Tuscany is maybe the most renowed Italian region worldwide, but who knows Lunigiana?
Lunigiana is a territory settled between northern Tuscany and eastern Liguria, between the provinces of La Spezia and Massa Carrara. Long land of feuds and quarrels between Genoese and Florentines because of its strategic position – crossed by the Via Francigena, the important road connecting Rome with Northern Europe – it was ruled during the Middle Ages by the noble Malaspina family. Lunigiana is rich in ancient villages and castles and lends itself to beautiful itineraries. In this article I suggest you one of these possible itineraries – doable in 1 or 2 days – in which you will visit two castles (a tiny one and the other much larger) and three villages, all located in strategic positions.
Lusuolo’s tiny castle and village
Just before the A15 highway exit of La Spezia, on your right you can see a fortress and a village that rise along a ridge line, in an elevated position: it is Lusuolo. For years we passed sideways, driving by car along the highway, and saying: soon or later we will visit this castle, and finally here we are, we went. : -)
Like many of the medieval buildings of Lunigiana, the castle of Lusuolo was owned by the noble Malaspina family, and its location was particularly strategic being on the right bank of the Magra river and with the Francigena road that runs around the village and the castle (the same road you will have to take to get there). The Castle was destroyed by the Genoese in 1449, so almost nothing remains of the original building, but it has been recently renovated and can be visited on weekends during the summer months. The castle walls are built around an inner courtyard with a well and the view is very beautiful over the surrounding valley (and the highway of course).
Very interesting is the Museum of Emigration of the Tuscan people too, which can be visited on the ground floor; it helds a collection of the memories of those who left these lands in search of a better future during the past centuries. After visiting the castle, it is nice to take a walk into the village, which is really tiny and has only a dozen inhabitants.
How to get to Lusuolo: exit the highway A15 at Aulla, Lusuolo can be reached in about 20 minutes.
Please note: the castle of Lusuolo can be visited only during summer weekends, from 3 PM to 7 PM. If you plan to visit during a different time when it is closed, I suggest you to head to the nearby Terrarossa Castle instead, in Licciana Nardi village.
The village of Caprigliola and the Cylindrical Tower
Just a twenty minute drive from Lusuolo, you will find the village of Caprigliola, located in the municipality of Aulla, on the opposite bank of the Magra river. This village, whose origins date back to the twelfth century, is located in an elevated and strategic position towards the river and the via Francigena. The beauty of this fortified village is already evident along the road that leads to the town, when you can see its high walls and compact terraced houses facade, painted in different colors. The first fortifications, which date back to the 12th century, were enlarged during the Medici Era when the village passed under the territory of the Republic of Florence.
The most interesting sightseeings in Caprigliola are the Watchtower with round base (almost unique in Lunigiana) and the adjoining San Niccolò church, former archbishop’s palace of the bishops of the nearby Luni; both are located in the upper part of the hamlet. The entrance to Caprigliola is from Piazza della Porta; leave your car in the nearby small outdoor parking and continue by foot. Thanks to the suggestion of a local person, we also saw the remainings of the first church of the tenth century, which is located slightly lower than the Tower (before arriving on the church square, turn left). Currently the Watchtower is not open to visit.
From the walls there is a wonderful view over the valley and on the ruins of the bridge that connected Caprigliola to the nearby Albiano Magra village, collapsed on April 8th, 2020 during the lockdown due to Covid pandemic. Given that usually this was a very busy bridge, fortunately there were no victims, since at that time there were very few people around. We do not know if and when it will be restored. After visiting Lusuolo and Caprigliola head to Fosdinovo, it is about 25 minutes by car.
Fosdinovo, a Bed and Breakfast in a real Castle
Last stop of the day is the castle of Fosdinovo, one of the most beautiful castles in this area, which stands between the Apuan Alps and the Tyrrhenian Sea, with its fantastic 360 degrees view. The castle is still owned by the heirs of the Malaspina family, has been extensively restored and houses a museum and cultural events.
I visited a few years ago so I no longer have many images, you can see here some pictures taken from Airbnb site, because the Castle as well as being a fortress is also a Bed and Breakfast, in which you could stay overnight at the end of this itinerary. The best time to arrive at the Castle is the late afternoon, when I recommend you stop to admire the incomparable sunset, perhaps accompanied by an aperitif. The Castle can be visited all year round thanks to guided tours that last about an hour, during summer season the last one is at 6 PM.
For dinner I recommend the nearby agriturismo La Burlanda, which offers restaurant with fresh local grown products and panoramic views; there are also rooms to stay overnight in case you do not want to sleep at the Castle.
For all the accurate infos I recommend you the Castle’s official website: Castello di Fosdinovo.
For all the information about the castles in Lunigiana visit the Official Website.
And the next day? if you make this itinerary during a weekend you could continue the next day visiting to the nearby village of Colonnata (25 minutes from Fosdinovo), situated in the Apuan Alps. Here you can visit a marble quarry and taste the renowned lardo di Colonnata, a delicious italina salumi which is an IGP product (Protected Geographocal Indication), produced only here in this area of the province of Massa Carrara (in the next article I’ll talk about Colonnata!)