Alto Matanna Refuge Hotel - Monte Matanna
1.5 miles each way / 900 feet elevation change / 1.75 hours round-trip
Monte Matanna is a well-known and popular hiking destination in the Apuan Alps that I can see from my kitchen window in Lucca. This is one of the easy hikes around Lucca but there are longer and more difficult approaches to the mountain from Stazzema to the west and Casoli (Camaiore) to the south but the easiest and quickest route to the peak is from the Alto Matanna hotel north-east of the mountain. It’s a 26 mile drive from Lucca to the hotel which takes at least 50 minutes due to speed traps followed by a series of tight bends and narrow roads after Pescaglia.
This is a hike that should be right at the top of your list of things to do on a visit to Lucca because the views are simply spectacular and you can start early and be back in Lucca in time for lunch.
The starting point for this short hike is at 3,400 feet above sea level so it’s also a great way to escape the torrid heat of summer but the earlier you start the better because in the hotter months the heat haze will diminish the views quite considerably. Shortly after dawn would be ideal and at other times of year clear skies are essential to make it worthwhile.
There is a good view of Michelangelo's marble mountains from here as the white marble stands out against the grey rocks around it.
There’s a fair amount of good information elsewhere on the Monte Matanna routes but strangely hardly anyone seems to address the two most confusing aspects of this particular walk:
1. The trail signs are generally very good except for one important omission - none of them have directions to the Monte Matanna peak on them. That’s a big omission because this is the destination for just about everybody. Perhaps it’s because the mountain is so obvious, being the highest in the southern Apuan Alps at 4,324 feet above sea level, and is also very visible as it is completely devoid of trees but it would still be good to know that you’re on the correct trail.
We weren’t sure that we were heading in the right direction when we first came to Monte Matanna so we asked a a passing contadino where the turning was and he told us that the chiesetta (little chapel) marked the point.
2. Formal hiking trails in Italy are generally marked with a specific identification number and red and white painted stripes that can be seen periodically on trees or boulders along the trail, often with the number also, so you don’t get lost.
For some reason on this trail as soon as you’ve passed the last sign at the chiesetta you need to keep an eye out for blue markings on the stones. Although it’s a wide open area with the summit always in sight, following the actual trail here is not particularly easy as the markings are few and far between.
This trail is described as easy by every commentator but I would add the caveat that the final 20 minutes of the climb, and especially this same section on the descent, require some concentration and agility. I certainly wouldn’t call it technically difficult but there is an abundance of rocks and scree making it quite easy to slip or trip and some of the steps down between the rocks are deeper than a typical stride so caution here is advised, especially for children or older adults.
However it isn’t essential to reach the peak to enjoy the views because as soon as you reach the grassy saddle at 3,600 feet, Camaiore, Viareggio, Lago di Massaciuccoli and the sea become visible as well as Monte Serra to the south of Lucca and the endless Apennines stretching east as far as the eye can see.
1. Head north out of Lucca on the SS 12 which is the old Brenner Pass road then after 8.5 miles follow signs for Borgo a Mozzano onto the SP20 which crosses over to the west of the river Serchio through Pastino and Diecimo and then it’s straight on through Pescaglia to the Matanna turning after a few more miles. At the end of the narrow road is the large Alto Matanna Hotel car park.
2. Walking towards the hotel building itself, turn left and you’ll see the main signpost for all the trails that run through here. Trail number 3 is the one you want for this short hike but you wouldn’t know it from the places written on the sign because it doesn’t mention Foce del Pallone or Monte Matanna.
3. Trail 3 to Foce del Pallone is no more than 1,200 yards and is a rough road rather than a trail. The little chapel mentioned by the contadino has been commandeered by the horses that freely roam over the pastures here and two were in residence when we passed.
4. A few yards after the horse chapel you arrive at Foce del Pallone where there is another comprehensive signpost with multiple destinations (photos below), none of which are particularly helpful because none of them, as you can see from the photos below, either mention or point the way to Matanna but if you turn right here you’ll see the Monte Matanna peak only 0.75 miles away, though it looks further.
The path is poorly marked in blue with the first part being an easy walk across a mostly grass covered hillside. The last few hundred yards to the summit are much steeper and covered with rocks and it’s not always easy to discern the marked trail.
This hike can be done as a loop instead of an out and back by descending from Monte Matanna in a northerly direction to the Callare di Matanna. The total distance of the loop is only 2.3 miles with the same elevation difference and from the saddle of Callare di Matanna you descend steeply the very short distance to the Alto Matanna hotel.
For a more gentle descent there is an unmarked path off to the right as you face the back of the hotel which goes through a small gate and joins the original road near the pond in the photo above. Turn left at the road and walk back to the hotel.