Carrara, itself, is a nice-size Tuscan town of about 65,000 people nestled between the Apuane Alps and the Verisilian Coast. But what makes it special is what surrounds the town: an 18-mile ridge of that is basically one enormous piece of marble. This stone has been used since the days of the Roman Empire (both the Pantheon and Trajan’s column were once covered in it) and may be most famous for providing Michelangelo with a single perfect block that become known as “David”.
A visit to the area is one of my favorite excursions and can easily be done from the Italian Riviera or NW Tuscany: A Day in Carrara. Here is my suggested “way to spend the day”:
Start with a visit Colonnata. Built on small hill of marble (in between monstrous ones that surround you from all sides), this charming little village was founded by the Romans and housed the slaves forced to work in the marble quarries. Today it is still populated by “lizzatore” (quarry workers), but has also become famous because of its “lardo” (but better referred to as “the butter of Tuscany”). A sandwich of tomatoes and lardo between two slices of bread and some moonshine wine were a typical lunch for the quarryman.
So what is lardo? (Disclaimer: the gross part here.) Well, it is the shavings from the back of the pig (called “spugnosa” or the greasiest part) which are put in a marble basin, known as a “conca”, a few hours after having been butchered. The conca is rubbed with garlic and herbs and then the lardo is placed on the bottom of it. Then a layer of salt, pepper, garlic and rosemary is added. The layering process continues with this recipe until the conca is filled and then it is covered with a marble slab. The lardo remains in the conca for 6 to 10 months. (I seem to be missing my up close and personal photos of lardo, so you HERE is an image from the web.)
There are several shops and restaurants in the village where you can try it. My favorite is a couple of slices between some fresh hot focaccia!
Next stop is the Fantiscritti with its spectacular views over the town of Carrara and the quarries themselves. Here you can visit inside a working quarry (600 meters inside to be exact!) and learn about the process of cutting and pulling out of the marble blocks. There is a small museum containing an exhibition of the various quarrying methods used over the past 2000 years. The tours are 30 minutes long in English, French & Italian and cost 7 Euros per person.
Afterward, head down into the town of Carrara to a Nicoli Studio (reservations necessary, nominal fee applies) for a 30 minute visit around this lovely marble studio and learn how statues and other art forms are created.
There is also the official Carrara Marble Museum (located on Via XX settembre) where you could spend another 1/2 hour learning about the techniques and history of this fabulous stone.
It’s a fun day: educational and interesting amongst an almost surreal setting. ENJOY!
HOW TO GET THERE: From the A12 autostrada exit at Carrara and then follow the signs for Carrara and "cave di marmo". You'll go through Carrara, then start to climb the toward Colonnata and the Fantiscritti. It takes about 50 minutes from Lucca or Pisa, and 40 minutes from Lerici or La Spezia.