We were given an excellent breakfast this morning, including scrambled eggs, ham and cheese, as well as an array of sweet foods and fruit, so we were well prepared for another long day of walking. The B&B Il Cuore was one of the best places we’ve stayed in – a very comfortable room and bed, tea with milk and charming people running it.

As it was Saturday morning the streets were quiet as we headed uphill out of the old town. We quickly found our way back to the Via Francigena route and almost immediately were faced with a steep climb up to the castle. Thank goodness for the scrambled egg!

Looking uphill towards the fort above Massa
Looking back down the hill we had just climbed up
The impressive hill fort above Massa

With yesterday’s rain having cleared the air, the views from the fort were extensive.

Once down the other side our route hugged the base of the hills before turning up the Montignoso valley. From there it was a steep but steady climb by tar road up to Metati Rossi. The route seemed popular with cyclists; all very respectful of we heavily laden walkers and each one greeted us enthusiastically as they passed. From the top we were blessed with fabulous views of the coast northwards beyond Massa and La Spezia into Liguria, and southwards to the Island of Elba, now visible on the horizon. Elba was, of course, where Napoleon Bonaparte was imprisoned in exile, and is not actually very far from Corsica, the island of his birth.

View over Massa and the densely populated coastal belt, looking north-west
Looking out south to Elba on the horizon

Almost all of today’s walk was along roads, some busier than others. Instead of taking the direct main road to Camiaore, the Via Francigena walking route took us up into the hills behind the coastal plain. The Saturday cyclists were out in force today, grinding their way up the hills and whizzing down the other side. We shared the grinding but there was no whizzing for us, just toe and knee bashing on the downhills.

Winding our way through olive groves

All around us there were extensive vineyards perched on impossible slopes and many, many acres of olive groves. The sound of chainsaws echoed around us as people were busy pruning olive trees and collecting wood before winter sets in. Little three wheeled Piaggio trucks were being used by old men to move logs, while the young men were out revving their motor-scooters.

Young and old men’s vehicles

At Ripa our route met the Versilia River: an interesting looking freestone stream with what looked looked like Ranunculus growing in it (the first we’d seen in Italy). Not long after we found a suitable riverside spot for lunch and relaxing in the warm sunshine. From there our route ran along the flood control bund past a string of yards processing large blocks of quarried marble. High up on the mountains behind we could make out several quarries, creating huge white scars and gaps in the hillside where rock has been removed.

One of several marble cutting yards with quarries on the hillside behind
Slabs of marble awaiting the diamond wire cutter in the foreground
Even the town’s statuary is made from pieces of marble

The next place of note was Pietrasanta. Here there are many small shops lining a long pedestrianised main street. A wide range of luxury items was for sale: including Persian carpets, designer clothing, and art works. There were several boutique hotels, which we take to mean they’re expensive and don’t need to advertise on’s website. We had the impression that Pietrasanta is relatively wealthy.

Pietrasanta’s main shopping street – the Christmas lights and Christmas tree are already set up

The early medieval church of the Misericordia was interesting in that it has two modern and rather amusing frescoes painted in 1993 by Fernando Botero. One depicts the gate to heaven and the other the gate to hell. They make a refreshing change from the more usual dark and stylised older church paintings we have seen.

La Porta del Paradiso by Botero
La Porta dell’Inferno by Botero

In the centre of Pietrasanta is the C13th Collegiate Church of San Martino. As we arrived a band was setting up to perform on its steps. However when we left the band began to move all their gear aside after the priest opened the big west doors in readiness for a funeral bier to be brought in. Evidently there had been some miscommunication somewhere along the line!

La Collegieta di San Martino in Pietrasanta is 13th century. The tower is ‘unfinished’ but to our eyes it is attractive left as undressed bricks
Inside the collegiate church in Pietrasanta

After leaving Pietrasanta we had one more small hill to get over, this time off-road on a narrow muddy and stony track, and then a short level walk past extensive market gardening poly-tunnels and glasshouses to get to our accommodation. The owner of our accommodation later told us that about 30 years ago this area had grown flowers commercially but for the last 20 years they have been producing vast quantities of vegetables. We were amazed to see courgettes still flowering!

Our billet was a family owned villa perched high on the hillside with views to the west and north-west across the coastal plain to the sea. The Villa Cavallini was originally built in the 17th century. In 1938 it was acquired by one Eng Lt Cdr Verginio Cavallini, who was one of the principal naval architects responsible for designing submarines for the Italian Navy in the First World War. He was a significant innovator, developing the first double hulled boats. So successful were they that his designs were still being used in WW2. Some of his design drawings are on display in the villa. His great granddaughter, Isabella, has swapped a career as a vet in Verona to take on the daunting task of running the villa as an agriturismo B&B business using a wide range of produce from the estate, including olives, fruit, vegetables and herbs. She is also an excellent cook!

Approaching Villa Cavallini perched on the hillside ahead

We were given an delicious tasting menu of local dishes for our supper, most of which was produced on the estate. Isabella’s wine recommendation of a Tuscan bolgheri was an excellent choice. Pilgrimage doesn’t have to be all sackcloth and bare feet!

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  1. It’s always a relief to hear that you have found good food and accommodation at the end of a day’s walk ! I’m now addicted to your tale and look forward to the next blog. Advent greetings.