La Val di Magra – Magra Valley

Bocca di Magra - Photo © bianca
Bocca di Magra – Photo © bianca

A number of itineraries of varied nature lead out of La Spezia into the Magra Valley.

If you leave La Spezia by way of Salita di Buonviaggio, you will be pleasantly surprised by the hillside villages that you encounter – such as Valeriano and, above all, Vezzano Ligure, an ancient town of illustrious tradition that was once a seat of noble families.

It slopes down towards the River Magra and Bolano, which stands on a solitary hill and looks out towards the Lunigiana area.

As you continue along the Buonviaggio road, you cross the river and come to Santo Stefano Magra, which has a seventeenth-century church.

You then join the Strada della Cisa (the ancient Pilgrims Way) and eventually come to Sarzana.

The many towns on the opposite side of the river look onto the valley. Just outside La Spezia stands Arcola with its turreted castle (now the municipal building) and five-sided tower.

Next comes Trebiano, a former Episcopal see.

The Magra begins to widen out as it approaches its estuary and you will see a series of villas, camp sites and houses along the riverside. Bocca di Magra lies at the mouth of the river and stretches down towards the sea along the Caprione promontory.

Fiumaretta lies on the opposite side of the river and stretches along a golden sandy beach towards the open sea and Tuscany. Castelnuovo Magra, on the border with Carrara, is truly picturesque.

Castelnuovo Magra Castle - Photo Davide Papalini
Castelnuovo Magra Castle – Photo Davide Papalini

Here you can admire the remains of the Malaspina castle where Dante, as official representative of the Malaspina family, signed the peace treaty with the Bishop of Luni, Antonio da Camilla, in 1306.

The fine parish church preserves Brueghel’s Road to the Cross. The impressive eighteenth century town hall houses the foremost Vintage Wine Museum of Liguria and the Lunigiana area.

Here you can still see the ancient “oil basins” carved out of white Carrara marble. Also worth mentioning are Ortonovo, with its narrow mediaeval streets, and Nicola, a very ancient town built on the crest of a hill. Nearby is the Sanctuary of Mirteto, a favorite destination of pilgrims. The most important artistic and historic remains are to be found in Luni itself, with its Roman Amphitheatre, the Basilica, the ruins of the ancient city and the Archaeology Museum, which was refurbished in 1988.

A number of exhibition spaces have been set aside in the nearby rustic dwellings lying inside the perimeter of the Roman town, where excavations are still in progress. The section dedicated to religious architecture has already been completed. Sarzana also has many artistic and historic remains. This very charming town has a cathedral that constitutes a veritable artistic mosaic (Romanesque portal, Gothic fronton and Baroque altars and vault). It preserves priceless paintings by Fiasella, known as “Il Sarzana” (1600), paintings by Solimena, two ambons by Riccomanno, a “San Gerolamo” by Andrea della Robbia and a “Crucifixion” from the Lucca school by Mastro Guitelmo (1138), which is the world’s oldest Crucifixion painted on wood.

Arcola Photo
Arcola Photo

It is well worth taking your time to visit Sarzana so that you can also take in its other churches: Sant’Andrea (where recent excavations have brought to light the ruins of an older church), San Francesco and its remarkable sculptures and the Church of the Capuchins.

Then there are the palazzi (Palazzo Picedi has a splendid wrought iron gate), the castles, the Firmafede fortress and the fortress of Sarzanello (built by Castruccio Castracani) and the castle keeps. The town is also famous for its numerous antiques and restoration workshops. In the month of August the town hosts the National Antiques Exhibition and the “Soffitta nella Strada”, which is an exhibition of antiques laid out along the streets of the town. There are good accommodation facilities in the Magra Valley, especially in Sarzana and Marinella. Besides hotels and camp sites, there are holiday farms, where you can relax and enjoy genuine food in the countryside just a short distance from the sea.

The numerous beaches are spacious and have plenty of facilities. Water sports are practiced everywhere and there are many places providing entertainment at night. Among the many typical dishes of the Magra Valley is “panissa” (a sort of polenta made from chick-pea flour), herb pies and a dessert called “spongata”. And of course there are plenty of seafood and fish dishes in the restaurants along the coast.

Full of olive groves and vineyards, the valley produces “Colli di Luni” DOC superior wines: Vermentino, white and rosè wines from the hills of Castelnuovo Magra and Ortonovo, white and red wines from Bolano, Aleatico from Sarticola (Castelnuovo Magra), as well as the white wines from Arcola and Vezzano and Tocai from Arcola. The Magra Valley marks the border between Liguria and Tuscany and precisely because of its position it is well served by road and rail transport. There is also a well equipped tourist airport in Luni.