Exploring in & around the neighborhood…
Make a tour of the local pievi… or, parish churches. The pievi of Codiponte, San Lorenzo, Offiano & others were built along what was known as la via del Volto del Santo… http://www.viadelvoltosanto.it/… an off-shoot of the famous pilgrimage route from France to Rome, la via Francigena… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Via_Francigena. Many pilgrims chose to pass through the Lunigiana to Lucca, Tuscany and eventually to Rome to avoid the risk of malaria & pirate attacks in the swampy coastal area of the Mediterranean Sea below La Spezia, the heavier taxes of passage in Pisa and to participate in the important religious procession of il Volto del Santo in Lucca. A reliquary rivaling the importance of the Shroud of Turin, il Volto del Santo is a wooden cross marked with an image of Jesus Christ. The pievi of the valley of the Aullela River up to the Carpanelli Pass were more than sanctuaries for penitence & meditation, but were also way-stations providing food & board, medical aid and even markets.
The Pieve di Codiponte… http://www.terredilunigiana.com/chiese/pievecodi.php. The church was reconstructed in the 12th Century from the remnants of one built in the 8th Century. Of note is the beautifully decorated wood-painted ceiling and a recently restored 14th Century triptych depicting the village of Codiponte & local dignitaries of the times.
In the small village of San Lorenzo… take the SS445 to Casola in Lunigiana & follow signs to Minucciano. San Lorenzo is along the way… is the Pieve di San Lorenzo. This parish church is quaintly situated in its Medieval garden of hydrangeas & yew trees and its interior is typical of early Romanesque churches. Continuing past Minuccciano is the village of Ugliancaldo… http://www.terredilunigiana.com/eng/villages/borgougliancaldo.php… built in the saddle of the Apuane mountains. Situated at one end of the borgo… or, village is the Pieve of Sant’Andrea. There are panoramic views from its flower strewn lawn down to Equi Terme… more on that later… on one side and the valley of the Aullela River on the other. The town is also something to explore. There is a lovely oratory built in the 15th Century dedicated to San Rocco in the heart of the borgo. Sadly, it is in poor repair.
Returning to the SS445 at Casola in Lunigiana, follow signs for Lucca. After the town of Vigneta, follow road signs for the borgo of Castiglioncello. You will see the Medieval village perched on a promitory dominating the valley down to Casola. At the entrance to the borgo is Pieve di Offiano… http://www.terredilunigiana.com/borghi/borgooffiano.php. Again, it’s worth the time to wander around the borgo.
Make a tour of the castles of the Lunigiana… there are over 120 castles in various states of repair or use scattered throughout the Lunigiana region. Being at an important crossroads, many were constructed to insure order and the collection of taxes of passages & excise duties… http://www.terredilunigiana.com/eng/castles/castelli.php. A few are still used as residences, such as the Castello dell’Aquila… http://www.castellodellaquila.it/castelloaquila/… perched on a hill above the town of Gragnola just before you arrive in Codiponte. Others are not. The Castello di Codiponte has been shut to visitors as a precaution due to its dangerous state. And still others are open to visitors. The Castello della Verrucola… http://www.terredilunigiana.com/castelli/casteverrucola.php… above the town of Fivizzano is one example. One fascinating relic is the Castello di Groppoli-Mulazzo… http://www.carraraonline.com/groppoli_il_castello.php. What can be seen of the castle from the road will be on the left, the part of the complex which collapsed years ago. A fantastical scene is a mantel piece hanging three floors above ground level!!! Leave the car and take the leaf-strewn path which weaves around the buried borgo until you arrive up on a grassy piazza. There is the part of the castle saved with a new roof. Great spot for a picnic. The owners of this castle live in a rebuilt castle in a borgo called Castiglione del Terziere… http://www.castellitoscani.com/italian/terziere.htm above the town of Villa Franca in Lunigiana. It was once the capital of the Lunigiana when the Medici won a battle to control the region, mostly for its tax income. The village is a pleasant place to walk around & admire the views above the Magra River valley. Other castles of note are the ones at Bagnone & Licciana Nardi.
Make a tour of the Medieval towns of the Lunigiana… the beauty of the Lunigiana is, in many spots, the region is still as it was hundreds of years ago… stone villages scattered across the landscape of olive & chestnut groves. Many of the more stunning of these borghi have been mentioned earlier… Bagnone, Licciana Nardi… but, Filattiera, Pontremoli, Comano & Fivizzano can be added to the list. Fivizzano is the “Big Town” nearest to Codiponte… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fivizzano… or, this video link: http://youtu.be/fep8BjehRDo. Sitting outside the pasticceria… or, pastry shop on the main piazza is enough, however, walking through the stones streets to the embattlements affords great views of the valley leading down to Aulla, the other Big City of the Lunigiana.
The website of Terre in Lunigiana… http://www.terredilunigiana.com/… has a list of principal towns & villages of the Lunigiana with suggestiong
Where to go & see farther away…
Sarzana… exit at Sarzana off the A-12 autostrada & follow signs to Centro. Trip takes about 45 minutes from Codiponte… is a lovely little city between La Spezia to its north and the Versilia coast of Tuscany & Pisa to the south. The city of 21,000 is dominated by the 1,000 year old fortress of Sarzanello. The streets of the centro storico are pedestrian but, watch out for the occasional bike-rider. The principal street… running East-West… is via Giuseppe Mazzini which passes the main square, Piazza Matteotti. A short distance away from the piazza in the direction of the town’s cathedral is the famous Gemmi Caffe’ & Pasticceria… http://laspezia.mentelocale.it/19873-pasticceria-caffe-storico-gemmi/. Nifty place for a cappuccino and something sweat to eat. The grid of streets are filled with enticing antique shops, interesting boutique clothing & shoe stores, restaurants & bars. One of our favorite eatery is Osteria Panzallegra… http://www.osteriapanzallegra.it/. And one time to go is during the week-long antiques market in August. It’s especially fun to go to it in the late afternoon… after 5… browse the innumerable stands set up on the grid os streets and then, stay for dinner.
Pietrasanta… south of Sarzana, exit at Pietrasanta off the A-12 autostrada & follow signs to Centro. Trip is about an hour from Codiponte… is THE CITY for artists & marble. Henry Moore, Noguchi and many others have all come to Pietrasanta to work with the nearby marble quarries & technicians. Similar to Sarzana, the centro storico is grid of streets… though much smaller than Sarzana… with an eclectic array of galleries, shops & restaurants. And, it is the restaurants which are the main draw of the town, being so close the the summer resorts of the Versilia coast, such as Forte dei Marmi. In the evenings, tables & chairs are put out on the pedestrian street illuminated by candlelight. One place we go to is the Trattoria il Marzocco… http://www.trattoriailmarzocco.it/index.htm. As for shopping, there is wonderful shop for home furnishings called Memorie… on via Giuseppe Garibaldi, 5. Many of items in il Poggiolo come from this shop. What we do all lot is have drinks in one of the bars on the Piazza del Duomo. Great people watching while sipping a nice chilly glass of white wine.
Forte dei Marmi… same exit as Pietrasanta off the A-12 autostrada & follow signs for Forte dei Marmi and is about one hour away from Codiponte… is one of chicest places in Italy. Portofino, the other contender, was a fisherman’s cove before WWII. Forte dei Marmi has always been a summer playground for rich Fiorentini escaping the muggy heat of Florence. The city is a beach resort with beach clubs lining the viale Italico… it changes name to via della Repubblica later on… from one end to the other. The rest is the usual grid of streets with most expensive shops… GUCCI, Dolce & Gabbana et all… boutiques, restaurants & bars. Very upscale. It’s one of those places you have to dress up. One of the big draws and a delightful alternative from teh fashion labels is the street market held every Wednesday. Old furs to jewelry to terra-cotta tiles are on sale. Part of the market is held in a park under umbrella pines. The shade is nice to have in July.