The Via Vandelli is a monumental road connecting Modena and Massa. It was the first carriage road in Europe and visits beautiful mountains, enchanting valleys, hidden wonders and unexpected little churches. The total length of the route is about 170 kilometres (105 mi), divided into seven stages.
The elevation gain is challenging, with more than 5,000 metres (16,400 ft) of climbing. You’ll tackle the Passo del Lagadello on the Tuscan-Emilian ridge and the Passo della Tambura in the Apuan Alps, both at an altitude of over 1,600 metres (5,200 ft). For this reason, you’ll need to be physically prepared. You don’t need advanced technical skills, special equipment or much experience though.
The Via Vandelli is the legendary road of the Duchy of Este, the first road of the Enlightenment, built to cross the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines and the Apuan Alps from the Modenese plains to the Tyrrhenian Sea. The ancient Via Vandelli was constructed in the mid-18th century to connect Modena to Massa. In 1741, when the Duke of Modena and Reggio Francesco III d'Este arranged the marriage between his son and the heir to the Duchy of Massa, effectively unifying the two kingdoms. They decided to build a new road to connect Modena to the new outlet on the Tyrrhenian Sea. The Abbot Domenico Vandelli, geographer, engineer, and mathematician, was tasked to build it.
One of the most fascinating places along the entire Via Vandelli route is the passage above the Vagli dam. A ghost town, Fabbriche di Careggine, hides at the bottom of the lake. A village of blacksmiths, and very prosperous in the 18th century thanks to the passage of the Via Vandelli, the village which was submerged by the waters of the lake and has only re-emerged three times since. The most spectacular and best-preserved section of the Via Vandelli is the one between the Apuan Alps and the Passo del Monte Tambura.
As for the best time to undertake the Via Vandelli, I’d recommend avoiding the winter months when the route may be difficult due to weather conditions. The first kilometres take place in a very hot and sultry summer plain, but the rest of the route runs mainly in the mountains, in cooler forest areas. Since a quarter of the Via Vandelli runs above 1,000 metres (3,300 ft), summer is the best time to walk.
Along the route, you’ll find B&Bs, agritourisms, hotels, guesthouses, and some campsites and refuges. Make sure you know where you’ll be staying for all the stages before you set off, booking accommodation in advance. I suggest paying particular attention to Rifugio Nello Conti, which is the only accommodation at Campaniletti at the end of Stage 6. Finding places to buy food, and drinking fountains to fill your water bottle is easy. The route passes through numerous villages with restaurants, shops and anything else you might need. However, I still recommend you take food and water with you for the higher altitude parts.
Modena and Massa both have railway stations, making the Via Vandelli easily accessible by public transport. If you prefer to travel by car, you’ll find plenty of parking in Modena. You can easily catch a train back from Massa at the end of your adventure.
The Via Vandelli is an epic adventure from the Emilian plain to the Tyrrhenian Sea through breathtaking landscapes and legendary history. Happy walking!
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Last updated: August 16, 2023
Plan your own version of this adventure in the multi-day planner based on the stages suggested in this Collection.
Here you are at the beginning of the adventure. The stage that awaits you today is quite easy. Despite the length, the uphill route does not present great difficulties. Along the way you will be able to admire breathtaking views of the hills and gullies, while you will spend most of the section along…
The second stage of the Via Vandelli is slightly more demanding, but offers spectacular views from above. Along the way, you will have the opportunity to admire the strange and wonderful Salse di Puianello, which are mud volcanoes, and you will be breathless at the views from Monte Pizzicano. Upon arrival…
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The third stage of Via Vandelli has very similar characteristics to the second. Highlights include the Castle of Montecuccolo, the Sanctuary of Cà di Chino and the Ponte del Diavolo.
Starting from the center of Pavullo, you quickly reach the airport, where you take a cycle path that will lead you to a…
The intermediate stage of the Via Vandelli presents a route without great gradients, with the exception of the last kilometres. You will be at an altitude of over 1,000 meters for the entire stage. The stunning views begin to pile up as you head further into the mountains, with Passo Cento Croci and…
The fifth stage of the Via Vandelli is still a long stage, but there is good news: the difference in height is very little, which will allow you to rest your legs. This stage is characterized by water, as you will follow numerous streams that will lead you first to the Prà di Lama lake, then to the bridges…
The penultimate stage of the Via Vandelli is demanding as it has a significant uphill gradient. However, it is relatively short. Furthermore, the effort of the climb is amply repaid by the extraordinary panoramas and atmosphere of the high mountains. The strong points of this stage, and perhaps of the…
Here you are at the last stage of your adventure! The seventh and final stage of the Via Vandelli goes from the bell towers to Massa, from the heart of the Apuan Alps to the Palazzo Ducale di Massa and the sea. It's one of the shorter stages, and while it has significant elevation gain on the way down…
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