The Val di Vara winds along the Vara River, which gives it its name, and is the cultural and historical hinterland of the Cinque Terre, which it lies behind. With 68 km in length, it is the widest of the Ligurian valleys, with large green areas and blue waterways that cross it. Perfect for those seeking peace, those who love long treks in the countryside which, for the more tireless, can also reach the blue, mysterious legends, and last but not most miniature, organic food. So with a bit of preparation and the desire to discover, this becomes an almost privileged place for holidays in the Cinque Terre. Particularly appreciated for Its spacious and affordable accommodations, the freedom to move around by one’s means (motorcyclists love it), and the proximity to the sea.
From an administrative point of view, Val di Vara has existed since 1923, but its history is much older. With Lunigiana, it shares the identity of a region of passage, of a crucial route for commercial traffic between northern Italy and the sea. And the lords of Lunigiana, the Malaspinas, have long tried to gain control of it with many wars with the Republic of Genoa, which controlled it for the longest time. Lunigiana and Val di Vara meet at the confluence of the Vara and Magra rivers, at the bottom of the valley, below the village of Vezzano Ligure.
Today what distinguishes the area is the low density of human settlements, the uncontaminated nature of its valleys, the genuineness of its products, and biodiversity. These characteristics have led it to become the first organic district in Europe.
Val di Vara villages, Orange Flag by the Touring Club
As in Lunigiana, also in this valley, there is a swarm of medieval villages characterized by imposing defensive structures. Here, the Republic of Genoa built a fortified garrison that controlled the valley and the course of the river over the centuries, an important communication route towards Genoa as an alternative to the sea. In some, a well-preserved fortified structure can still be seen, even in the urban layout. Generally, the villages are divided into “low” and “high” Val di Vara. The lower Vara is the most populated, easily reachable by car from the city of La Spezia and from the sea of the Cinque Terre, from which they are separated by the hilly coastline. The villages of the Cinque Terre originate on these hills and from the valley itself. The trekking or e-bike routes between the valley and the sea are fascinating. The villages of the upper Vara are those furthest from the city and located at higher altitudes, close to the Centocroci pass, which connects Liguria to Emilia, passing through this valley. There are many fortified villages rich in history and legends, an actual constellation of inhabited centers that peep out from the green expanse. This part of the Val di Vara is ideal for a walk in the greenery, for example, to look for some fresh air in the summer, which includes a touch of history, legend, and, last but not least, good food.
Varese Ligure, with its circular structure, and Brugnato, for its suggestive historical testimonies, are counted among the Orange Flags of the Touring Club. Both are located in the upper valley.
The main lower Val di Vara towns
Calice al Cornoviglio
Riccò del Golfo
The main upper Val di Vara towns
Borghetto di Vara
Rocchetta di Vara
Typical and Slow food in Val di Vara
The excellent Val di Vara cuisine is closely linked to the dense agricultural fabric of this territory, both in the products and in the cooking uses steeped in ancient tradition. The most straightforward “herbs” harvested from the fields are the raw material for the savory fillings for rice-based savory pies, stuffed vegetables, and ravioli, enclosed in soft sheets of carefully pulled dough. The croxetti are the typical pasta of ancient manufacture, as well as the testimony of the Genoese culture of the entire area. Particularly in the summer, the numerous village festivals that make typical products the protagonists of evenings full of flavor are not to be missed. The forest is the great protagonist of the typical ingredients, particularly the mushrooms and chestnuts, which color the autumn strolls in the valley with their warm shades.
In Brugnato, you can be caught in the fragrant scent of canestrelli with an aniseed aroma that often spreads in the village’s streets. While the Organic valley has encouraged the production of delicious meats, great cheeses, honey, and jams characterized by genuine flavors and sustainable production processes.
Slow Food Presidia has flourished in this context of peasant gastronomic culture, collecting and safeguarding precious traditions and biodiversity. The protagonists of the local principals are:
- The farmers and producers themselves.
- Great connoisseurs of the territory.
- Custodians of the stories handed down over the generations.
What to do in Val di Vara
Val di Vara is the perfect destination for those who love being in nature, breathing clean air, and admiring extensive panoramas. The numerous paths that climb up the hills and can reach the villages of the Cinque Terre are ideal for outdoor e-bike trekking activities. Furthermore, the routes can be the way to choose one of the many themes (food, sport, religion) with which the Val di Vara can be explored.
8 things to try in Val di Vara
- Taste Croxetti
- Visit the round town of Varese Ligure
- Try the Brugnanto canestrelli
- Climb over the hills to the sea by bicycle
- Discover religious history on foot by trekking among the sanctuaries of the Val di Vara
- Explore the ancient Ligurian’s history with a trekking trail.
- A dive in the Vara river, for example, in Stadomelli
- Eat at a local food festival