The first stage of the Grande Escursione Appenninica (Great Appenine Excursion) is very long but comfortable, without difficulty, and with only one real climb along the southern slopes of Monte Molinatico.
The arrival at the historic Passo della Cisa, the scene of unforgettable cycling challenges, is exciting.
Only water point at the Brattello Pass (there is a small bar).
We start from the Passo dei Due Santi, along the 00 path (which coincides with the European Path E1 and with the Great Apennine Excursion), very wide and comfortable. We gain altitude (approximately 100 m height difference) in the woods and reach the wooded summit of Monte Cucherna (1,514 m), from which we begin a long descent, albeit with several ups and downs. We advance on the north side of the ridge, walking along the regional border, with some beautiful views of the Val Tarodine. Always staying on the easy 00 path, we overcome the Passo del Borgallo and climb slightly to circumnavigate the head of Monte Cucco from the north. Then we descend gently, in the dense beech forest, up to the Brattello Pass (950 m).
We start to climb (approx. 500 m height difference) the 00 path, always very wide and comfortable. After a first decisive part towards the pass to the east of Monte Croce di Ferro, we go up again on the wide and comfortable ridge, without taking the paths that descend on both sides. After Monte Borraccia, the ridge opens up and we can see Pontremoli and the Val di Magra. We continue on the crest of Monte Ferdana, to then travel along the hillside, in the last part of the climb, the southern slope of Monte Molinatico.
We begin to lose altitude, we go back into the woods and walk a level stretch before descending, gently and without climbs, to the Passo della Cisa, visiting the beautiful Sanctuary of the Madonna della Guardia ("patroness of sportsmen all over the world"), with its beautiful staircase and sports memorabilia kept inside. From the historic pass, where we cross the Magna Via Francigena, we have to walk another half hour to find somewhere to sleep.
The Passo della Cisa has had historically a great deal of importance, due to its position and the fact that it was one of the few Apennine passes that remained open and accessible even in winter.
Today it no longer has the strategic importance it once had, due to the motorway tunnel that passes under it. However, because of its magnificent panoramic views over the Parma ridges, it is extremely popular with cyclists and motorcyclists.
Furthermore, since 718 AD, the pass is closely linked to the Via Francigena: since then, pilgrims from all over Europe have been passing it slowly, heading for Rome. In the past, the faithful could lodge and revive themselves in the ancient Ospizio di Santa Maria, just before the challenging pass, built specifically for this purpose.
The Sanctuary of the Madonna della Guardia was built on the Passo della Cisa in 1921.
The building, built in Romanesque style, entirely in stone, contains a bronze statue of the Madonna (the work of the sculptor Enrico Albericci), an object of worship by many faithful. In 1965 the Madonna della Guardia was proclaimed "patroness of all sportsmen": for this reason, inside the Marian sanctuary there are numerous jerseys, donated by great champions of sport, from cycling to football, as a sign of gratitude for their career.
The first was the cyclist Vittorio Adorni, who donated his pink jersey as winner of the Giro d'Italia as a vote to the Madonna: the road to the Cisa represented his training ground.
The testaroli are a simple peasant dish typical of Lunigiana, with very ancient origins (they were probably already present in ancient Rome): a forerunner of pasta.
It is a sort of stuffed crepe made with a mixture of water and flour that is cooked in cast iron containers called "testi" (hence testaroli). After cooking, the pasta is cut into diamond shapes and traditionally seasoned with oil, basil, and cheese. The version with pesto is also widespread.
Today the testaroli are protected thanks to the Slow Food Presidium and represent one of the prides of the town of Pontremoli, where every year the Testarolo Pride takes place. A festival entirely dedicated to pasta, which several restaurants adhere to, presenting many variations of the dish.
Ostello della Cisa, half an hour from the pass, on the Emilian side (northbound). Tel. +39 0525 629072
Locanda degli Aceri, half an hour from the pass, on the Tuscan side (southbound). Tel. +39 0187 836421
Starting point reachable by car.
Departure point NOT reachable by bus.
The nearest location reachable by bus is Patigno, starting from the town of Pontremoli.
Here the LINK to check the timetables.
Starting point NOT reachable by train.
The nearest location reachable by train is Pontremoli, starting from the city of La Spezia or the city of Parma.
Here the LINK to check the timetables.
Va' Sentiero is a grassroot project, thanks to the spontaneous contribution oft housands of people.
Even the most complicated dream, a 7,000km uphill dream,
can be achieved... together.