selection of what I consider the best ones to see: Pontremoli, Bagnone, Fivizzano, Fosdinovo, and Filetto di Villafranca.
Lunigiana is also known as the land of a hundred castles. The Lombards first and the Malaspina family later built at least 160 of them throughout history. Many of them have been destroyed or only the ruins can be seen. While some of them are still in good condition and open to visitors for a tour. The most important are Malgrate Castle, Piagnaro Castle of Pontremoli, Aquila Castle of Gragnola, Malaspina Castle of Fosdinovo, Verrucola Castle in Fivizzano, Brunella Fortress of Aulla, and Castiglione del Terziere Castle.
Culture and Churches
For those who love history, Lunigiana also offers some fascinating museums to visit such as Pontremoli Stele Statue Museum, Lunigiana Ethnographic Museum, and San Caprasio Museum. You can also take a dip back to Roman times, visiting the archaeological area and the amphitheater of Luni.
Lunigiana is plenty of medieval Parish Churches. Here is a short list of my favorites: Pieve di Santo Stefano di Sorano of Filattiera, Pieve di San Paolo of Vendasio, Pieve dei Santi Cornelio e Cipriano of Codiponte, Pieve of Montedivalli, and Pieve di Sant’Andrea of Sarzana.
Nature and Outdoor Activities
If all you need is to relax, Lunigiana is the place to be. Families running holiday houses and Agriturismo welcome their guests with a warm Benvenuti. You will experience a simple way of life. Just like locals do.
For mountain lovers, it is possible to ski in winter on Zum Zeri Ski Slopes. During the spring and summer, you can hike on the mountains along the trail of the National Park of the Tuscan-Emilian Appennine.
Another interesting activity to suggest, especially if you have kids, is the Cultural Park of the Caves of Equi Terme.
Where to Sleep and Eat in Lunigiana Italy
Here are the top three of the best places to stay in Lunigiana Italy.
- Agriturismo Montagna Verde, Apella, Licciana Nardi. The small, renovated village of Apella is home to a kind of accommodation called Albergo Diffuso. You will be guests of the Maffeis. Mario, Barbara, Luca, and the entire staff are so nice and professional, making this place so unique. Their rooms are spread among the little alleys of the village, in what were once ancient medieval dwellings. If you like waking up at dawn, take a walk outside the burg. You may come across Mr. Maffei Senior watering the garden and vegetables that you will find on the restaurant’s table. Or cross your path with a sheep flock busily eating breakfast in the meadow. The 1000-year-old tower, on the other hand, houses an excellent restaurant. All dishes on the menu are made from their own farm products. Try everything! If you like meat, order the Agnello di Zeri. You will not regret it!
- Agriturismo Casa Turchetti, Comano. Built on the foundations of a fortification with a tower dating back to the Middle Ages, the Boschettis recently renowned the house to offer its guests all the comforts. Only four rooms and two apartments for this little Agriturismo in the ancient burg of Cattognano. The kindness of the staff, a lovely pool with a view of the mountains, and a restaurant on a terrace where you can taste the local specialties prepared for you by the owner. You have everything you need to relax for a few days in nature and quietness.
- Agriturismo B&B Luna di Quarrazzana in Fivizzano. Ilaria, Stefano, and Benny the Cat will open the doors of their lovely Agriturismo in Quarrazzana. Take a break from daily life under the plum trees. Or, if you prefer, refresh yourself with a bath in the pool with a view over the village’s roofs. Start the day with joy, trying the genuine flavors of homemade bread and jams at breakfast. In the evening don’t miss tasting Ilaria’s specialties. She cooks following her grandmother’s recipes.
Further Readings about Lunigiana
- What do in Pontremoli, a hidden gem of Tuscany
- Fosdinovo, the old gate of Lunigiana
- How to visit the Castle of Fosdinovo
- Sgabei, a specialty of Lunigiana
- How to make Testaroli, a tasty specialty of Tuscany
- The Living Nativity Scene of Equi Terme