The grand-ducal road climbing up the Val Fegana and crossing the watershed of the Apennines at Foce Del Giovo has to be one the greatest engineering feats of it time. The reason for it construction in 1823 was for the Duke of Modena, Francesco IV, to connect his possessions this side of the Apennines with those of Emilia without having to pass through the Grand Duchy of Tuscany’s territory.
It must be remembered that before unification Italy was a patchwork of little states – each state had bits separated from it without much rhyme or reason. There could have been far easier routes decided for crossing the Apennines – indeed, the standard national route near me is the one that takes one over the passo dell ’Abetone – but the priority of the Duke or Modena was a political one – to keep within his own domains and not to trespass on potentially hostile territory.
The Via Ducale is graded beautifully to allow four-horse carriages to ascend from sea-level to a height of almost 6,000 feet, (1674 metres), without too much effort on the part of the horses. The road includes several very fine stone bridges andf beautifully laid walls.
Unfortunately, the Via Ducale was never much used for its original purpose since much of it lies under snow and ice for a good four months of the year. It was a white elephant, in fact: white elephant twice over, since this was the same route that Hannibal had taken on his campaign to conquer Italy with his African elephants and, presumably, the elephants, when crossing in winter, would have been white – coated with snow!
The present condition of the grand ducal road is far better on the Tuscan side that on the Emilia Romagna side. Being unmetalled it should only be attempted with a four-wheel drive vehicle although the gradients are gentler than one might think.
I’m probably too late to collect the myrtles which are at their height in August. Hearing of the first snow falls on the Alps, however, it’s important to try to get to Foce a Giovo before it get snowed under for another four months.
In any case one of the main reasons for getting to the top, apart from the wonderful views one gets from there, is to walk footpath number 00 which is the main Apennines crinale or ridge path. In theory this path leads one over the whole length of the Apennines from Liguria to Calabria and remains one of the finest long-distance paths in Europe, indeed in the world.
The photographs below date from autumn of 2005 when we first discovered these magical places.
Ps Montefegatesi holds a festa della montagna along the grand ducal road in October. For more details see my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/06/10/festa-della-montagna-a-pian-dalbero/