The ancient medieval path and its modern reinterpretation

The initial part of our journey, from the original settlement of Levanto to the San Rocco plain, is easily recognizable. Simply follow Via Guani, next to the 14th-century loggia, and continue onto Via Garibaldi until you reach the ancient Porta di S. Martino, which has now been replaced by a modern arch. From here, the Via dei Monti continued to the San Rocco plain, which at that time was in open countryside.

It is difficult today to reconstruct the exact route followed in this second stretch of the trail due to modern urbanization and significant changes caused by the Ghiararo River that flows nearby. According to the scholar Giovanni Busco, a Levanto native and long-time collaborator of Professor Mannoni, at this point, where a bridge reconstructed at the end of the 16th century still stands, the Via dei Monti followed various paths, the most important of which ascended to Montale, the ancient Roman Ceula. There was an alternative route to reach Bardellone, the mountain of Levanto, by passing through Chiesanuova, a village that developed along a medieval road and also had a hospice. In addition to these two major routes, there was another route that passed through the small center of Ridarolo and continued to intersect with the road to Bardellone, which runs linearly through the Levanto valley, just below the ridge of the modest hills that separate the Riviera from the Val di Vara.

These historical road remnants, which the Genoese improved over time by creating valley-bottom paths, are evidence of the deep-rooted commercial relationships between Levanto and the hinterland. We do not know where the 14th-century road crossed the Ghiararo River to climb to the parish church of Ceula. Today, urbanization in the entire area makes it impossible to precisely identify the likely crossing point of the river, which was probably near the current location of San Gottardo, where the Piè dell’Erta mule track begins its ascent to Montale.

After passing this ancient village, consisting of four distinct nuclei, not before visiting the monumental complex of San Siro and reaching Vignana di Sopra and di Sotto, the trail continues steeply uphill to Monte Piano, not far from Foce Bardellone. First, you reach the Tadei chapel on the edge of a large plateau and then Case Pistone, where the descent to Cà Vagine begins. Here, the ancient path to Cassana passes, although today it only partially follows the original mule track.

It is plausible that travelers had the option of using other alternative routes to ascend the mountain more gently, one passing through Sorlana, the Madonna di Loreto chapel, and Foce di Montale, the starting point for Monte Piano. For those heading to the S. Nicolao pass to reach the Genoese region and the Apennines, it was necessary to descend to the Malacqua River and then climb towards Mattarana.

Cà Vagine, an ancient postal and horse-changing station, introduces us to the long stretch, first slightly uphill and then downhill, leading to Foce di Cassana, which today is on a dirt road but was once a mule track that has been almost completely erased by modern roads. The search for a village known as Cassana would be in vain, as numerous nuclei are now included under this toponym, mostly located along the Via dei Monti route. The medieval route is easily identifiable here with the presence of the ancient Corneto nucleus, consisting of a long row of houses gathered around the main alley, which winds almost straight along a modest hilly ridge. After a section on the public road, the route continues inside the small village of Chiesa, with its interesting parish church, gradually losing altitude until it reaches the entrance to Borghetto di Vara, where it meets the Aurelia highway.

The continuation of the Via dei Monti to Brugnato unfortunately suffers from the profound changes made to the road network in modern times, made even more problematic by the damage caused to the village of Borghetto di Vara by the bombings of World War II. The original nucleus dating back to the 14th century has almost completely disappeared, along with the remains of the medieval hospice. The route follows the asphalted road that will lead us to Brugnato, but not before passing by the remains of the ancient bridge known as the “Roman” bridge, of which some imposing arches are still visible.

Brugnato, the seat of the ancient diocese created in 1133, preserves numerous monuments of particular value, starting with the Romanesque cathedral built on the foundations of two pre-existing religious structures.

The diocesan museum is housed inside the ancient episcopal seat and contains valuable documentation in various visitable rooms. In the lower part, there are remains of the original monastery. Sections of the walls are visible in Piazza Ildebranda, where the Via dei Monti leaves Brugnato to head towards the mountains. Just outside the village, an ancient path known as Reigada ascends to Serò, first through a wooded area and then through terraced cultivation. After crossing the village, a trail replaces the short asphalted section and, with a slight ascent, reaches Pieve di Zignago, the municipal seat. The route, circumventing Monte Dragnone, reaches the saddle of Monte Castellaro, from where it continues towards the Alta Via dei Monti Liguri, first on asphalt and then on dirt road, descending towards the Rossano Valley.

Two ancient stone bridges introduce us to the village of Valle, and from there, continuing through Chiesa and Castoglio, reachable via a forest path. From here, you reach Piagna with its characteristic fortified village and then ascend to the Pradadilara pass, from which you can enjoy views of the Alta Lunigiana and the peaks of the Apennines.

The first village encountered on the descent is Torrano, which is crossed using some vaulted pathways. Not far away, on the Gordana River, Cavezzana introduces us to the final part of the trail. A few kilometers away, the Giaredo narrows are worth a visit with the guides of Sigeric.

The last stretch of our journey is on asphalt. We enter Pontremoli through the ancient Casotto bridge. A little further on, after the Imoborgo tower, the Via dei Monti intersects with the Via Francigena, following a common route to the southern end of the city. The church of S. Pietro in Confluentu, for several centuries a prioria of the Diocese of Brugnato, represents the starting or ending point of the Via dei Monti.