Lunigiana is an off the beaten path area in Northern Tuscany. A small region two hours and 15 minutes drive from Milan and 30 minutes away from Cinque Terre. Lunigiana is a secret gem, where families travelling in Italy will find a lot of things to do with children.
Where is Lunigiana and tips for a well-planned trip in Tuscany
Lunigiana stands in Northern part of Tuscany, a sort of “magical” triangle on the border of Liguria and Emilia-Romagna. Often underrated in favour of close and more known locations – like Cinque Terre. Lunigiana is instead a place full of charm, gifted with the type of nature that we often define as “wild”, no matter the anthropisation.
Tourists coming to Lunigiana from Milan, have to drive the Cisa highway and stop before arriving at the city of La Spezia. We drive here quite often going both to Cinque Terre or alongside the Tyrrhenian coast for summer vacation to Maremma. The scenery driving in this part of Tuscany is lovely: beautiful villages that popped up on the Apennines, as Berceto, Pontremoli and Aulla.
We finally visited this region thanks to the Slow Travel Fest, a festival that celebrates outdoor activities along the Via Francigena, held at Villafranca in Lunigiana.
Best accommodation in Lunigiana for families
The whole Lunigiana territory offers various accommodations from hostels and campings, to holiday and farmhouses. Whoever travels with kids here have plenty of choices. No matter if you choose the walls of a middle-age castle, or to stay in the middle of nature, being in awe is assured.
For our weekend in Lunigiana, we decided to sleep in beautiful camping, where we also saw fireflies at night as we were heading back after dinner. Equipped with pitches for tent spaces and cabins of different dimensions, “The Castagneto” is also in a strategic position to explore Lunigiana. The camping offers its guests various services, including a snack bar with cafeteria, a mini-market, sports camps and a swimming pool with huge meadow and relaxing area. Federico e Giacomo never wanted to leave!
The Camping stands out for its tranquillity and for the wellbeing you can perceive, as you come in. You’re completely immersed in a forest of chestnut with the Apennine in the background. You will love the general atmosphere. I’m sure about it!
The village of Pontremoli is an excellent choice to stay with kids either. If you love farms, nature and impressive views, Podere Il Falco will be the best accommodation for your family.
If you prefer the narrow alleys of the village of Pontremoli instead, we recommend you to stay at Palazzo Cortesini and jump back in the centuries.
Kids activities: what to do in Lunigiana
Lunigiana has a vast territory. On-site, families, will find an infinity of things to do and see with children. A month wouldn’t be enough to view everything on this side of Tuscany! From an active vacation to the search for tradition and history, you can’t get bored.
Outdoor activities: exploring the wild territory
Our favourite travels are the ones that foresee outdoor activities to practice with kids and Lunigiana is suitable for outdoor sports. Our family-based suggestions are:
The Giaredo straits: river trekking with kids
Giaredo straits were one of the most fun and adrenaline-charged adventures done so far with Federico, our 9-year-old child. The Straits of Giaredo, in Italian “forre” (canyons), sited very close to the town of Pontremoli, alongside the Gordana torrent. If you decide to experience Giaredo straits, be sure to know how to swim. You will walk along the riverbank, and you will have to cross cold and icy pools, (up to 3 meters deep) going upstream against the river. The scenario is of incredible beauty, and a trip to the straits is memorable for kids and parents.
Trekking on the Via Francigena: let’s start hiking together
If in the few past years, Lunigiana has become more known and accessible to a wider range of tourists. Both on an international and local scale. This is due to the Via Francigena, that crosses this region of Tuscany. Walking here is fascinating because you can relieve the routes and emotions of the pilgrims. If you choose to hike in the footsteps of Sigerico, archbishop of Canterbury, you will make five stops of the Via Francigena in Lunigiana: from Pontremoli to Aulla, passing by Ponticello, Filattiera, Villafranca, Fornoli, Terrarossa and Aulla. We only travelled 6 kilometres – from the Pieve di Sorano to the Selva di Filetto – with our kids, and it was magical. We hiked accompanied by local guides, and we highly recommend their tour. They are amazing! You can find all the tours they offer here on Sigeric website. Thanks to Pier Angelo, the guide that hiked with us, even Giacomo, our three years and a half son, was able to complete the route!
Cycling through the parish churches: discovering the most beautiful corners by bike
Even though there are no main cycle lanes, Lunigiana is a fun region to find out by bicycle. Today, thanks to the rise of e-bikes, it is possible to cycle all types of paths smoothly and without too much effort. There are various itineraries, but the most exciting are the ones that include history (sites and medieval villages), food (tastings of typical and traditional products) beauty of the landscape. By bike you can go further to the vicinities of the Parco Nazionale dell’Appennino Tosco-Emiliano, crossing Bagnone e Taverone valleys.
Lunigiana’s traditions between villages, castles, bridges and ancient churches
Lunigiana is a very ancient land. History enthusiast must know that its name derives from Luni, an old Roman colony founded in 177 b.C. at the mouth of Magra river. Across centuries, and thanks to the Via Francigena, the whole region became more important, and villages, churches and castles were built to protect the territory and its inhabitants. Thanks to the noble families like the Obertenghi marquis and the notorious Malaspina, Lunigiana was then developed commercially, and all the villages became more structured.
In comparison to the ancient Luni dioceses, today Lunigiana has “smaller dimensions” and comprises 14 towns, sited around the province of Massa-Carrara, in the valley of the Magra river. The main centres that deserve to be visited are Pontremoli, Filattiera e Villafranca.
Pontremoli is the access door to Tuscany therefor to Lunigiana. Famous for small paved roads, bridges and its castles, this small town can boast of an exceptional museum and a journey in this unmissable baroque culture.
Lunigianesi stone statues museum
Inside the Piagnaro Castle, families visiting Lunigiana can have fun at the Stone Statues Museum one of the major and mysterious historical testimonies of the territory. At the museum, you will find these prehistorical mono-dimensional sculptures, that represent men and women. All the stylistic elements that you can admire on the statues are found only in this area of Tuscany. Nowadays, the stone statues have become the symbol of Lunigiana itself.
Address: Castello Del Piagnaro – 54027, Pontremoli (MS)
Time: Tuesday – Sunday 9:00-12.30 and from 3:00 pm – 6:00 pm
Filattiera is a gem where time has stopped. A small destination where the Via Francigena passes and that can be reached on foot from the Pieve di Sorano in about 20 minutes. A nice but tiring flight of steps leads directly to this fortified village. I hiked it carrying Giacomo on the Deuter kid baby carrier as he had refused to walk this part of the itinerary 🙂
Pieve di Sorano – Sorano’s parish church
Recently renovated after being abandoned and disregarded for years, the Pieve di Sorano is a real Tuscan jewel. The Pieve is considered one of the most significant things on the via Francigena. Sorano’s church is a model of simple local Romanesque architecture. Nowadays, Pieve is one of the most sought-after churches for weddings. For this reason, we couldn’t visit it, but we will surely come back soon and plan a visit to this church.
Filetto village and the Selva at Villafranca in Lunigiana
The medieval town of Filetto and its Selva di Castagni (forest of chestnut), are one of the places we loved the most during our trip to Lunigiana, Italy. The borough originated centuries ago when the Lunigiana had to defend itself from the Lombards.
Filetto is made by a bunch of hidden houses in tiny alleys, the convent of the Frati Ospitalieri, with a lovely cloister, and the church. Pilgrims that arrive walking the Via Francigena have an excellent view while entering from the two monumental doors. It feels like hanging in time, in a place where silence, peace and hospitality win over being in a rush. The Selva di Castagni stands close to the village of Filetto, and it grants to tourist and pilgrims the luxury of a fresh break under the shade. Of all the places to visit in the Lunigiana, the Selva is the richest in charm and mystery. Since prehistorical times, it’s said that the Selva was a place of tribal encounters and feasts as many stones statues were found.
Tasting Lunigiana: what to eat
If you wish to understand Lunigiana in-depth, it’s essential to know its food, tastes e main dishes. During the weekend on the Via Francigena, we ate different foods – all very tasty and suitable for vegetarians – like Panigacci (amazing with stracchino cheese or with Nutella for a snack), Testaroli with pesto and Torta d’Erbi (vegetables’ pie), a savoury pie prepared with chicory, watercress, beets and parmesan cheese.
Festivals and events: the best excuse to plan a visit at Lunigiana
Lunigiana is a land rich in tradition and has a rich schedule from January to December of events and festivals. So these are the best “excuses” to go to Lunigiana, Italy. Aside from the Slow Travel Fest held in June, there are other unmissable events, like for example, the Medieval Market that occurs every year in August at Filetto village. During this event, families travelling in Tuscany have the chance to go back in time with Middle Age decorations, juggling shows, minstrels, tumblers and objects of local artisan craftsmanship in iron, wood, stone and marble.
For the full list of events in the Lunigiana, check the public website.
Visiting Lunigiana with kids
Lunigiana is an astonishing destination for families because it offers a lot of chances to have fun and relax for kids on vacation. It’s a destination far from massive mainstream tourism, and even though July and August are the most attended months, from April to October, it’s very livable.
To encourage little ones to walk and to discover the territory by foot or by bike, I suggest you have a good read on The Via Francigena. It will be exciting to read some anecdotes of the Via Francigena, understanding the symbols, you will encounter along the path.
Lunigiana is full of ups and downs, unpaved roads on the Via Francigena e and tiny villages with narrow and cobbled streets. So, I suggest you leave strollers at home (especially city strollers) and to prefer a hiking backpack or a baby carrier.
Even in the hottest months, the temperature range in Lunigiana between day and night is remarkable. It’s recommended to have a sweatshirt to wear during the evening or a softshell jacket that will be ideal for protecting you on colder or wet days.
Lunigiana Italy is an excellent place for a family vacation to Italy. If you need some help arranging your trip, get in touch! Our Travel Designer Service is waiting for you!
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