High on the Magra

A Walk to the Pracchiola Waterfall of the Magra
The undiscovered Italy still exists - and, yes, you really can get off the beaten track.  However, you will not find it in the beautiful but well-known villages of the Cinque Terre. Urban and urbane modern Italians aren’t likely to advise you well, either.  But the old, authentic Italy still exists in the history of villages and fields, streams and paths, chestnut trees and stone walls and mountains. It’s not easy, but you'll discover it if you look.

In the region of Liguria, the Magra River is the spine of the Italian territory known as Lunigiana. The area is named after the Roman city of Luni, which was - and whose ruins are - near the mouth of the Magra, just north of Carrara. The territory consists of a large valley, starting at Ameglia, continuing past Sarzana and Aulla, to Pontremoli and to the mountain passes of the Apennines. This walk will take you deep into the Tuscan part of Lunigiana, through a timeless village above Pontremoli, through chestnut woods, and along the upper reaches of the Magra to a gentle and dramatic waterfall. The route is full of history, but it is a passive history. The foundations of a mill and its millrace speak of lost technology, but quietly. A change from slate and schist to sandstone speak of a turbulent geologic past. The giant trunks of chestnuts pruned for decades speak of an agriculture now archaic, remembered only in sagras and specialty shops. The carved dates in the lintels of village buildings speak of nameless ancestors long gone.

A tiny brook feeds the river.
The Walk. The walk begins in the village of Pracchiola and will take about 45 minutes each way. See the Getting There and Important Detour sections below. Coming from Pontremoli, the road will pass below the village; park your car at the end of the village where a stream crosses under the road and there's a small parking area, just before the road begins to turn and climb. It’s a small area that fits about 6 cars, and is unpaved.  Hiking tip: note the time. Walk up through the village, parallel to, but higher than the provincial road. Right away there's a neat mill building, where water can pass under the house in several streams, and you can see a millrace (a canal) entering the house at the back. This is the original renewable energy without the corporate oligarchy.

Pracchiola Luni icon (modern).
As you walk along, the houses are diverse, some have been restored as second homes, others could use some love. There are carved doorways and windows - some in the local gray sandstone, called Pietra Arenaria. This carving is emblematic of the upper valley of the Magra, and became increasingly sophisticated over a span of two centuries. Some of the houses have rudimentary farm implements displayed or stored for use, and there are more than a few chickens about.  We saw a spherical container made of small branches which holds grasses for the cows, a pitchfork made from a triple-branched limb, a ladder made from a single long sapling split in half.

Continue along the main village way, past the church, and soon the village peters out.  Ahead there is one final house standing alone, flanking the road, often with a couple of dogs hanging out. There's a path leading down near the house, but you stay on the uphill trail.  Hiking Tip: Don't let a dog get behind you, even a seemingly friendly dog can bite without warning or provocation.

Now the path is a grassy way, along fields, and the views down the valley are broad.  Soon the woods close in, and you are in the forest. Shortly after the forest begins, at a large tree, on the left is a sign 'Cascata' in orange pointing down a small trail.  Follow this path down, noting that you follow orange blazes all the way to the waterfall.  Hiking tip: always remember where you saw the last blaze. The trail descends gently until you get to a tiny picturesque brook, which you cross. The trail climbs again and rounds a hill. Now you are following the left bank of the Magra upstream, slabbing (crossing transversely) the hill that rises from it.

Il Pischio, the largest waterfall on the Magra River.
 Hard to photograph in full, the total height is about 100 feet.
Follow the well-worn trail and the orange blazes through the forest. There's lots to see, giant old chestnuts, the rushing river with its tranquil pools, an old mill foundation, water seeping down rock faults, flood damage evident high on stream-side trees. The trail will rise and fall, approach the river, and then distance itself again. Slowly the rocks get bigger, and as you approach the waterfall, the trail is along the riverbank. Now there's some scrambling over boulders and loose rock. Travel past pretty pools and mini-rapids until the trail ends and the goal is reached. The Cascata of Pracchiola, also called Il Pischio, is the largest falls on the Magra. This is the undiscovered Italy.

Getting There Exit the A15 autostrada (La Spezia-Parma) at Pontremoli. Follow the Pontremoli signs and join the SS62, turning left. Follow the SS62 up the valley past Pontremoli, in the direction of the Passo dela Cisa. Turn off the SS62 toward the Passo Cirone and the towns of Molinello and Groppodalosio at a marked intersection at roughly the KM 41 marker. Follow the signs to Pracchioli, including a right after the sign shown. Overview Map

Important Detour  As you start to drive up the valley, you really must make a quick detour. Driving up through the fields and woods after crossing the bridge at the valley bottom, you reach the tiny village of Casalina. Park there and walk a few hundred meters up the road to a trail sign which leads to the left. Overview Map This is the ancient pilgrim route known as the Via Francigena. Walk down about 10-15 minutes to a most fantastic gem of an old bridge. The bridge at Groppodalosio is the best preserved arched bridge in Lunigiana, and the best we've ever seen in Italy.  Built in 1574, it just couldn't be a more perfect structure, and it couldn’t be in a more perfect setting. What’s more, it’s also a good picnic spot, and if you’re lucky a pilgrim will come along.

Ameglia Montemarcello San Terenzo Pontremoli Filattiera Copyright 2011 www.apathtolunch.com. All Rights Reserved. Aulla Fivizzano Castelnuovo Magra This article appeared on www.apathtolunch.com and has not been authorized elsewhere. Cinque Terre Portovenere Lerici Luni Carrara Sarzana Ortonuovo Nicola Fosdinovo Mulazzo

Difficulty. We think this is a moderately easy hike. It is a fairly safe hike, but there are some places with steep drops near the trail. As you approach the waterfall, there are rocks to climb up and over, and wet and mossy rocks can be slippery. We do not feel it advisable to bring young children on this hike. We - and your mother - suggest walking or hiking shoes with traction soles

Longitude and Latitude. The cascata is 44d 26.250’ N and 9d 58.303’ E

www.terredilunigiana.com We are grateful to this excellent website for leading us to this walk. This resource has content on tourism in Lunigiana in six languages, as well as information on many other aspects of the area. While the most detailed aspects tend to be in Italian, major portions are available in the other languages.

Written by Martha