Despite being just a few kilometres from the coast, the Lunigiana region is a mountainous area which is home to the rocky cliffs of the Apennines and the jagged Apuan Alps, which resemble the distant Dolomites. Over the centuries, the local people have learnt to live in harmony with this trying landscape. Generations of locals have scaled the slopes to communicate with neighbouring valleys and have found ways to live off the land.
The main mountain groups here are the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines, which cross the Lunigiana region from north-west to south-east and which form a natural barrier with Emilia-Romagna, and the Apuan Alps, which mark the southern border of the region towards the coast and the Garfagnana region. Both of these mountainous areas have a great deal to offer both in terms of outdoor activities and history. There is a huge amount to see and do here all year round.
The Apennine ridge is part of the Tuscan-Emilian National Apennine Park and the landscape here varies from ancient chestnut woods to rolling hills and grassy heathland at an altitude of over 2000m. There are numerous footpaths for hiking, many of which are also suitable for beginners and all of which are maintained by the local CAI associations. Good starting points for a day's hiking are to be found all along the roads which wind through these mountains.
There are several impressive castles and ancient churches along the road which leads to Passo a Cerreto and which divides the Lunigiana region and the Upper Secchia Valley. This road eventually leads to the old town of Sassalbo which, legend has it, was founded centuries ago by pirates who escaped into the mountains. The town is home to the headquarters of the National Park and there is also a good network of footpaths here which lead to the top of the mountain ridge along ancient byways such as the so-called 'via Modenese'. This route goes from the town centre to the Ospedalaccio Pass, which gets it name from an inn which once stood here on what was the only route onto the Padana Plain. Other footpaths leave from Passo del Cerreto and go up to the summits of Mount La Nuda, Mount Alto and the Succiso Alps, which reach a height of 2000m. During the winter months, it's possible to hike with snowshoes to the nearby Lake Pranda, where there is also a cross-country skiing route. There are also ski slopes at Cerreto Laghi.
It's also worth noting the Lagastrello Pass which divides the two provinces of Massa Carrara and Parma. The pass is dotted with the ruins of the ancient Linari convent and inn. In fact, this mountain pass was a crucial route used by merchants and pilgrims throughout the Medieval period. This area is also home to several footpaths, many of which lead to the beautiful Mount Acuto Lake near the 'Città di Sarzana' mountain refuge. There are other footpaths here leading to many of the area's other ancient lakes.
It's also worth visiting the north of the region to get a better idea of the relationship the local people have developped over the centuries here with the valleys and mountains. One idea is to travel north from the town of Iera, near Bagnone, and head up to the Alpine pastures near Tornini - an area often visited by people who come to spend the night here. The ancient constructions here on the pastures have long been used by shepherds, charcoal burners and famers who would sleep here when it was time to clear the woodland and gather chestnuts. They were a fundamental part of life here in this area.
Another interesting trip is from the Cirone Pass along the ancient Via del Sale - the route taken centuries ago across the Apennines to smuggle salt from Tuscany to Emilia. This route passes the summit of Mount Marmagna, with its large iron cross, and Mount Sillara, which has marvellous views across the Lunigiana region and the picturesque lakes to the north.
If you love hiking and are interested in a longer walk then check out footpath 00, otherwise known as the G.E.A (Grande Escursione Appenninica). This footpath sets off from Bocca Trabaria on the border between Tuscany, Umbria and Marche and ends in the Lunigiana region at the Due Santi Pass in Zeri. Zeri is a collection of small mountain villages, steeped in history, where there is also a ski station.
The region's other mountain group, the Apuan Alps are equally rich in history. These mountains are known all over the world for their marble quarries which are unique to this area and which are under protection from excessive mining. The Pizzo d'Ucello mountain, with its well-known northern slope, is something of a legend amoung climbers and has come to represent the landscape of the western Lunigiana region. The town of Equi Terme sits at the foot of this mountain and is well-worth a visit, especially for its ancient cave network. Hikers will enjoy the footpaths in the valley near Vinca, a town at the foot of Mount Grondilice, where there is a network of footpaths of varying difficulty that head into the mountains.
The footpath up to the summit of Mount Sagro is stunningy beautiful and also quite easy going. Historically, the local people considered this mountain to be holy, hence its name. There is a wonderful panoramic view from the summit and on a clear day it's possible to see as far as Corsica. Another local legend dictates that the mountain's name was given by a group of refugees from the ancient Roman town of Luni. They were escaping from attack and took refuge on the mountain. There were some early Christians amoung the refugees who celebrated mass on the mountain to give thanks for their safety and since then it has been known as 'sagro', or 'sacred'. That group of refugees is said to have gone on to colonise the Lunigiana region, always keeping a close relationship with the mountains which had provided them with a place of refuge.