Explosting hidden towns and villages along Via Francigena in Northen Tuscany
Even though it is the home to a lot of people, the northern part of Tuscany remains less explored by tourists. This part of Italy includes spectacular monuments and mouth-watering food but what stands out the most is the Renaissance art and architecture, which consists of world-renowned art pieces, galleries, and museums. With that said, there are many surprises and hidden gems that are waiting to be discovered by walkers and backpackers that are in the area of Via Francigena. Here is more information on Via Francigena and all of its best-kept secrets:
WHAT IS VIA FRANCIGENA?
Via Francigena is a pilgrimage route that runs from Canterbury, through different points of France, Italy, and Switzerland. It dates back to the Middle Ages when it was considered the most important pilgrimage route from the north to Rome. Even to this date, there are pilgrims that follow the ancient footsteps of Sigeric the Serious and travel either on foot, with bicycles, or on horseback.
The ancient road that covers four countries covers 354 kilometres and 16 legs (like Cisa Pass – Pontremolli, Massa – Camaiore, and Altopascio – San Miniato) all of which touch various villages and towns. For the visitors on the road, accommodation is also available as there are many hostels in the area run by confraternities and parish churches. Also, among some of the must-see sights from Via Francigena are Monteriggioni, the forgotten villages in the Apuan Alps, the towers of San Gimignano, and the Cypress tree avenues based in Val d’Orcia.
Considered one of the main towns of Lunigiana, Pontremoli is one of the most fascinating destinations in northern Tuscany. This small and picturesque Italian city can easily astonish its visitors with the combination of intriguing accents, culinary traditions, and mesmerizing nature. Pontremoli, which is believed to have been named after the words Pons Tremulus (translating to trembling bridge), has been through a lot of history that goes back to the Middle Ages and Roman Era.
Among some of the foods that you must try while you are in Pontremoli are Amor wafer cakes, Bianco oro aperitivo, Testaroli, Torta d’erbe, and Procini mushrooms. In addition to these, there are more savory herb pies than you can thing of and Sgabei (fried dough) that can leave you speechless. As for things to do, Pontremoli is famous for the acclaimed Stele Statue Museum, and many other landmarks such as Castello del Piagnaro, Pieve di Sorano, and Ponte Della Cresa are some of the many gems of Pontremoli that are worth the visit.
Down along the Via Francigena you can find Sarzana. It is the home to a little over 20,000 Italians. Popular among the locals for its cathedrals, citadels, fortresses, and diverse monuments from different eras (especially from the Roman Era), this commune is situated in the eastern part of the Province of La Spezia in Liguria. Established around the year 1000 a.d., this place was once a small medieval village that was fortified with multiple bastions and ramparts.
Throughout the years, mainly because of its location next to the regions Emilia, Liguria, and Tuscany, Sarzana slowly became an important hub and tourist destination. Presently, this quiet and spectacular town is the place where landmarks such as the Fortress de Sarzanello, Fortezza Firmafede, Sarzana Cathedral, and Lido di Lerici can be found. Here, you can also try some of the best Fritto misto di mare, Linguine ai frutti di mare, and Pappardelle with sugo di lepre in the entire country.
Another underrated small town in northern Tuscany is Carrara near the via Francigena. Just like Sarzana, this place is both a city and commune and it is believed to have been inhabited for the first time back in the 9th century BC. Notable for its blue-grey and white marble that is quarried here, Carrara is approximately two hours away from Bologna and Florence, which makes it the perfect getaway from the dynamic atmosphere in the big cities.
Speaking of which, there are not only many attractions (such as CARMI, Monte Sagro, and Piazza Alberica) but plenty of delicious meals that can be found in Carrara. The most famous food product is Lardo di colonnata (used as an appetizer and in various dishes) but other foods that are worth trying are Calda-Calda (also called farinata or cecina a chickpea pie), Marinated cod-fish, biscotti ai pinoli (pinenuts cookies), and Pasta and beans.