September 21, 2018 - Culture, Events, Northern coast of Tuscany, Garfagnana and the Apuan Alps
Welcome to the Northern Coast and the Mountains, two Tuscan areas both dramatic and awe-inspiring for all their differences. The coastline from Viareggio north to the Cinque Terre has more to do with vertiginous cliffs and romantic bays than sandy beaches, but it has inspired poets for centuries. Inland, the white marble Apuan Alps and the Apennines form deep beautiful valleys seen from villages high up on their slopes.
1. Walk the Cinque Terre cliffs
With a good pair of walking shoes, you can walk part or all of the 11 km that connect the five pastel-hued villages of the Cinque Terre – Monterossa al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. From the cliffs there are breathtaking views of the Mediterranean, but even the winding paths, edged with wildflowers and shaded in spots by oaks, are beautiful. The Via dell’Amore between Riomaggiore and Manarola is the easiest part of the trail and there is even a train to hop aboard if you start to flag. The largely car-free villages offer welcome stopovers for lunch or the restorative limoncello.
2. Enjoy a cocktail overlooking the Bay of Poets
The Gulf of La Spezia became known as the Bay of Poets due to the many – Byron, Mary and Percy Shelley, Dante, Petrarch – who praised its turquoise waters. Whether lingering at a seaside table at Portovenere, gazing out from the ramparts of Lerici’s imposing castle or looking down from the heights of Montemarcello, it won’t take long to understand what moved them to verse.
3. Listen to the wind sing in the Grotta del Vento
In the Garfagnana in the centre of the Apuan Alps Park, where the weather has dug and modeled the native limestone rock, the Grotta del Vento is an exceptional underground marvel of natural sculptural formations. Explored gradually by various speleological groups over the last 85 years, it now has over 4.5 km of known galleries. Visits to the Grotta are all done via guided tour, but there are several difficulty and length levels to choose from – some feature stalactites and stalagmites, some sculpted walls and underground canyons. For details see Grotta del Vento
4. Back a favorite rower in La Spezia's watery Palio
Every year on the first Sunday of August the 13 villages around the Gulf of La Spezia challenge each other to a 2 km. rowing competition. In this race it is crews of women, junior men and senior men who don team colours and reenact with speed and agility what originally was a serious challenge for fishermen and mussel growers to be the first to reach the fish counters or transporters of their ‘black gold’. The race, which has been going on since 1929, occurs in a framework of parades, fireworks and bayside celebration, but if you miss the big day, check to see when the trial races go on. Palio del Golfo.
Since the early 16thcent. the white marble Apuan Alps have drawn sculptors, among them Michelangelo, Henry Moore and more recently Fernando Botero, all of whom lived in Pietrasanta while they sculpted. The nearby mountains’ pale hue is a constant reminder of the quarrying that has gone on to find the prized material for these artists, for there are over 100 carving studios between Pietrasanta and Carrara. If you don’t drop by one of these studios, another way to learn about the this vital art is to visit the Museo dei Bozzetti in Pietrasanta.
6. Hike Tuscany's Grand Canyon - Orrido di Botri
For over 1,000 years the Pelago River has been carving a deep limestone gorge in the Apennines. Tuscany’s largest canyon is accessible from Ponte a Gaio, but only from mid-June to September, when the water level of the Mariana and Ribellino rivers is low. You can hike the Orrido either by yourself or on a guided tour, either way discovering the unspoiled canyon’s transparent waters, delicate vegetation and rare animals. The Visitors’ Centre at Ponte a Gaio will provide you with a helmet and sell you a ticket (€2/person) to access the itinerary, which takes about 4 hrs.