Santo Stefano Magra
“D’azzurro all’aquila dal volo abbassato con la testa rivoltata al naturale, coronata all’antica d’oro, tenente tra gli artigli i fulmini di Giove, dello stesso. Lo scudo sarà sormontato da corona di Comune” (Descrizione araldica dello stemma)
We reach the plains of Santo Stefano di Magra, it has features in common with the mountain village and speaks, believe it or not, the most authentic Lunense dialect. Santo Stefano di Magra descends towards the plain, sheltered by the hills and merges with the neighbouring municipalities of La Spezia, with which it also shares the motorway exit and the railway line. The urban structure of Santo Stefano di Magra can be defined as a place rich in naturalistic beauties and, although it does benefit of the same fame as its neighbours, it preserves perfectly the character of medieval origin in its architecture, especially the narrow paved alleys of the historic centre, as well the rigorous and tireless spirit of its inhabitants.
The parish church dedicated to Santo Stefano Protomartire, is unique with its Genoese Baroque structure, that stands out from the shadows of the alleys full of porticos and slate roofs, it has the typical style of the medieval churches of Lunigiana, and is perhaps one of the most characteristic parish complexes of Val di Magra, for the size of the apse and its imposing structure. A good thing is that the village is affected by the beneficial influence of the local cuisine, for example the knowledge of how to make the typical panigacci from Podenzana, it seems a shame not to share it; there are intense trades – also thanks to the small agricultural centre of Caprigliola, that once was part of the municipality of Aulla, there are many building material plants, just around the corner in Aulla and Massa Carrara.
The hamlets near Santo Stefano di Magra are Ponzano Magra and Ponzano Superiore, we recommend to visit Pieve di San Michele Arcangelo, inside you can admire an organ by Filippo Tronci dated 1825.
Food & Wine
The valley of the Magra river is a borderland whose recipe book ranges from simple dishes to avant-garde, award-winning dishes, dividing regions with a simple menu that is full of flavours and always includes raw and seasonal ingredients. The nearby Liguria allows you to taste dishes enriched with pesto, focaccia, delicious bluefish, while being blessed by the sun and pure air of the Gulf. Here, the excellent olive oil, which is particularly exquisite with the prebbogion minestrone, and even tastier if combined with wild herbs, potatoes and organic asparagus, sweet onions, with the sweet red onion being the undisputed queen of Treschietto, stand out among the many excellences.
The culinary tradition of La Spezia includes light but nonetheless nourishing dishes; savoury cakes or fresh pasta greatly represent this category. To a lesser extent, game is also used and rabbits or poultry are often featured in the second courses. A striking example strictly related to the Ligurian cuisine, is the Cima, a pocket – normally obtained by cutting the belly of the veal – filled with chard, borage and other ingredients chosen by the housewife, among which soaked bread, mortadella and Parmesan in copious amounts are particularly popular.
Directly from the river’s mouths, which are rich in fish, the paranza (fried fish) or the fried salted codfish of Val di Magra tempts the most refined palates, and it’s particularly exquisite when accompanied by tomatoes. Meat is preferably sautéed “all’uccelletto” and served with white wine or, in the case of multiple courses, it is enriched with a filling.
Fish, whether it comes from rivers or from the open sea, is equally good. Meagres, anchovies, shellfish that are shelled in real time, cuttlefish that are cooked and blanched… there are preparations that know a thing or two about tuna in tartar sauce, while raw prawns abound on restaurant tables.
When we talk about local gastronomy, meals must end with desserts, and the Spongata is perhaps the emblem among the other traditional ones. It abounds with jam, pine nuts and almonds, it is spongy to the touch, a feature to which it owes its name. The rice cake called “scema” (silly), unlike the one from Monterosso, is served as a dessert. Vanilla flavour, a surface coated in caramel, it enhances your culinary experience as long as it is eaten cold. Among the typical wines, Colli di Luni, which has a quality assurance label and is also offered in the Luni Bianco version for appetizers and first courses, the Vermentino, which goes well with fish dishes, and finally the Rosso are standout examples. The Val di Magra IGT (white, red and rosé) wine has also a quality assurance label.
Events and places of interest
In summer, one of the most important and peculiar events in Santo Stefano di Magra is “Antico mercato sulla Via Francigena”, it recalls the “ handover of the keys ”, in the Middle Ages by Piero de ‘Medici, who ceded the Fortress of Sarzana to the French king Charles VIII; there are actors, flag wavers and jugglers, the whole village is decorated for this special event, the most exciting moment is the historic procession in the streets of the village.
In October, there is the “Fiera di San Felice”, a three-day market and livestock exhibition. A popular event where the Ligurian cuisine is definitely featured.
Santo Stefano di Magra allows us to reach the lush Taverone Valley, the junction with Lunigiana and small mule tracks, dirt roads and trekking paths, that pass through ancient roads dominated by castles and walkways, the magnificent imposing Fortress Brunella, an impressive building that overlooks the town of Aulla. The bends of the Gulf of Poets and the series of mansions are left behind, until we outline the mountain pass Lagastrello and the Apennine buttresses.
The landscape of Val di Magra is purely fluvial. An undeniable skill of the local administrations is to make places with a strong historical and environmental value coexist without altering the territory, thus promoting tourism and the sustainable development of villages, hamlets and all kinds of institutions… gastronomical, historical, collective organizations.
The Magra river does not seem to be in a hurry, on the contrary, it flows slowly, shaping a riverbed with extensive meanders and gradually enriching the soil with silt; it curves and accelerates near Santo Stefano, without however disturbing the quiet landscape but simply enriching the vegetation with new, and more lush, riparian scrub.
The ponds and the marshes that originate here act as a rest and nesting area for many migratory and sedentary birds such as the kingfisher, the little egret, a large number of little seagulls, terns and grebes, especially near Bocca di Magra, mergansers, eiders and cormorants in the stretch of sea in front of the river mouth. It is reported that here the sea lamprey finds one of the few safe places where to reproduce.