Pontremoli is an elongated town along the Via Francigena, which cuts the medieval old town in half with Baroque inserts. In the city of the trembling bridge (tremulous bridge) there are many access gates but not the walls, because – you can see it well looking at it from above – it is like a ship squeezed between the Magra river and the Verde torrent and with the bow pointing towards the Gulf of La Spezia. Crossroads of paths that descend from the Apennines, it is the epicenter of the Lunigiana, a role gradually assumed over time, to the detriment of the more isolated Fivizzano, which was instead linked to the Medici period.
In addition to the Francigena, the Via degli Abati (which goes from Pavia to Bobbio) and the Via del Volto Santo (which reaches Lucca, through the Garfagnana) once also passed here, with travelers crossing the trembling wooden bridges. Today, however, there are a tollbooth on the A15 motorway, the old state road for the Cisa pass and a station along the Pontremolese railway, which connects La Spezia to Parma and has always been the shortest route to reach the Po Valley from Tyrrhenian Sea.
The walk to discover medieval Pontremoli is guided by Sigeric, a community cooperative that promotes the territory and offers tourist services in this borderland. One of the most fascinating passages is that of the Crësa bridge, over the Verde stream, built for the first time in the thirteenth century near the Betula gate, one of the five entrances to the village.
On the opposite side, however, there is the Sommoborgo gate (also called Parma gate), facing the Apennines and its passes. Leaving the door, a comfortable lift allows you to access the Piagnaro castle, located on the hill overlooking the historic center. It houses the Museum of stele statues, of male and female human figures carved in sandstone by populations who lived between the fourth and first millennium BC: the stele statues are the identity symbol of Lunigiana, because it is in the valley of the Magra river that they are distributed all finds.
You cannot leave Pontremoli without having eaten testaroli, an unleavened bread of thin thickness and circular shape, with a diameter of about 40-45 centimeters. Cut into squares and boiled for a minute, it is excellent seasoned with pesto (after all we are in a borderland). Peculiarity of testarolo, which is a Slow food presidium, is cooking in the text), a method perhaps unique in Italy and similar to techniques practiced in the southern part of the Mediterranean basin.
The cast iron texts are small portable ovens composed of two parts, the lower one called sottano, where the food is placed, and the upper one, the soprano, which acts as a lid. Sottano and soprano are placed on a beech or chestnut wood fire and heated: the inner part of both is in contact with the open flame: when the petticoat has reached the right temperature it is removed from the fire and the batter is poured into it. To understand how the texts are used, the young people of Testarolando can be consulted, who also cultivate Grano 23, a local variety used to produce testaroli.
Luca Maffei uses the texts in the kitchen of his restaurant, the Montagna Verde farmhouse, in the recovered village of Apella, municipality of Licciana Nardi. The father started in the nineties the recovery of the buildings of the village, which today is a “widespread hotel”. The farm has resumed the cultivation of fruit chestnut groves (the Lunigiana chestnut flour is one of the best in Italy), gardens and breeds endangered breeds by exploiting the numerous pastures that climb the slopes of the Apennine national park. Tuscan-Emilian.
We are enchanted to watch Luca, who is just over thirty years old, as he prepares the texts to cook the Zeri lamb, a sheep breed native to Lunigiana. From Apella, which hosts one of the visitor centers of the National Park, along the path 114 you can reach the ridge, to look down on the Po valley and visit the lakes of Sillara, in the Emilian territory.
Also in Licciana Nardi, Castel del Piano, a winery along the valley of the Taverone stream, is worth a stop. Since 2003 Andrea Ghigliazza and Sabina Ruffaldi have masterfully recovered a military post from the time of the Malaspina. In the building they have obtained rooms (which they rent only to groups), but the heart of the activity is the agricultural one, linked to the enhancement of native varieties, such as durella, pollera, merla grapes and black vermentino, vinified in purity.
They have also successfully bet on Pinot Noir farming in the Apennines. They can be called to have a tasting and / or a meeting on the exciting history of this place and its vines. Among their recommended wines is Claré, a structured rosé perfect to accompany the meal in the summer season.
Going down towards the mouth of the Magra and the sea, you reach Fosdinovo, the southernmost of the municipalities of the Tuscan Lunigiana. It is squeezed between Sarzana and Castelnuovo Magra, both in the province of La Spezia. The border is the Aurelia. Up here you can go for a walk in the historic center and visit the Malaspina castle, but also for the Audiovisual Museum of the Resistance of Massa Carrara and La Spezia, inaugurated in June 2000 in the presence of the then Minister of Education Tullio De Mauro.
The spaces are those of an old summer mountain colony, which from the second post-war period to the summer of 1971 hosted thousands of girls and boys. We are along the Gothic line, the most painful interviews to watch and listen to are those relating to the massacres that in the summer of 1944 bloodied these mountains.
The rock walls are rugged, narrow and variously colored and layered
A few kilometers of curves from the Museum is the Locanda de Banchieri by Giacomo Devoto. The chef started cooking at the age of 17, learning the trade in Angelo Paracucchi’s brigade at the Locanda dell’Angelo in Marinella di Sarzana and at 22 he opened the first restaurant, in Valle d’Aosta, a refuge-restaurant at 2,400 meters in Val d’Ayas.
In 2021 the forty-year-old born in Sarzana chose to invest in this restaurant with a few rooms, a terrace from which you can enjoy a view of the Gulf of La Spezia and gardens where he grows vegetables, vegetables and collects wild plants and flowers, which help him to tell in the dishes his Lunigiana together with carefully selected local raw materials.
You can eat à la carte or choose to be guided by Devoto along one of the three tasting menus, Portus Lunea, Alpi Apuane and Fingers of Neptune and Vapor della Val di Magra. Try the risotto with seafood soup extract and wild herbs. But also the reinterpretation of the testarolo or the Tuscan crostino without livers. One year after its opening, in 2022 the Locanda entered the Michelin guide.
If the intense heat continues, the last invitation is to participate in one of Sigeric’s most popular summer proposals: the walk to the Stretti di Giaredo, the lower part of the rocky gorge of the Gordana stream that stretches for about seven kilometers between Noce di Zeri and the abandoned settlement of Giaredo, towards Pontremoli.
The valley affected by the gorges is an area protected by the European Commission which recognizes it as a special conservation area: the rock walls are rugged, narrow and variously colored and layered (every day, from 9 to 14.30). But don’t expect an activity of canyoning or canyoning. It is a river trekking, the exploration of the river on foot, also suitable for those with no experience in rivers and for children. To participate you just need to know how to swim and want to cool.
Ad Apella you sleep in the rooms or in the apartments of the Montagna Verde farmhouse and widespread hotel, in the typical style of Lunigiana rural architecture
On the hills of Canova of Aulla the young agricultural entrepreneur Luca Simoncini has recovered his grandmother’s rural house, transforming it into the Hermitage of the poets,
A Fosdinovo at the Locanda de Banchieri with an offer reserved for couples for an overnight stay plus a tasting dinner