If you have a passion for Italy, and a desire to explore the lesser beaten tracks, then Lunigiana (loo-nee-jar-nah) in Northern Tuscany will not fail to impress.
The region of Lunigiana offers a truly unspoilt and quiet corner of
Lunigiana is sometimes described as 'The land of one hundred Castles'. The castles were built by the oldest rich families, such as Malaspina, Bosi and Estensi, who fought to get the control of this magical land. Among the most enchanting castles and fortresses are: Verrucola Castle near Fivizzano, Piagnaro Castle in Pontremoli, Brunella Fortress in Aulla and Malaspina Castle in Fosdinovo. There are however many others, each of them with its unique history.
Along the old Pilgrims and merchants' roads you can still admire medieval villages surrounding their own castles. The stone here plays a leading role with both villages and castles built with worthy old stones. Some of the most characteristic hamlets are: Filetto, Malgrate, Bagnone, Filattiera, Mulazzo, Fivizzano, Pontremoli, Licciana, Villafranca. Seasonal festivals are held in the villages throughout the year to celebrate the harvests, with simple recipes evolved through the centuries. Influences from the neighbouring regions of Liguria (to the West) and Emilia Romagna (to the East) combine with the traditions of Lunigiana and blend throughout the architecture, warm, generous hospitality and unique cuisine.
The nearby Gulf of La Spezia, otherwise known as the Gulf of Poets, has attracted many writers, artists and film makers over the years. It was where the the Romantic poets Shelley and Byron set the artistic world on fire following in the Renaissance footsteps of Dante and Michelangelo. The quietly cosmopolitan coastline still retains its authenticity and charm. The lively and colourful waterfronts, picturesque fishing villages and hidden coves with turquoise waters are a delight to discover.
Excellent road and rail links give easy access to many famous tourist centres. For those with a craving for the famous ham, Parma is approximately an hour north of the region, Pisa and Lucca are about an hour south, or should you wish to visit Florence it can be reached within a couple of hours by car. The airports of Pisa, Parma and Genova are about an hours drive away with other more northern airports, such as Milan and Turin, also worthy of consideration, all emphasising the regions superb location.
Regarding its history, Lunigiana takes its name from Luni (loo-nee), a Roman town, perhaps pre-dated by an Etruscan settlement, which became the principal urban center on the northern Tuscan coast. Some contend that the name Luni refers to the moon, a celestial body whose beauty is made all the more attractive when framed by the white-peaked Apuan Alps and high Apennine mountains. Others maintain, though little or no evidence exists, that the region was populated by those who worshipped the moon. As if to unite history and myth, the symbol of contemporary Lunigiana is a crescent moon held in the claw of a bear. The earliest inhabitants of this region may have been the Apuani (from which is derived the name of the Apuan mountain chain), an ancient Ligurian people, as well as Etruscans who may have inhabited towns along the coast and even the hamlets near in-land trade routes.
Lunigiana has taken the best food from Tuscany and the two bordering regions of Liguria and Emilia Romagna within which it is sandwiched.
Lunigiana cuisine consists of very simple ingredients such as edible field grasses used to cook delicious vegetable pies. Some typical regional dishes include:
Testaroli (test-ah-row-lee) - these are the pride of Lunigiana cuisine and not found anywhere else in Italy. They are made from a batter of flour, water and salt which is cooked in large case iron pans with lids. They form a sort of pancake which is then boiled and cut up into small strips and is usually served with Pesto.
Panigacci (pan-ee-gach-ee) - these are another speciality of Lunigiana. Like Testaroli they are made of a batter but one which is cooked in red hot clay dishes over an open fire. Panigacci are then served as hot crispy pancakes (similar to pitta bread) which you then spread with a soft stracchino cheese and fill with mixed cold meats such as Parma ham and salami. The village of Podenzana is famous throughout Italy as the home of Panigacci.
A great part of Lunigiana is covered by chestnut woods and chestnuts at one time constituted the local peoples livelihood before and during the war. There are many local dishes where the main ingredient is chestnut flour eg Pattona - a chestnut batter booked in clay dishes and served with ricotta and salami, gnocchi mesci, pani del Fivizzanese, la marocca di Casola as well as pani di Po, Agnino, Vinca, Regnano (breads cooked in old traditional oven), and the focaccia made in Pontremoli.
Other traditional foods are Agnello di Zeri, la spalla cotta di Filattiera, various dishes cooked with mushrooms, fagiolo di bigliolo, la mela rotella, il pecorino e la caciotta, to end with elisir di china Clementi (a post dinner digestive).
You will see many stalls in the local fairs and indeed in many of the local grocery shops a plump beige/brown mushroom in wicker baskets lined with chestnut leaves. The inhabitants of Lunigiana look forward to the beginning of the season when these funghi (mushrooms) begin to grow. They are a great delicacy and expensive to buy. You will find them frequently served in restaurants with pasta, in a cream sauce with meat or most deliciously simply coated in flour and fried in oil. They are the boletus edulis or porcini mushroom.
Although Lunigiana is not famous for its wines, the area of Lunigiana is surrounded by well-known vineyards and wine here is very reasonable to buy.
The Strada del Vino dei Colli di Candia e di Lunigiana (the wine route) winds along spectacular hilltop panoramas overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and vine-speckled landscape below. The two most characteristic wines of this region are the Candia dei Colli Apuani and Colli di Luni vintages.
Candia dei Colli Apuani DOC
Imported from Liguria, the Vermentino found a perfect climate on the hills on the foot of the Apuane Alps, especially between 200 and 500 metres, and it finally acquired peculiar varietal features that make it slightly different from the Ligurian Vermentino and the one produced in Sardinia, and other parts of Tuscany. Typical local grapes like Albarola, Trebbiano and Malvasia added to the Candia make it a prestigious wine. The introduction in the most updated companies of a more modern wine-making technology, made the quality of the wine increase a lot.
|Grape||Vermentino 70-80%; Albarola 10-20%; Trebbiano of Tuscany and/or Malvasia 0-20%, with 5% (max.) Malvasia Bianca lunga|
|Colour||More or less intense straw yellow|
|Taste||Dry, fruity, full, con lieve retrogusto amarognolo|
|Temperature||10-12 degrees C|
|Best with||Soups, fish courses|
Colli di Luni DOC
This DOC wine is produced around the ancient Etrurian city of Luni, whose excavation sites are very close to Via Aurelia, near Marinella di Sarzana, where grapevines are grown in difficult environmental conditions, so difficult that viticulture is referred to as ”heroic“. The production area includes 14 towns in the province of La Spezia - La Spezia itself, Lerici, Sarzana and the towns of Fosdinovo, Aulla and Podenzana.
|Grape||Vermentino 35-75%; Trebbiano from Tuscany 25-40%; other white local grapes 0-30%|
|Fragrance||Delicate with white fruit and flora flavour|
|Taste||Dry and harmonious|
|Alcohol Content||Minimum 11%|
|Temperature||10-12 degrees C|
Regarding other more famous Tuscan wines - to the south is Chianti, which produces the most famous wines of Italy; other Tuscan wines worth a try include Vernaccia (Ver-na-cha), Brunello di Montalcino (broo-nell-oh dee mont-al-chee-no) and Nobile di Montepulciano (no-bill-ay dee mont-ee-pull-char-no). The Cinque Terre produce pleasant dessert wines such as Sciacchetra (sha-ka-trah).