The Alpi Apuane are a small but, extremely rugged range of mountains located along the northern Tuscan coast from Viareggio to La Spezia. They range in elevation from 1,200 m to nearly 2,000 m in height. This mountain range is a metamorphic core complex associated with the Northern Apennines, although it is further west and disconnected from the rest of the Apennine range by the deep valley of Garfagnana. This range is primarily made up of marble, with other metamorphic carbonate rocks and various sedimentary layers also present. Marble is formed when limestone is placed under great pressures and temperatures, which causes it to melt and recrystallize. Marble, like limestone, dissolves when in contact with water containing acids.
The forests of the lower Alpi Apuane consist of chestnuts and holm oak stands. Higher up, the forests change over to scrubby beech woods and scattered white firs. At about 1,500 m, subalpine grassy meadows and heath moorlands open up to the mountain summits. The Alpi Apuane gets very little snow, despite their high elevations, as the proximity to the sea moderates the temperatures. So, while 1,800 m elevation in the Northern Apennines may have two meters of snow on the ground, the same elevation in the Alpi Apuane may only have a dusting. Nonetheless, if you choose to hike in the winter, be aware that ice from melting snow or rain that has frozen overnight may cover the trail and make already difficult hikes all the more dangerous.
The Alpi Apuane is one of the world’s leading sources of high-grade marble. In fact, the quarries (cave) of Carrara have supplied the statue-quality white marble to artists and engineers for over 2,000 years. The sculptures of Michelangelo, the marble façades of ancient Roman buildings, and great cathedrals throughout Europe, have all used marble from these quarries. Today, you can hike in and amongst these active marble quarries (Hikes 25, 26, and 27), as well as, on top of the natural exposed substrate which has not been harvested. From a distance, the tailings from these quarries, such as on Monte Corchia, look like glaciers running down the mountain slopes because they are so white. In fact, the marble is so abundant that the breakwaters and sea walls in Marina di Pisa (Hike 11) are made of huge blocks of lower quality marble, not suitable for buildings or sculptures.
There are also many other metamorphic and sedimentary layers that are intermixed with the marble core. A kaleidoscope of colors are present, including silvery schists, green slates, red mudstones, brown shales, white quartz veins, and a variety of multi-colored gneisses. This is especially evident on Monte Fiocca (Hike 25).