The route known today as the Via degli Abati was created at the beginning of the 7th century by the monks of the monastery founded by St Columbanus at Bobbio in 613.
The monastery was a major European cultural and religious centre and possessed a famous scriptorium in the Middle Ages.
From Bobbio, the monks used this route to reach Pontremoli; the road was used both as a pilgrim route (from the Lunigiana, in fact, you continue to Rome), and for economic reasons. Borgo Val di Taro was perhaps the most important and remunerative possession of the monastery of Bobbio, as well as being a stopping point and staging post for changing horses.
In the past the road was also used by Irish clerics on pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint Columbanus.
History tells us that this was the principal route used at least up to the 10th century, after which this crossing gradually disappeared and its place was taken by the Via Francigena, the mediaeval road par excellence.
Along the 125 km of the route of the Via degli Abati today, coinciding for 80 per cent with the historic route, there are four important towns: Bobbio, Bardi, Borgotaro and Pontremoli.
Today the road can be followed on foot, on horseback or on mountain bike. It takes seven days to make the journey on foot.
The maps of the CAI (Italian Alpine Club) that show the route are the 0, the 2 and the 3, and the whole route is marked according to CAI specifications.
Details of the route
Starting from the Ponte Gobbo (Humpback bridge) at Bobbio, Porcile, Coli (first stop), Magrini, Faraneto, Piscina, Aserei, Nicelli, Mareto (second stop), Bolderoni, Guglieri, Vigonzano, Crocelobbia, Farini, Canova, Groppazzolo, Groppallo (third stop), Bruzzi, (Boccolo dei Tassi), San Siro di Bardi and Bardi (fourth stop). From Bardi, Chiappa Gravago, Bre, Barigazzi, Pieve, Osacca (fifth stop). Caffaraccia, San Pietro, Borgotaro (sixth stop). Borgotaro, the road next to the cemetery, Valleto, Valdena, climb up the Strada Borgallo, Fanfara, Cervara (seventh stop), Morana, Vignola, Pontremoli.
Cervara and Osacca do not offer possibilites of overnight accommodation for the moment and therefore the trek must be planned without considering these as stopping places.
This itinerary can be followed as a non-competitive hike organised in spring by the Associazione Lupi dell'Appennino. Notwithstanding the physical demands of such a hike, every year it attracts a larger number of participants.
The 5th "Ultratrail" was held on the 5 and 6 May 2010. www.lupidappennino.com and www.theabbotsway.com
The Associazione Lupi dell'Appennino has published 4 maps, scale 1:25000, specific to the route of the "Via degli Abati", which can be requested from the Tourist Office at Borgo Val di Taro (Parma) e-mail: email@example.com