with thanks as so often to VisitTuscany.com
Lunigiana’s heart is torn between Tuscany and Liguria—literally, it’s spread across the two regions, with its lifeblood the Magra River running through it. Though its visibility spiked after actor George Clooney purchased a villa outside Pontremoli, there’s far more to this region than its A-list vacationers. At the top of the list is the food and wine, with bread as the key building block for most of the area’s trademark dishes and products. But no time for “loafing”—let’s start exploring.
Pontremoli and surroundings
Pontremoli is a perfect first stop for whetting your palate. Begin with a Lunigiana classic, a hearty plate of testaroli al pesto. Think of this Roman and Etruscan vestige as “Tuscan pancake pesto pasta”. First, a large and thin pancake-like base is prepared using just water, flour and salt: the secret is in the cooking equipment. By tradition, these are prepared in a testo, a domed cast-iron cooking pot, ideally over a live fire. Once the base is complete, it’s cut into bite-size, pasta-like squares, which are then tossed into just-boiled water taken off high heat. The squares are then dressed with pesto—or perhaps ricotta, grana or another cheese. Mushrooms and meats sometimes make an appearance.
Tuck into testaroli knowing that you’re participating in a centuries-strong culinary history, dining like the ancients did: testaroli are sometimes referred to as the “earliest recorded pasta.” Like so many of Tuscany’s rural peasant dishes, they were dreamed up out of necessity and limited ingredients, but have gone on to become a closely studied staple in some of the region’s finest restaurants.
Save room for a savoury pie at some point during the day. The torta d’erbe, translated rather underwhelmingly as “herb pie”, is an appetizer or main course packed with flavour and wild origins—think of it as a tribute to Tuscan seasonality in a single dish. Wild herbs and seasonal veggies sourced locally are nearly all it takes: leeks, onions, spinach and chard are cornerstones, cooked first in boiling water and then mixed with parmesan, bread crumbs, oil and salt to add some heft.
Seasonal veggies are sound, healthy choices, but Pontremoli is also a prime spot for satisfying your sweet tooth. Take Day 2 to indulge in decadent desserts and drinks.
The modest charms in and around piazza della Repubblica make a compelling start. Sample traditional sweets in a historic cafe or bakery—the area is home to several, but particularly worth noting is the Liberty-style bakery Antica Pasticceria degli Svizzeri, opened by a Swiss family in 1842, still run by the family of one of the early partners, and home to a cafe as well. Prioritize a taste of amor, a rich custard stuffing sandwiched between wafers.
Cravings still not quenched? Spring for a spongata, a round, flat, pink-hued and rather complicated-to-make cake, filled with honey, dried fruit and spices, topped with sugar and served year-round. Fun fact: Pontremoli’s young men used to give these love-laden desserts to their betrothed during Carnival season as tokens of affection.
On the drinking front, some Lunigiana locals are tackling new territory in a largely tradition-focused scene (as the Swiss did so many years ago). A smattering of small craft breweries is growing in stature, and Pontremoli is home to the Slow Food-backed Birra del Moro.