Carefully watching them, concentrating only on the sharp peaks, white and rocky, they would not even seem to be in Tuscany. The beaches of Versilia stretch around them, rhythmically bathed by the waves of Tyrrhenian Sea, and in the distance you can even catch a glimpse of the hills of the Lucchesia.
They are the Apuan Alps. Alps in both name and in appearance, mountains so different from the rest of the Apennine mountain range, that completely unveil their magnificence in the northern most edge of Tuscany, between the provinces of Massa Carrara and Lucca. However, you must not be frightened by the austere appearance of the Apuan Alps as they conceal magnificent treasures of nature only found by exploring the complex net of tracks that pass through them.
This incredibly unique territory – created through a 220-million-year process of receding waterlines and a lifting seabed – hosts a huge variety of fauna and especially flora, abundant with native species that have thrived in this unique local microclimate.
Similarly fitting is the relationship that the Apuan Alps developed over the centuries with man. For ages they have been a land of passage for wayfarers travelling along the Via Francigena and bandits seeking refuge in the arduous terrain. These steep slopes were traversed on foot by salt and chestnut merchants and later, the world-renowned marble - a commodity of priceless value – was requested over centuries for their quality by the most noteworthy sculptors of the Renaissance, among them the great Michelangelo.
Our itinerary is aimed at hiking enthusiasts that are already comfortable on hiking trails and in mountainous environments. The point of departure of each excursion must be reached by car.
So, if you are amongst those that are not easily intimidated by effort and long walks, follow us and see how this expedition is worthy of adding to your most beautiful memories.
The gateway to the Apuan Alps is Carrara, a city established at the foot of these mountains. The planned excursion for the first day is not one of the longest and there is plenty of time to allow for a bit of urban tourism.
In this historic centre of Carrara the works of art are certainly not lacking, from the Cathedral of Sant’Andrea to the Palazzo di Cybo Malaspina. But, if you want to get to know the spirit of the territory, you shouldn’t miss the spectacular tour of the Quarry Museum found in the small town of Fantiscritti.
Upon leaving Carrara we head for the Apuan Alps, though you must approach them with due care. The soft, forested slopes of Monte Brugiana are an ideal ‘warm-up’ and splendid balcony where you can admire the Apuan Alps in all their majestic austerity.
The starting point of the hike is from the hamlet of Bergiola Foscalina, a tranquil village, but also witness to one of the most atrocious massacres of the Second World War. They commemorate this moment with a memorial stone in the centre of town and a monument dedicated to Field Marshall Vincenzo Giudice, executed by Nazi troops for trying to oppose the bloodshed.
The hiking route starts from the parking lot alongside via Nuova di Brugiana in front of a beautiful wash house. The plan is to climb the ridge traversing the ancient mule tracks (path CAI 152) and after having reached the peak, descend until we brush against the amphitheatre of the marble quarry situated on the eastern flank, then cut diagonally across the northern slope (path CAI 151) making the return to Bergiola.
On the second day of our trip we find ourselves in the heart of stone in the Apuan Alps.
Traversing along the narrow valley that leads to Colonnata we find ourselves completely surrounded by quarries of marble: like it or not these places are the symbol of the centuries-long relationship between man and these mountains.
The excursion today is still a warm-up: upon our return we will have lots of time to taste the atmosphere of Colonnata… and its flavours!
Let’s put ourselves into gear straight away. We leave from the centre of town ascending towards Vergheto and Foce Luccica along a little dirt track. After walking into the shadow of chestnut trees, the golden plane of Vergheto opens up - a little cluster of shepherd houses that today lie in silence in the presence of Monte Sagro. Following path n.38, you climb relatively easily with a breath-taking panorama of the mountains Maggiore and Cima d’Uomo until you reach the statue of Madonna in Foce Luccica, where the view stretches as far as Monte Sella. Close to Monte Spallone, Foce Luccica is at its best in autumn and spring, when flowering crocus colour the steep flanks of the mountains.
According to the expected duration of the excursion (3/4 hours), we will be returning to Colonnata at an ideal time for lunch where, obviously, you should at least expect to sample the famous IGP lard. What you will find served on the table isn’t simply salami, but a tale of over a thousand years of history. It was, in fact, the Lombards who introduced the rearing of pigs in these valleys, whose matured lard became the “pane dei cavatori” (bread of the quarrymen) - a food for the incredibly poor, but rich in flavour and energy.
Slowly descending about 20 kilometres, across mountains that overlook the plain of Pietrasanta, you find Levigliani, a hamlet in the municipality of Stazzema situated at the foot of the rocky “castle” of Monte Corchia.
We are in the heart of the mountain range that is part of the network of UNESCO geoparks. It is one of the locations that best represents the historic features and landscapes of the network and you would certainly need more than day to go through all the points of interest offered by the territory.
Spoilt for choice, we follow our hiker’s instinct that calls us towards the majestic fortress of Monte Corchia.
The trail starts from Passo della Croce, a few kilometres from the Levigliani mountain, following the ancient marble paths of Fociomboli. From here, in about twenty minutes you can reach the “Padule”, the remains of an old glacial lake fed by meteoric water and underground springs inhabited by rare botanical species - a true pearl of nature. You then follow track 129 to Mosceta and, passing through the Rifugio Del Freo, you are rewarded with the top of the crest. After having been satisfied by the splendid view, you can go back via the Retro-Corchia, passing nearby an ancient quarry.
Even if you are tired after this demanding hike, it would be a shame to leave the area without having seen the spectacular Antro del Corchia, the biggest karstic system in Italy, reachable from Levigliani thanks to an exclusive service of tourist shuttles.
With a bit more time to spare you can visit the other local attractions like the mercury mines, the Museum of Pietra Piegata and the “Lavorare Liberi” Community and Business Museum, which recounts the history of the local quarryman cooperative.
For the fourth leg of the trip we move to Garfagnana, at the face of Monte Forato. The name of this mountain is due to the big, natural open arch between the two peaks, which distinguishes the bizarre form. Monte Forato has always attracted tourists, scientists or simply the curious. They can admire its most striking shape especially at sunrise and sunset, when the sun perfectly highlights the large hole in the rock, 26 meters tall and 32 wide.
The walk starts by the pretty hamlet of Fornovolasco, dominated by the majestic cliffs of the Pania della Croce.
From the town you can access track CAI 6, which you will first follow through the bottom of the valley, then in its ascent towards the ruins of a medieval church. From here you then follow the classic red-white trail markers to the Foce di Petrosciana, from where you then move onto trail CAI 110 that goes back up the broad ridge of the mountain until the vicinity of the summit and its distinctive “hole”. Upon reaching the summit you start the long descent down track CAI 12, that cuts north across the ridge of the mountain, until reuniting with trail number 6 that takes you back to Fornovolasco.
Those who pass by these parts can visit the Grotta del Vento, a spectacular underground cave situated a short distance from the town and open to frequent tourist visits.
After a lot of walking, the fifth day presents a tranquil and relaxing trek that will take you to one of the outdoor capitals of the Apuan Alps!
The little hamlet of Vagli Sotto appears clasped to the small hill that emerges from an artificial basin and established following the construction of a majestic hydroelectric dam. The lake is an ideal place for excursions in boats or canoes and, in the last few years, the local administration promoted the potential of the territory by creating various tourist attractions, like the spectacular suspended foot bridge that passes over the lake or the hydraulic cables that allow you to fly over the town descending from the high ground above with a “flight” of over 1500 meters. The public pool at the edge of the lake, the curios Honor and Dishonor Park, a visit to the ghost town of Careggine (possible when the reservoir is empty) or to the Enel dam, are only a few of the other (many) available attractions.
The Trail of Herons (Sentiero degli Aironi), which traverses the southern bank of the reservoir, is undoubtedly an ideal opportunity to experience this fascinating territory.
Leaving from the centre of Vagli Sotto, you cross the bridge that leads to the right bank of the lake. The track follows the coast heading to the Torre Matilde - an ancient construction whose purpose was to recover homing pigeons. From the Torre Matilde, the trail advances between fjords created by the lacustrine coves. From here it is possible to spot the Grey Heron that reside in the area. You then continue until the centre of Vergaia, followed by the Enel dam. From here you can cross the majestic structure, continuing to the northern bank along the asphalt street, until reaching the suspended bridge that you cross in order to return to the Trail of Herons and then to town.
With the last leg of the journey we symbolically close the circuit around the range of the Apuan Alps, reaching Equi Terme, a little hamlet well-known for its sulphurous springs and its spa.
For those who arrive here from the preceding leg, the road is not short: you will need to go all the way back up the Garfagnana and then back down into Lunigiana. You have to leave first thing in the morning if you want to arrive at Equi with the whole day at your disposal so that you can combine the hike with a visit to the “Grotte di Equi” Geo-archeological Park.
If the park of caverns leaves you amazed, you will similarly enjoy the walk that circles the hamlet, which we explore with an itinerary that is simple, but abundant with points of naturalistic and cultural interest.
Leaving from the centre of the hamlet, you follow track 192 and the markers for the Madonna del Bosco. After passing near the thermal baths, the track proceeds to enter into the spectacular Solco di Equi, a very narrow canyon excavated in the calcified rock by a creek of the same name. The landscape is primitive and evocative, rich with moraine deposits, a testimony to the presence of ancient glaciers. Go beyond the excavated galleries in the rock, the Marmitte dei Giganti and mines, until coming upon the Cattani quarry. From here, continue through the woods and the old marble quarry until the House of Old Machinery (Casa dei Vecchi Macchinari), from where you then return back the way you came.