The Antro del Corchia cave system makes for a fascinating excursion. It’s set in the Apuan Alps Natural Park in northern Tuscany, not far from the Versilia coast.

Mount Corchia underground cave system is one of the biggest in Europe, and easily the largest cave system in Italy. There are over 60 kilometres of caves and tunnels that go as deep as 1200 metres into the earth. The Apuan Alps are a great spot for hiking but also for exploring the interior.

Although they’ve been around for over 5 million years, the system of caverns in the Antro del Corchia are a recent discovery, made entirely by accident. Apparently a local found the caves while he was looking for new veins of marble. The story has it that he realised what was beneath him when he felt a rush of wind coming from a small hole in the ground.

The Antro del Corchia caves:

This cave system was an important geological find. The Antro del Corchia caverns are some of the most extensive in the world, its network of underground caves and ravines run for over over 70 kilomtres (43 miles) underground. But the process of discovery is still very much underway.

Its chalky rocks are highly porous and, having been slowly dissolved over the centuries by rainwater, they have created an incredible underground maze filled with stalactites and stalagmites of all sizes and forms.

The Antro del Corchia presents only a few small openings to the outside world which explains why very few traces of human or animal dwellings have been found inside.The uncontaminated environment is of significant scientific value and has attracted as much attention from the scientific community as it has from tourists and speleologists.

The Antro is a kind of natural archive. Scientists analyze the rocks to study Earth’s climate – going back up to three million years to the time the Apuan Alps lifted from the seabed.

Visiting the Antro del Corchia

The Antro del Corchia is near Levigliani di Stazzema, between Lucca and Massa. The (very steep!) drive up the mountain road to Levigliani is a sight in itself. Once you’re there, walk up to the church and buy tickets for the tours, which take place throughout the day. The bus takes you further up the mountain to the start of the guided tour with a local guide. This takes about 2 hours and temperatures average 7 degrees, so bring something warm to wear and some rubber soled footwear.

Despite its small size, the town of Levignani has two museums that tell the story of its natural heritage: the Museum of the Argento Vivo (Live Silver) and the Museum of Pietra Piegata (Bent Rock) dedicated to the marble industry.