Following the signs for Colonatta, you will see options for marble tours and cave di marmo — including the Fantiscritti marble quarry — where some of Michelangelo’s marble was sourced. Guided tours into the mountain unveil cavernous 100-foot high marble-walled rooms that could double as an evil-underworld lair - if only James Bond were here. Actually, 007 was here, getting chased in his shredded Aston Martin around these quarry roads in the opening scene of Quantum of Solace.
It’s pertinent to point out that once you get up into the mountains, you’re sharing these small roads and tunnels with large marble-moving machinery, less-so on weekends. It’s not dangerous if you’re paying attention, (and not blazing the hairpins like Bond) but also be cognizant of the narrow turns and presence of gravel and pulverized marble. Incidentally, a bi-product of marble production is calcium carbonate powder and used in everything from antacids to toothpaste.
Just a few kilometers beyond the Fantiscritti quarry is the marble town of Colonnata, where the famous Lardo di Colonnata is made. Although it sounds unpleasant, the pork fatback is cured in marble vats with salt, rosemary and other spices and is considered a delicacy. (For you foodies, it’s included in the Ark of Taste and part of the Slow Food movement.) Served thinly sliced, it’s enjoyed as an antipasto with some pane Toscano (Tuscan bread), vino (wine) or birra (beer). Lardo played an important part in providing sustenance to the hard working miners and slaves dating back to Roman times. Today, Colonnata is a remote tourist destination prized for its views and restaurants featuring lardo. Many restaurants will offer more than just lardo, and a menu of other options is commonly posted outside for those not ready for the cherished local dish.
Heading back down the hill toward Carrara, there is a yellow house with attractive grounds and tables located on a bluff. This outpost is another producer of lardo — which you can purchase along with other salumi (Italian cured meat) at the on-site shop — and enjoy with a spectacular view.
If the higher-altitude food isn’t appealing, Carrara and its old cobblestone streets offer many eating options. Strolling the enchanting main square, Piazza Alberica, the prominent statue atop a flowing mountain-spring fountain commands your attention - but you never know what sculpted marble art installations might be on display.
The next destination is just over the hill in Massa, which is conveniently connected to Carrara by an inland road. The Castello Malaspina di Massa, is an imposing castle that overlooks the underlying city of Massa, the lower plains and Tyrrhenian Sea coastline. The current name is derived from the marquises Malaspina— the noble family of Fosdinovo, who controlled the land further north where their namesake castle is located— but took control of the Massa castle in the 15th century. The castle’s fortified location is said to date as far back as 882 AD, and its strategic position served to fight pirates from the coast and the sea. The castle is open to the public for a fee and brochures describing its rich history are available in English.
Further north near Sarzana, the Castello di Fosdinovo is also worth a visit. It also features a bed and breakfast, which most certainly is separated from the living quarters still used by family descendents. This hilltop fortress is said to be indestructible, having survived the ravages of time, earthquakes, and the turbulent middle-ages. The walls all around are befitted with open gun loops for cannons and other firearms. And what castle with such a tumultuous history wouldn’t be complete without a torture chamber?