Saturday, February 18, 2006

Lovely Lunigiana...

It was a beautiful February morning and we were entertaining a out of town friend. Since she had been here several times before and was well acquainted with Le Cinque Terre and the Gulf of Poets, we thought we’d jump in the car and explore a lesser known region near our home called Lunigiana.

We started up the winding road that goes from the sea at Lerici to the Appuane Mountains and made our first stop at Fosdinovo. This 12th century medieval village is dominated by its “crowning” Malaspina castle 1700 feet above sea level from which there are wonderful views to the sea (as far as Elba on a clear day!) and the Magra Valley. Its position was considered ideal to maintain control of the Apennines outlet to the sea and the Lunigiana region with its roads and mountain pass, between the most important roads linking the Tyrrhenian coast to northern Italy during the Middle Age. Now the village is a quiet retreat and passageway into Lunigiana and its 100+ castles, Etruscan ruins and charming “alpine like” villages. You can visit the castle and its torture chamber (but currently tours are only given in Italy so you’ll need an English speaking guide to accompany you).

Our next stop (about 15 kms away) was the lovely village of Fivizzano. This medieval town of has about 10,000 inhabitants and prides itself on style, character, warm hospitable people, good restaurants and an international music festival (August)! It was a wealthy town in medieval times and an important strategic centre, so it flourished with business and prosperity. There is a strong “Fiorentine” influence and even has its very own Medici inspired piazza. Being that it was February, there wasn’t much in terms of crowds or liveliness, but it was warm enough to sit out next to the fountain in the main square and eat our “foccacia paninis (with bresaola & robiola cheese – yum!) and do a little people watching. You could imagine what it would be like on a sunny day in June with all the cafes and restaurants filled and the flowers in bloom – just charming!

The drive from Fivizzano to Bagnone (via Licciana Nardi) was quite pleasant and even a little surprising. There was a similar look and feel to Chianti region o Tuscany with its gorgeous villas and sweeping views. Yet couple of things that did make it different – the meringue like, snow capped mountains in the background and the price tag. You can still buy an old rustico to fix up for UNDER $100,000!

We did not end up stopping in Licciana Nardi to my regret as it did look quite cute and I have since then read up on its history as a major trading post 1000 years ago! But I plan on returning soon…

Our next stop and probably my favorite was at the incredibly charming village of Bagnone. What a setting! The village appears as if it is perched on a rock in the middle of the woods. There is a river that runs through the middle of the village and many of the buildings are built into the cliffs on both sides of the river. It is topped a fortress with a large, round tower (typical of Lunigiana). There is also a castle, pretty palazzos and several churches and squares. If I were to choose to stay overnight at, this would be my choice!

Our last stop, we came full circle back to lower Lunigiana and to my favorite “near to our home” village of Sarzana. Although not yet fully discovered by many Americans, Sarzana has the makings of being a great destination with its colorful Ligurian buildings, winding streets filled with boutique stores, cafes, chic restaurants and large piazzas. Its history is plentiful dating back to at least the 10th century. The small fortified village was protects by its wall and a commanding fortress on the hill above it. It has the look and feel of Lucca which is not surprising as it was ruled over by one of Lucca’s greatest leaders, Castrocani and then taken over by Lorenzo de’ Medici in the 15th century, then the Savoys of Liguria. It was even a pivotal town for the Axis army in World War II. Today, it is a rather popular town for the young and old alike. On a Saturday night and Sunday afternoons the villages is filled with people walking the streets, window shopping and enjoying a “bevande”. In our case, we savored a nice cup of hot chocolate with lots of whip cream on top!

There are several other villages of note in Lunigiana which we passed on due to time such as Pontremoli, Villa Franca and Ecqui Terme (just to name a few), but hopefully I’ll be able to write about those shortly and you all will have the opportunity to visit some day. In the meantime, here are a couple of good links for Lunigiana: (a nice rental near Ecqui Terme) (a cute B&B in Bagnone)