Posted by: Debra Kolkka | August 22, 2021

Hannibal was here

A few days ago I went with friends high in the mountains above Bagni di Lucca to Foce a Giovo or Passo al Giovo. At 1674 metres above sea level it is the highest Apennine pass in the Tuscan-Emilia Apennines. It is on the border of Tuscany and Emilia Romagna. The pass is surrounded by stunning mountains, including Monte Rondinaio (1966 metres above sea level) and Monte Giovo (1991 metres above sea level).

On the way up, near the Orrido di Botri, we stopped to let some goats with their herder and dogs pass on their way home from foraging in the forest. They live close fo the entrance to the Orrido and you can buy the cheese made from their milk at the house near the path. The canyon is a popular place for adventurous climbers brave enough to take on the cold mountain stream water.

The road up to Foce a Giovo is known as Strada del Duchi or Via Ducale. In 1818 Maria Luisa di Borbone, Duchess of Lucca and  Francesco IV, Duke of Modena, wanted to build a road across the Apennines to connect Lucca and Modena without having to go through the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. It was a great deal of work to avoid taxes.

Construction began in 1819, starting from Fornoli (one of the villages that make up Bagni di Lucca) at the bridge over the Lima river. The road was completed in 1829. It proved difficult to maintain, particularly in winter because of the heavy snowfalls, when it became passable only on foot and even then only on clear days. It was largely abandoned in 1847.

The paved road towards the pass ends at the Rifugio Casentini. It then becomes rocky, full of holes and is extremely difficult to drive on. I think a 4 wheel drive car would be necessary. In places it is possible to see the cobblestones probably from the original road. It must have taken lots of strength and fortitude to build the road without the use of modern equipment. I feel for the people who did it.

We drove through beautiful beech forest.

The views from the road once out of the forest are spectacular. The day was a bit hazy and clouds came and went, but it was wonderful to look over this beautiful part of Tuscany.

You can see the steep edge of the Orrido di Botri below.

As we came towards Foce a Giovo we could see the stone building, Casello del Guardafili. It was once occupied by the men who looked after the electrical lines before they were abandoned because the fierce wind and bad weather made it too difficult to maintain them. My friends told me it is now privately owned.


There is a very cute statue on the roof.

On the pass is a small chapel dedicated to the Madonna del Giovo.

There is a gravel road going towards Modena and several paths branch off taking walkers to the mountains. You can’t see them in the photos, but there were walkers dotted along the mountain tops.


Wild blueberries grow on the hillsides…they are tiny but delicious.

We spotted some thistle like flowers growing as well.

There is a walking path up to Passo di Annibale, Hannibal’s Pass. According to some scholars Hannibal of Carthage might have crossed the Apennines here in 217BC from what is now Modena, with his troops and the last of his elephants.

If my good friend Tina is correct they went from there down to the Lima river and spent some time in the thermal waters of Bagni di Lucca…long before it was Bagni di Lucca. I like to think she is correct. I can see the path they would have taken from my apartment.

While we were on the path towards Modena there was an accident. A man fell from his bike and broke his collar bone. Getting an ambulance up there would be difficult and taking the poor man down the bumpy road would be painful. (I know about this) We watched as a helicopter arrived. He was carefully placed in the back and whisked off to hospital.

On the way back my friends pointed out some shallow holes in the ground in the forest. Before refrigeration these holes were dug to collect water which would freeze into solid ice. It was then cut into blocks and sold to people further down the mountain to keep their food cool. Once I was shown one I spotted them all over the place.

I am delighted I was able to visit Foce a Giovo and see Hannibal’s pass. Thank you my friends for including me in you day out…and the picnic lunch. Despite the bumpy drive up there I am very keen to go back in autumn to see the change of colour…there will be photos.


  1. Hi Debra, What an interesting post. So much history…the ice holes in the forest are new information for me, but they absolutely makes sense. I hope you get to return in the autumn as well. I was just thinking about you the other day and how long you have been in Italy now. I hope you are doing well.

    • I have been here since February last year! There are worse places to be. I am looking forward to autumn. Summer is never my favourite season. It has been too hot to do anything much. Things should cool down in a couple of weeks and I will get out and about a bit more.

  2. Really enjoyed reading this article and seeing the photos ofsuch a beautiful region. I can almost smell the fresh clean air.

    • The mountains around here are magnificent. It was great to be in the cool air.

  3. What a great drive Deb. The mountains are spectacular and the cooler fresh air would have been a lovely relief from the summer in Ponte a Serraglio. Is this your first visit to the area?

    • I have been to the rifugio before but not up as far as the Foce a Giovo. It is going to be gorgeous in autumn. The cool air was wonderful.

  4. Italy; so rich in history. Fab photos! Thanks Deb

    • The layers of history here are amazing. I wonder if Hannibal really did cross the mountains there.

  5. Fantastic post Deb! Amazing place 🐐❤️

    • A goat sighting is always good…as you know. It was a great day out. Lucky me having friends who know the area.

  6. Fabulous post Debra, thank you!
    Very best wishes,

    • There is so much to see around Bagni di Lucca!

  7. So many interesting places to visit! Thank you for sharing

    • The mountains are full of delightful surprises.

  8. What an interesting & wonderful Post. All the photos so enjoyable to see – love the handsome goats! The road & drive up there looks hair raising & feel sorry for the helicopter pilot as well as patient. We really enjoyed all so thanks Debra. PS Autumn will be spectular.

    • It was a great day out. It was lovely to be in the cool mountain air after the heat we have been experiencing. The road is the worst I have ever been on, but it was worth it to get to the top.

  9. So interesting…so many different terrains here in Italy and surely this offers a deep appreciation of why the regions are so unique. I’m not much of a “mountain” person/hiker or a “mountain goat” – but enjoyed this and I would bet that the cheese is delicious!
    Grazie for sharing…

    • I can’t walk up and down hills yet, but I would like to do a couple of the tracks one day. I know most people love goat’s cheese, but I can’t eat it! It is one of the few things I really don’t like.
      I love the mountains around here and was delighted to get to Foce a Giovo.

  10. So much history in what appears to be just another mountain pass! Very interesting. I love the anecdotes you mention in this post, including that shallow hole to make ice in the past. Learning about how people used to do things and make stuff a long time ago often leaves me fascinated and end up with more questions.

    • I love learning about our lovely mountains. I wonder if Hannibal crossed there. The history of the road is fascinating too!

  11. Debra, as always full of wonderful information. We took ourselves up there a few years ago, not sure our humble hire car would make it. We were heartened to find holiday homes of all sorts on the road up. Then we settled to have a feast of the blueberries and also found a few wild strawberries. congratulating ourselves on our intrepid adventure we were surprised by the arrival of a couple of vans. Men descended with tubular basket things on their backs ands we gradually realise they were professional blueberry pickers using those shovel/rakes you can see in old hardware stores.
    i’m afraid your way home is not looking hopeful yet but as you say italy is a good place to be

    • My friend had one of those rake/shovel things and got a few berries, but most of the accessible bushes had been picked over. I was happy to eat a few I picked by hand.

  12. Wow that is a very beautiful, historic site. Imagine the thousands (millions?) of feet that have walked across the cobblestones. How are you feeling nowadays Debra?

    • I love the fact that this area has so much history. I am OK here in Italy. I would love to be able to come home, but hotel quarantine is not for me. I will wait it out.

  13. I think you’ve led me to my next hike! Grazie!

    • You could drive up to the rifugio and walk from there. It is a reasonable hike, but I’m sure you can do it.

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