Panorama at sunset from San Pellegrino in Alpe
Photo ©Paolo Becarelli
A borderland of legends and pilgrimages and perfect for trekking.
San Pellegrino in Alpe, the highest village in the Apennines
Garfagnana and Mid Serchio Valley
by Garfagnana and Mid Serchio Valley /en/authors/garfagnana-and-mid-serchio-valley-00001/

On the Apennine side of the Garfagnana and Mid Serchio Valley, at an altitude of 1,525 m, lies the village of San Pellegrino in Alpe, once a stronghold of the territory's defence system and still dominating the Passo delle Radici. It is the highest village in the Apennines: life here slows down and is cloaked in poetry and legends.

The legend of the birth of San Pellegrino in Alpe

The history of San Pellegrino in Alpe is combined with a legend: it is said that the son of the King of Scotland, on the death of his father, renounced his throne and crown to set out first for the Holy Land and then to Italy, where he lived as a hermit until he was almost a hundred years old. It seems that he wrote his story on the bark of a tree shortly before his death and that his body, watched over by animals, was found by a woman thanks to the apparition of an angel in a dream. It was 643 AD, and in the place where it was found a sanctuary was built, dedicated to the hermits Pellegrino and Bianco and, later, a hospice was built there to welcome those who came to idolise the saints.

For centuries San Pellegrino in Alpe has been the destination of pilgrimages and, even today, devotees from all over the world come to the Sanctuary to see the remains of the saints and pay homage. The peculiarity of these remains is their position: they are right on the border between the regions of Emilia and Tuscany, so the saints, placed behind the high altar in the urn inside the small temple by Matteo Civitali, rest with the head and torso in Emilia and the other remains of the body in Tuscany.

The Museum of Ethnography

In addition to the fascinating history surrounding San Pellegrino in Alpe, the village also offers other cultural activities such as the “Don Luigi Pellegrini” Museum of Ethnography, housed in the old hospice that offered hospitality, shelter and food to pilgrims.

Today, in the Museum of Ethnography you can see the rooms in which wayfarers passing through were welcomed, objects that tell of the rooms in the houses, from the kitchen to the bedroom, of life in the mountains, of working with wine, and of other traditional trades such as farming, shoemaking, blacksmithing, carpenting, loom sewing, milk delivery and the art of making wax candles.

The Devil’s Tour

Those arriving on pilgrimage or wishing to explore the surrounding area on exciting hikes should not miss the Devil's Tour. The ritual, which has been performed for centuries, sees the pilgrim take a large stone in proportion to the sin to be atoned for, climb up from the village to below the ridge on a steep penitential climb and finally leave the stone at the Sassi del Diavolo, a pile of rocks that has grown immensely over time. This ritual derives from the legend according to which the devil wanted to tempt the hermit Pellegrino to sin, but he struck him with such force that he spun around three times (hence the tradition of walking three times around the pile of stones) and then landed on the Apuan Alps, even piercing them, thus creating what is now Monte Forato.

The path up and then down is quite easy and is also an opportunity to admire the whole of the Apennines and the Po Valley as far as the Alps and to involve the family in an afternoon of nature trekking, with the possibility of resting at the Rifugio Battisti (or La Foce).

San Pellegrino in Alpe can also be crossed via Via Vandelli, an ancient commercial mule track commissioned by the duchy of Este to connect Massa to Modena, a real gem for trekkers who want to explore the Apuan peaks.

To find out more:

Santuario di San Pellegrino in Alpe

Rifugio Battisti (La Foce)