Thursday, October 18, 2018
Yesterday we went to bed and the waves were still crashing with a bit more force than the placid surf had presented on other days. This morning you would never have known anything had been going on: the sky was blue, the water crystal clear and calm. Our final day of walking in the general area of the Cinque Terre villages looked like it would be a lovely day to walk and take a boat ride back.
The easier group would take a far shorter and less challenging walk from Campiglia to Port Venere. The group tackling the harder option would have to first ascend paths from Riomaggiore to Campiglia and then follow the more difficult paths (avoiding a mountain road walk) that would take them to Port Venere too. We took the easier option. After taking a train to La Spezia the 10 of us doing the easier walk piled into taxis that drove up to the hilltop village of Campiglia. As we had ample time it made perfect sense to settle down for a mid-morning coffee break. After all, we had been en route for an hour or so even if it was by train and car. We finished our cakes and coffees and hoisted our packs at 10:20.
You leave the hilltop village by paved roads and forested paths that wander through the forests on the clifftops. It is easy walking. Now and then a view opens up and we were able to look out and down into the harbor where La Spezia resides.
After about 3km our widening forest roads and paths would take us to some type of installation. Maybe it has something to do with the navy. At this point our easy walk lead us onto a mountain road which we would follow, gently descending, for several kilometers. The sun beat down upon us, the high was 83F, as we walked along the dusty mountain road. At one point we had a good view of Campiglia to our west sitting up high above us.
It isn’t the most exciting road to walk down and we were probably lucky in our choice of lunch spot in a shaded curve that while out of the sun certainly had nothing to offer in the way of fine views.
In time our road intersected the Alte Via Golfo (High Gulf Way - the people tackling the harder walk would come down along that mountain trail).
We passed a small quarry and kept heading down. We still had some climbing to do. Leaving our mountain dirt road for a shady road that gently climbed and then following a short modestly steep trail we gained 40 meters in short order before picking up another road. By now we were within 1.5 miles of Porto Venere. We left the road for a descending mountain trail that steepened as we went. LIke so many trail in this region this one used steps to change elevation. We soon found ourselves sitting at a refuggio where you could buy a carafe of whine for 2 euros: many people did. Not long before reaching the refuggio we had passed a sign suggesting it would take 45 minutes to reach Port Venere from that point. If you see signs with place names and what looks like a distance remember that in mainland Europe a decimal number like that is in fact a time. It turns out that the 45 minutes is likely about right for an average. We plunged away from the refiuggio rapidly descending rough steps, sometimes very narrow , towards the sea. I think I got down in about an hour; Mom 45 minutes.
We still had well over an hour before our boat ride would commence. Ample time to enjoy a gelato and then stroll around the resort-like port. It was nice to just relax while waiting to board the boat. This may not have been the most exciting walk we have done but we enjoyed it nonetheless.
The boat ride back was a fine way to end the day. It might be best to think of the boat as a water taxi. It stops at all the Cinque Terre villages (not sure if it goes beyond Monterosso) and seems to have its home port at Porto Venere. However, it is definitely not a tour boat as the only announcements you are going to hear are very brief ones saying the boat is landing and leaving a village.
We rounded the point of Porto Venere with its fortress sitting on the bluff guarding the entrance to the harbor. The boat motored smoothly northwest along the coast. Small clutches of buildings dotted the mountainous coastline. Campiglia came into view. Other tiny settlements were passed. Somewhere up there, as many of these hamlets definitely do not have access to the sea, there must be roads.
Eventually Riomaggiore came into view. Many describe the villages of Cinque Terre as picturesque. I did not find that to be true while walking in the villages. They do look much prettier as they come into view from the boat. It also became clear why boats like ours cannot dock in anything other than pretty calm waters. We just sort of nose into a quayside, drop a gangplank, and passengers are disembarked and then embarked onto the boat. In remarkably short order we visited Riomaggiore, Monarola, Corniglia, and finally Vernazza where the entire HF group (the hard walking group had joined us) left the boat. I am not sure why we did not go all the way to the last village of Monterosso. Vernazza does seem to have more charm but it would have been nice to see all the villages from the sea and the timing as far as train to Bonassola goes doesn’t matter. We had nearly an hour to while away before catching our train at 18:30to Bonassola.
This was a long day as we had left the hotel a bit before 08:30 and did not return to it until about 19:00. A lot of travel time, a fair bit of waiting, and plenty of enjoyable walking or other sightseeing along the way.
Stats: The walk today was just over 8.9km long. We ascended 150 meters and descended 500 meters. Those ascent and descent numbers are considerably lower than we had been expecting. The overall length of the walk was shorter than expected too but by not as much. We took 48 minutes off from walking but were moving for 3 hours 47 minutes. Under direct sun shine, mostly when walking the mountain road for about 3.5km, the temperature rose to about 83F. It was easily 10 degrees cooler in the shade.
1 In the distance you can kind of see La Spezia.
2 Looking to the west and up towards Campiglia.
3 You start to get a sense of how large La Spezia is. Much bigger than we thought.
4 The numbers you see on this sign are not distances but time. “AVG” refers to the name of the route: Alte Via Golfo (High Gulf Way).
5 We have about a mile to go and about 650 feet to descend. We are heading to what you see (more or less). Lots of it irregular steps to trudge down.
6 The fortress at the headland of Porto Venere.
7 Little clusters of buildings, usually including a church, pop up all along the coastline. Most do not have access to the sea but we had a tough time spotting roads.
8 The collage shows the 4 Cinque Terre village we passed on our boat trip
Friday, October 12, 2018
(Yes, I am skipping day 4 for now. I will get to it in the next message).
Today was to be our fourth walking day. However, apparently when heavy weather threatens, the Cinque Terre National Park closes the coastal paths (wish I could find the website with that information). I am not sure we ever had heavy rains but the potential was certainly present and no doubt heavy weather is about if you just look at the pounding surf in the Cinque Terre villages like Vernazza and Monterosso (photos 2 and 3).
Instead of doing any walking most everyone , including us, went to La Spezia. The is a major town with a population of about 100,000 people. We found a contemporary art museum, a major fresh foods market, and what I hope will rate as the worst lunch of the entire trip. There are many other museums like a naval history museum but we did not check them out. After leaving La Spezia, we spent our afternoon checking out Vernazza and Monterosso before returning to Bonassola. Vernazza , like the other villages, may be small but it does not feel like it as two and three story buildings (maybe some are a bit taller) snuggle against each other running up and down the narrow streets that climb into the gorge the village sits in. I think the harbor is the prettiest we have seen with the protected pool (photo 1) and open cove (photo 2) making a great scene especially given the quality of the still wave-tossed seas.
We did not find the old town of Monterosso but did find a place for a nice coffee and a view of the pounding surf along Monterosso’s very long but narrow (far narrower than the beach at Levanto) beach. The headland you see in photo 3 is where we came from on our first walk. It is where old ruins of monasteries sit and a path full of irregular steps that on our first daybtook me just over a half hour to descend (Mom did it in about 20 minutes).
One last thought about today. I went down to the Bonassola beach around 17:30 to see how it compared today to the other beaches and previous days. The surf was certainly up. The water was not quite as green as it seemed in Vernazza and maybe the waves were breaking just a little less grandly on the outcrops of rocks. But as I walked back after taking photo 4 I did learn something else about the water here: it is still reasonably warm. In fact, I feel confident in saying the water, which some kids were splashing about in, was warmer here today than it felt yesterday under bright, much warmer, skies and calm surf at Levanto. After all, at Levanto I deliberately stepped into the sea while here it caught me by surprise and I did not flinch from cold just from the sudden fact of being a bit wet (got my shorts good
Thursday, October 11, 2018
On walk 2 we hiked between two of the Cinque Terre towns. That walk was notable for the seemingly thousands of rough-hewn steps of varying heights and widths that we had to ascend and descend. The views, when we had them, on the coastal path when it was level were lovely but we will likely remember the steps first and the views second. Therefore it is probably fair to say we wondered what a walk that worked its way through several hamlets in the area collectively known as Framura would be like.
I believe the town of Framura is made of five hamlets whose names I do not know. I know we passed through Setta and Costa but we passed through at least some of the other hamlets too. The hamlets grew from the top of the hills down towards the sea which seems backwards until you realize that the view from Costa provides lookouts superb views of both the sea and inland valleys.
Our hiking did not actually begin until 10:57. The reason we did not start earlier was because we were scheduled to have lunch at an agritourismo. We had the morning, a couple of hours, to spend in Bonassola. The town is quiet now that high tourist season is done. However, I have a feeling that even at the peak Bonassola would feel nicer to us than the Cinque Terre villages. We certainly are enjoying our chances to walk along the beach, promenade, and through the quiet streets of the town. That is pretty much what we did this morning. Along the way we got good close-up looks at a painting style that mimics real building stones. That is, a facade might look like brickwork until you run your hand over it and realize it is clever painting that has fooled your eye. It was a nice way to spend the bulk of the morning before catching the train for the very short, one stop, ride to Framura.
It is probably best to think of the walk as an urban walk. After all, the first 3km are along paved paths of one type or another that wind ever upward through the hamlets. For the most part when you are climbing you are doing it on steps. Joy of joys these steps are much more regular in design. But we still had to ascend well over 280 meters (Costa is at about 290m). That is a lot of steps and that means you feel it. I did.
Nice views of the rugged coastline came and went as we climbed. I am sure each hamlet has something to offer if you stop to check them out. The little playground at one, the coffee shop I think we passed in another, the watchtower of Costa.
We left Costa to go get lunch at the argritourismo. The walk changed. We had more ascending to do but the walk switched from paved paths to a dirt forestry road that continued to work its way up into the hills. It took about 20-25 minutes to reach the place and I know I enjoyed the change of walking from the climb up the paved paths to the forested mountain road. The eatery, a farm and restaurant, was a lovely place to sit down and have a leisurely lunch. Pesto pasta with potatos (a typical itialian dish) with string beans was what we were treated to. They provided home produced red and white wines too but I am no judge of those. The pasta was nice though I think I preferred the pesto pasta we had for one of our dinner courses at the Pomieri Hotel in Sicily. Our group managed to spend a good hour chatting and eating.
We still had two-thirds of the walk to do: about 7km. The walk took us around the top of the valley along an actual mountain trail. Completely enjoyable walking through the pine, cork and chestnut forest. We gradually descended towards a dirt mountain road that we would take for several kilometers winding our way down towards sea-level and the Framura train station. It was a lovely afternoon even though the sun did beat down upon us with great force. The temperature under the sun was in the low-mid 80s (under the sheltering canopies of the tables at lunch the temperature was easily 10 degrees F cooler). As we walked and talked (OK, I did little of the latter) some heavier clouds began to mass over the area of the train station. They just floated there and no rain came from them. They did make for a more stunning sky.
We reached the seaseide town a littel before 16:00. The last kilometer or so would treat us once more to steps. It would not be a proper walk in this part of Italy if you did not have steps of some type to climb up and down. We reached the train station at about 16:25. Our train would to arrive at 17:01. No one chose to walk the extra 3km through the old railway tunnel that now serves as a cycle and pedestrian path back to Bonassola. Given that our train was actually 10 minutes late it is likely we could have walked back to the hotel more quickly and spared our rears the uncomfortable benches at the train station. But I think everyone was happy to wait for the train and not pound the pavement anymore. It was an enjoyable walk. The best walk we have do so far at least in part because it featured a good dose of variety.
Stats: The walk ended up being about 10.3km long. It was a “circular walk” though hardly a circle in shape. That means our ascent and descent were effectively the same: about 340 meters. We spent two hours and ten minuts resting but I am confident an hour of that ws spent at our lunch stop. We actually were moving for about 3 hours and 20 minutes. Under the sun the temeprature soared to about 84F though in the shade it was certainly cooler. While clouds slowly moved in as the afternoon progressed I certainly never felt as if rain threatened (none came).
- Mom and Dad on the modest beach in Bonassola. The water is clear.
- Look carefully at three window on this building in Anzo . We think the top one is a painted window rather than a real window.
- Sure the tree is dead but still pretty.
- Coastal and inland views from Costa.
- Heading towards Framura. The dramatic sky looks more ominous than it is.
Overcast gave way to clear blue skies. With that change came greater heat but the humidity seemed far lower. We decided to do the easier walk which we felt would have better things to see and less climbing on steps. It turned out that the walk would have to be modified but I will get to that.
We hopped on the efficient though infrequent train for the short single stop run to Levanto where we picked up another train to go to Vernezza. This village was struck particularly hard during floods of 2011. We walked by a small stone chapel, looks more like a jail, that had been pretty much covered by mud and debris to its single-story roofline.
The defining feature of walks here is that they have to leave and enter the gorges the villages sit in. We climbed up steep roads that would quickly take us to the Cinque Terre coastal path. Rough cut steps took us up and up. Given we would ascend almost 200 meters that is a lot of steps. The path, when not climbing, is stone. I suppose it is a bit more than 4 feet wide and a wooden fence runs along the cliffside edge. That fence probably would not stop you from falling through but it should provide some comfort as a solid edge marker. Still I suspect if you are prone to worrying about heights this path could be a challenge. Views of the craggy coastline are quite good.
Up we went. The steps continued. The sweat poured off my body. It was certainly getting warmer as we mounted the uneven steps. Sometimes we passed through forests of trees of unknown types. Sometimes we passed people coming the other way or have people catch up to us. The views were becoming less frequent. The uneven steps with uncertain landings and varying widths seemed to becoming more frequent. Even for sighted people with depth perception I am sure they become tiresome. More than that for me. Down we went. More people came up from the village below. This path must be thronged during peak season. In time sounds of music drifted to us. I figured it was someone’s radio or stereo playing. Near the end of the path, certainly within 5 minutes of the paved road (which is still a few hundred meters downhill to the village), we found the musicians playing an accordian and something jingly. I recognized what they were playing at the time though I could not name it. At this point I can’t summon a melody to mind though I know if I hear it again I will have an “a ha” moment. Hard working buskers. I hope many others besides Dad gave them money.
It took just over 2 hours to walk between the two villages. The defining feature of the walk has to be the steps. The village of Corniglia feels much smaller than any of the others we have seen. Perhaps this is because unlike the other village Corniglia sits about 120 meters above sea-level. That must have impacted things. We strolled to a viewpoint, had gelato, and generally just sat for a time. While the village may be small it is still a busy. The coastal path to Monarolla unfortunately is closed due to landslides having made it impassable. I do not know when they happened but it seems to me this is something the village would want cleared up because it is quite clear this coastal path is a key feature of the tourism that drives these tiny villages.
As we were about to tramp down to the train station the people doing the tougher walk showed up. They had come from somewhere else. Must have been an inland somewhere else. They took the coastal path to Vernezza. We walked down to the train station. Guess what: we had to descend steps. Proper regular steps that were even decently marked so they were not a real chore for me. We still had several hundred steps to travel down as we descended about 75 meters to the train station.
For the next 3 hours we checked out the even busier villages of Monarola and Riomaggiore. The latter was busier and I think less enjoyable. Neither is a place I would really choose to visit for their own sake. We found a nice viewpoint after sitting just above the clear waters of the Ligore sea. It may be cool but clearly not chilly as people were swimming. Probably felt good given the temperature in the sun was easily in the high 70s and I think likley 80.
We watched masses of people, including huge groups including our first large Asian groups, move on by. We were glad to board the 16:30 train that took us back to our hotel. It lacks the shops and eateries of the fiveCinque Terre towns but not having all the people is a plus.
Stats: A clear and much warmer day today. The official walk between Vernezza and Corniglia was 3.9km. We climbed up about 181 meters and descended 124 meters. We walked through the villages and so no doubt extended all those numbers quite a bit. After all, we walked down to each harbor and up to some viewpoints so I’d not be surprised if we tacked on 2 to 2.5 miles. But I think we could have happily skipped Riomaggiore. Walking time was 2 hours and we took 30 minutes of breaks.
- Leaving Vernazza. Steps.
- We have arrived on Corniglia. Looking back you can see the cafe we pause at before starting our descent of countless rough-hewn steps.
- At the sea in Monarola
Wednesday, October 10, 2018
The festival of Roserio which I think is both a regligious festival and a commemoration of a battle fought in 1571 peeked with the fireworks display I have already written about. Live music blasted for another hour or so. I did not get a good long night of sleep. I got enough I suppose. We decided to tackle the longer walk that would take us from our hotel here in Bonassola to Monterossa via Levanto. The Cinque Terre,Five Lands, are towns that nestle in valleys of various sizes along the coast. Centuries ago they were trading ports and some were quite well enough indeed. Today the support of thriving tourist industry is crucial for their economies. Bonassola while nearby is not part of the five lands though it too has thrived though today its permanent population is perhaps 500 or so people (swells to over 5,000 during high tourist season).
If you don’t use a boat to get from village to village you have to climb up and to go from place to place. The mountains rise 12-1500 feet. Romans used the paths we would follow thousands of years ago. I hope they made their steps a bit more even.
We left under mostly sunny skies at 09:50. Our group had 9 people including our leader Sandra. We walked along the streets of Bonassola before turning uphill on narrow roads. Those became more alleyways before changing to paths of dirt and stone-hewn steps. We began to seriously ascend out of the valley. The views were actually not that good as it was hazy. In time we finished the climb and were on the ridge that separates Bonassola and Levanto. Time to drop back down. Steps and sometimes stony ground that couldn’t decide which way to lean. SLow going for me though your average hiker won’t find the descent really that challenging though even they will curse the uneven heights of the rough steps. We clearly were not in a hurry as we walked down to the beachfront of Levanto. We had made a minor mistake early on and taken a break or two along the way so it was 11:20 and we had only gone about 3km beofre taking a coffee break.
We would soon leave the much busier village and begin our second and far lengthier climb. Levanto sits in a deeper and larger valley than many of the villages I think. We began our climb up the narrow dirt path, including rough steps, and now and then views would open up showing us where we had come from. A bit hazy and hardly eye-popping but you get a sense of the terrain.We continued on up. Sweat poured off some of us as the humidity seemed to rise with the heat even as clouds filled the sky. Occassional showers of rain caused us to put rain-gear on and remove it minutes later. We continued up and slightly inland heading southeasterly towards Col Bagari.
We found a spot with a not-half-bad view back towards Levanto for lunch. The view was better than lunch itself. Maybe Mom and Dad’s pizza-like slice were alright but my bread with onions was nothing special. Mere fuel.
We continued working our way around the mountains, tending to ascend, as the light showers resumed and then faded away. In time we reached the highpoint of the walk atCol Bagari. We stood at about 360 meters above sea-level and figured we had about 4km to go to reach Monterossa which is at sea-level. The trail started to gently descend on generally good tread with some stones. As the clouds burned away and the fly population seemed to increase the trail became more sandy. We were following trail 581 which is frequently blazed. Our path was taking us out to the top of a headland and now and then we could see water on both sides. To our west, starting into the sun, you couldn’t see much but looking the other way the water was a brilliant blue sitting in the cove where no doubt Monterosso is located.
We passed the ruins of an ancient abbey and then the descent, for me, slowed down. The gentle sandy trail changed to one full of rough hewn stone steps. Steps of different heights, different widths, with uncertain ground below each step. It took 32 minutes to go down all those steps. I understand Mom was only waiting for about 5 minutes (seems hard to believe). We joined a paved road that continued to wind down the mountain past homes built into the side of the mountain. In about 20 minutes we reached the train station in what is clearly a very busy tourist town. Our walk was done. We were happy with our first walk. It had a variety of views and terrain.
Stats: 11.2km walk. Ascent and descent were 536 meters. We took a lot of breaks on this walk: 93 minutes. we walked for 4 hours 54 minutes. Weather was overcast with occassional showers during the early afternoon that gave way to sunshine later on. It was humid with a high temperature that probably touched 75F.
- Heading down into Levanto.
- It looks like Levanto has a nice beach which I suspect we will return to later in the week.
- Leaving Levanto we first had to climb its streets. Of course, that means steps. When the steps in town were left behind we would climb rough-hewn stone steps on dirt paths that would climb out of the valley.
- We have quite a bit of climbing to still do but you can how a town is squeezed in between valleys.
- Looking back from our lunch break. Not far from the walk’s high point at Col Bagari.
- We have been descending for a while now and it is about to get nasty as we leave the ruins of an old monetary. This is actually one of the last really good views as the descent is surrounded by trees.
Monday, October 8, 2018
Taking the train from Florence to Pisa was pretty straightforward. Once we squeezed through the teeming throngs of people in the large train station in Florence and boarded the train things went quickly. The train was not quite as comfortable as the ones in Sicily (bathroom was much better/cleaner) but the about-an-hour trip went by quickly. We arrived pretty much right when we were supposed to arrive and were able to put our luggage in storage so we could explore Pisa without hauling extra bags around with us.
Finding your way to the Leaning Tower of Pisa (Torre Pendante) is easy with the help of Google Maps. The tower, and other associated buildings, is 1.8km awy and the walk is simple. We soon crossed the Arno River (yes, the same river that flows through Florence) over the Mezzo bridge where we saw numerous vintage cars and people dressed in clothing dating from centuries ago. We never did find out why. We strolled down a pedestrian only shopping street, through some piazzas with buildings sporting intricately-etched facades, and along some quiet streets that felt like they must be where resident Pisans reside. Then as we entered a final piazza the tower rose into view over the lower buildings. From that vantage point I could just make out the famous tilt. When we entered the area where the tower sits it became easier to see. The Leaning Tower of Pisa sits, along with the cathedral and baptistry, in a large grassy area. Hundreds of people were milling about but it did not really feel overwhelming. We were able to gaze at the tower without feeling as though we were being pushed about by crowds. I think it looked even better under the cloudy skies as it rose its 55 meters into the sky tilting noticeably to the right.
My understanding is construction of the tower began in the 13th century. It was not finished until the mid-15th with a break of nearly 100 years because of fighting between Pisa and its rivals.The tower began to lean almost from the start. The ground on one side was too soft and the foundations were not properly built. If I understand what I’ve read correctly that century-long construction pause gave the tower time to settle, which helped ease the lean somewhat, and prevented it from toppling over when work resumed. Until attempts starting late in the 20th century to stabiliize the tower, it was leaning at about 5.5 degrees. Today the Leaning Tower of Pisa tilts at 3.99 degrees. I do not know if you feel that tilt if you go inside and climb the 300 steps to the top: we did not buy tickets to do that.
It is a lovely buildings but the tower doesn’t stand alone. The Pisa Cathedral and baptistry stand nearby (a baptistry is the part of a cathedral where baptisms are done but this is a separate building ; a very substantial one).They are worth looking at in their own right.
We worked our way away from the Tower’s piazza in time to find our way back. We found a nice place to eat, Il Capoldagio, just before a modest shower began. The canopies did a not-quite-perfect job of sheltering us but the meal was good so the occassional rain spatter was just a small nuisance.
We still had a couple of hours before we needed to go to the airport to find the rest of the HF group so we continued making loops cris-crossing the Arno. Our wanderings took us to the church of the Thorn (Santa della Spina I believe). The church changed its name in 1333 when it supposedly acquired a thorn from Christ’s crown of thorns. So the story goes. It is a pretty looking small church sitting near the edge of the Arno. Its current location isn’t where it first sat because it was moved, not sure when, away from the river. It is still quite close. Very pretty.
We would eventually work our way back to the train station where the PisaMover, single driver-less cars that zip along a track between downtown Pisa and the airport , quickly ferried us to the airport. Time to wait, have a coffee, and wait some more. Our hours in Pisa worth well spent.
Perhaps a half-hour late the HF group arrived and by 18:30 we had been shepherded to a waiting bus for the 90 minute drive to our hotel in Bonassola where a late (for us) dinner and later fireworks show (see previous post) awaited us.
- The Leaning Tower of Pisa (Torre Pendante) rising some 55 meters into the sky. My understanding is the lower edge is actually only 2 feet lower than the higher edge at the top. As you look at the tower that surely doesn’t appear to be so.
- Our first crossing of the Arno.
- The Pisa Baptistry.
- Cathedral and Tower under overcast skies that look a bit more dramatic than they actually are. Personally, I think they enhance the view in a way a clear blue sky may not have done.
- The church of the Thorn sits alongside the Arno River. The pink stone (marble)is intricately etched and statues including gargoyles, the Madonna and child, sit high on the building too.
Sunday, October 7, 2018
We arrived with a bit of a surprise waiting for us here in Bonassola, Italy. We had a good day in Pisa which I will write about later. However, it was a long day and we did not reach our hotel, Hotel delle Rose, until about 20:00. But after dinner and settling down we were startled, even though we knew it was coming, by the fireworks display that started around 22:45. The video only gives you a measly sense of the quality of the display. This is especially true of the audio which comes off weak. As I sat on the fourth floor terrace the huge rolling booms, more than thunder, rolled over us and echoed off the mountains that rise a few hundred meters from the sea. Toss in the cuff chuff sound as fireworks launched from the mortars on the beach. The show is part of a festival that commemorates a battle that was thought in 1571. I think it is also a religious festival.
I want to correct a possible mis-impression about the food we have been having. While it is true that we have been underwhelmed by our lunches and some of our dinners have been merely adequate some of what we have been treated to has been very good indeed. For example, at the Pomieri Hotel , where service was very attentive and good, we had two dinners. It was a set menu but what they brought out for each course was well prepared and tasty. The meal starts with a soup dish. To an American eye it might not be a large amount of soup but do not let that worry you as it is sumptuous and to be followed by 2 more hot courses before you get to dessert. On the first night we had pumpkin soup which I found quite good and a perfect way to start a meal especially as I am sure I was feeling like I was more than ready for a hot bite to stoke the furnace. That was followed, again a modest-sized portion, by a pasta dish. They refer to it as the first course, the first course after the appetizer - soup in this case. We had a pasta with meat sauce. Flavorful and not so large that you feel stuffed after finishing it. The next course, the second course after the soup, was a cheese omelet of sorts and I think something else though I do not recall what now. Again tasty, modest in size and leaving you with a pleasing sense of fullness without being stuffed. I believe dessert was a fruit salad that first evening.
NIght two : we started with a mixed vegetable soup which though good was, to my taste, not as good as the pumpkin soup. I am not complaining just expressing a preference. The soup was followed with a pesto pasta and then a final hot dish that I can’t quite recall but am sure was good. Dessert was a very fine teramisu.
At Bergi, the hotel/farm/agriculture business where we next stayed they are known for producing their own foodstuffs. We had a variety of different small plate appetizers to start off with including some local meats, potatoes, a chickpea fried pastry like thing that went over well, and other items. The pasta options were also tasty and the meat dish, a local sausage was certainly nice enough. Dessert was a lemon ice of sorts that made for an excellent pallete cleanser even though it wasn’t my favorite dessert.
Finally, at the Anastasia where we will have two no doubt very good dinners we have already had smoked pork (think ham), either a risotto dish or ravioli with ricotta and cream-meat sauce, braised veal (surely the best meat dish yet), and a fruit salad with scoop of vanilla ice cream. Top that off with some tasty samples again including the fried chickpea pastry and a very nice taste of a locally made white wine and you have a very good meal indeed.
Breakfasts have been continental-style and food has been varied and certainly satisfying.
If you are hoping for a big hot breakfast then you will likely be unhappy but the choices of cakes, cereal, fruit, and other items has certainly been enough for us. The consistently true weak spot has been the provided lunches but we have gotten by and it is possible that at least one lunch was pretty good but we did not pause to eat lunch yesterday as we wandered through the countryside trying to find our way to the exceptional hotel we are currently at: but that is a story for another time.
Saturday, October 6, 2018
The morning dawned overcast with the potential for light rain later in the day. It looks like a reprise of the previous day. However, our final walk was slated to be only about 10.5km with, I believe 500m of ascent and descent. We would hike from our hotel (Bergi) to the winery/hotel Relais Santa Anastasia via the town of Castelbuono. The best laid plans of mice and men go oft awry (with apologies to Robert Burns). We had a late start after a good breakfast leaving at 09:22. Soon we were climbing up the dirt road (must be new since the notes were written) up the hill across from the hotel we had just stayed at. We found a dirt/gravel road that wound around hills past many homes with ever-present barking early warning systems (i.e. dogs). It was not a stunningly pretty walk. Just one through the countryside on a cloudy morning. We thought we found the correct turning that would take us on a narrow dirt path towards the town of Castelbuono. However we found a different path.
Our path led to a paved road. We had gone astray. We knew where the town had to be. We had seen it in the distance. Its fortress castle was easy to see. We decided to follow the paved road, based on what Google maps and GaiaGPS (mostly the former), suggested. We were about 3km from town. We began to walk; it began to rain lightly. We found our way into Castelbuono and found a bustling town with a clearly thriving tourist trade. We also discovered that we had no idea where to pick up the Inntravel directions.We had not come in the way they wanted us to and so could not leave the way they wanted us to leave. Google Maps and the paper map to the rescue. We followed minor roads, dirt roads, cobblestone roads, and even paths. We made mistakes along the way. I suspect we added a good kilometer in mistakes to say nothing of the extra length we surely tacked on creating this alternative route. We were also fortunate that locals steered us off the wrong path, usually when we were heading down to their home along what seemed like a proper path, with a combination of frequently repeated words and gestures. Our miniscule knowledge of italian fortunately included the words for “left” and “right” (well kind of).
Now and then the sporadic rains would increase. On and off went rain-gear. Maybe the weather can be blamed for the minor accident we witnessed as we walked a couple km down SS286 which is a busy two-lane paved road. More likely the curve, speed, and cars too close to each other. In time we climbed up and over a mountain, made a mistake or two, and eventually were within a few hundred meters of the entrance to the hotel. The rain decided to start coming down in earnest. Just before 15:30 after 15.2 km of walking we stepped into the reception lobby. What a day.
Later we learned that Maggie and George arrived 10 minutes after us. They had left much later and made one modest mistake that they resolved easily enough. Unlike us they managed to follow the directions. I wonder if they had a more scenic walk. I am confident they spent far less time on busy paved roads.
Where we are staying is an extensive place. Also, at least in my room, a loud one. While the rooms are better furnished than some I am less than thrilled with the shower. It took over a week but the European desire to create a shower that can easily flood reared up and bit. Still I can forgive a lot when the quality of the dinner (and breakfast) is as high as it is here. I just wish the noise from wherever it is coming did not penetrate my room so readily: not a good night’s sleep (yes, I am writing about walk 6 the following day).
Stats: Overcast with occassional rain that was generally light but at the end (last 400 meters of uphill) heavy. I think the temperature was always in the mid-60s but might have been warmer. Distance: 15.2km. Ascent: 380m; descent: 254m. We walked for just over 5 hours and took 56 minutes in breaks.
- It does not look like much but you can see the Bergi where we stayed.
- Clouds drifting over the valley Castelbuono sits in. Those low clouds would vanish but the on and off again rains would soon arrive.
- We are walking down the wrong path by this ppoint. You can see Castelbuono in the distance
Friday, October 5, 2018
The quads, the quads, they shiver and quake. That is how I expect them to react when I go down the cobblestones this morning in an hour for breakfast. They will still be reacting to the huge descent we had to endure on this walk. But I am getting ahead of myself.
We were pretty sure the run of clear and sunny days was coming to an end when we woke up Tuesday morning we found an overcast sky with some patches of blue gamely hanging in there to cheer us up. They did not last. When we left the hotel the clouds had conquered and the temperature was about 58F. Not much wind but it was clearly going to be a different day.
The walk is supposed to be about 18km with 500m ascent and 1,500m descent. There is a shortcut you can take that cuts up up to 2km (I have my doubt) and 140m ascent/descent. We started at 08:45 and tramped down the 300m driveway to the highway where the first 900m would take us to where we would enter into the mountains along paths that would first take us up and down and up through the valleys behind the Pomieri hotel. Once again cowbells rang in the distance and dogs barked as we went by. It is not the most scenic of sections but if you squint you can find something to admire.
By late-morning the clouds couldn’t retain their watery loads any longer and a light rain began to fall. It was not much of a bother but we did put on rain-gear and kept marching up and down through the grazing lands. A large group of German walkers caught up to us coming from someplace else. We’ve no idea where they were going. We kept heading on and found the odd low shepherd’s hut with quite a few men and one woman hanging out. I assume they were the ones to build the crackling warm fire in the stone fireplace. We could not really communicate with them. Made things feel a bit odd. It was here we decided to skip the climb up to the top of Cozzo Luminario as we figured the views would be limited at best even though the rain had stopped. After all the clouds were still low in the sky.
I think the shortcut we took saved us a bit over a kilometer as we walked down the sometimes steep mountain road through forests of perhaps oak and other trees. We aren’t sure if we took the “official” shortcut as the directions left us confused but we found the Refugio. The smell of wood smoke drifted to us on the breeze and it was, to me, a lovely welcoming aroma. They were open. We found people inside by the fire having hot drinks. We learned you could have a hot lunch. Dad and I did. Mom said the sandwich from Pomieri was decent but our pasta was a real treat. Two pasta dishes and a glass of house red wine for 20 euros. We enjoyed the food and company of a german couple and swiss twosome for 45 minutes. We learned they , at least the Germans, were staying at the place we are at. They had driven up to this refugio to go hike to the top ofCozzo Luminaroo (they did and had some views).
When we left the refugio Maggie and George, who had gone to the top, were just arriving. We set out to deal with the remaining 8km. At this point we figured the walk would be all downhill. We figured we had upwards of 1,000m descent still to do. That is a lot of descent. Much of it was on a mountain road or two-track. Some of it though was on a nasty, not quite a kilometer, steep rocky section that wound past animals with high-pitched bells. Too add annoyance the views just were not that much to look upon. Down and down and down. A slog. A tiresome slog. The sun would pop out briefly on one 2km stretch of gentler descent on a soft dirt two-track that was great underfoot but that was a lull before a final treacherous bit of trail. The path down into the valley where this farm/hotel sits is in horrible shape. Narrow, rocky, poor footing and steep in spots. It was a real pain to push through those couple hundred meters to reach the valley bottom. At which point we still had the last 300m or so to climb back out though that was a relief. Still, surely a better way in exits - mustn’t it?
In many ways I think this walk would have been great had it ended at the mountain refugio. The endless descent is just no fun.
Stats: We walked for just over 7 hours and took about 95 minutes in breaks with half of that enjoyed in the mountain refugio. The temperature started around 58F and I expect it dipped a bit during the rain but rose back into the upper 60s by the time we finished the walk just after 17:00. Total ascent 271m; descent was 1,312 (that matches well with the book numbers since we did not climb to the top of X which would have added 140m up and down). Total distance: 17.35km which either means the shortcut was not that long or the real long walk is well over 18km.
- You can see Pomieri hotel in the distance as we work our way across the mountains of the far side (as sen from the rooms we had been in) of the valley.
- It is a misty morning but right now the rain had ceased and Mom and Dad can add some color to the washed out mountainous world we are moving through.
- THe mountain refugio where we spent an enjoyable lunch.
- I am not sure what town you can see in the distance but it may well be part of Castelbuno and perhaps where we will go Wednesday.
Thursday, October 4, 2018
Perhaps this will sound familiar: the morning dawned clear and bright promising another fine day. We started our day off with so-so breakfasts of a distinctly limited Continental-style variety. At least the croissants had some nice flavor. Our examination of what the hotel provided for our lunches did not inspire joy either but you eat what you are given. We shouldered our packs and headed out the door again just before 09:00.
The Inntravel book does not count the 300m long, descending some 30m along the hotel driveway as part of the walk. Personally, I think that is a mistake since you do have to trod that path too. I think the book claimed the walk would be 13km though I am not sure as I type this of the full stats. We strode along the elevated highway, which looks really pretty from a distance, to where we would pick up the path into the Madonie mountains. 900 meters of paved road walk, a very quiet road, but a paved road walk nonetheless. Cows mooed and their bells jingled, dogs barked and birds sang as we walked. A pretty morning.
We left the road to join a track that would gradually ascend for perhaps 500m before becoming more like a mountain trail and beginning the real steep ascent. Sweat poured off me as we pushed upward along the sometimes rocky, always steep, twisting trail. I would have to check the map to be sure but I think we gained the bulk of our ascent, say 200-220 meters, in considerably less than 1km of steep trail. Once in a while a view showing the spectacular highway, mountains, and Pomieri Hotel would present itself. What a climb.
It was a relief to reach the top and find an undulating trail that would lead us for another km or so to a forestry-style road that we would follow for over a kilometer. That might sound dull but we were treated to some expansive views of arid steep mountains and deep valleys as we worked our way south and west and eventually down into a valley we were going to circumnavigate. The road would fade away into a trail in time (why it stopped I have no clue) and we wound down good trail through the densest forest I think I have seen so far. I believe it is filled with a type of fir tree but other species are no doubt present.
As we worked our way towards the halfway point we encountered over a dozen people coming the other way. Our notes suggested it would be unusual to see anyone. Well, today at least, the notes were very much in error. Somewhere not that far away on a mountain road is a “trailhead” people can use to make a valley circuit of a few hours and I think that is what we were seeing people doing. Only Mom, Dad, myself, Maggie, and George had come from Pomieri Hotel.
As we ate our mediocre lunches in a dry stream bed we watched clouds visibly move across the sky. Even some sizable heavy dark grey clouds passed on overhead. The temperature had risen to perhaps 70F but as we left the lunch spot to start the ascent out of the valley, continuing our clockwise journey, a cool breeze came up from the valley to push us along. For the next couple of kilometers we climbed along an old concrete single-lane mountain road with unusual water capture and diversion emplacements nestled against the mountainside. 12-15 foot deep basins would capture water and send it under the road to exit the far side. Why were they so deep?
We closed the loop , about 6km, in early afternoon. Leaving the mountain road with fine views for the upland forest to work our way back to the steep section that would plunge us down along path 3 back to the highway and the 1,200 meters (remember the driveway counts) to the hotel. I had not been looking forward to the descent but it turned out that Mom would be right. It was tough taking the better part of an hour but despite loose stones and one slip and semi fall it was not actually that bad. We plodded down the highway and up the driveway looking forward to what refreshments we could get as the hotel came into view just a little after 15:00. This had been a very nice walk and even though it had the steep section it was well worth the effort. It is too bad it has the lengthy highway walk but we only saw one car.
Stats: The day started out almost cloudless but clouds , including some heavy ones, grew more common as the afternoon progressed. The high was about 70F though it was cooling as we returned to the hotel. Total distance 12.6km with ascent/descent of about 610m. This walk had 2 major ascents and 2 major descent: a nice change from simply a long up and then a long down. We took 58 minutes in breaks; walked about 5 hours 20 minutes.
- Not that much farther to the top but here is a view back from where we have been. You can see the Pomieri Hotel to the left of the second curve of the elevated highway.
- I am not sure if the valley is called Polizzi Generosa or if that is just the region we are in. But this is one example of the vistas we saw walking along the forestry road before returning to the forests and the descent into the valley.
- We are climbing out of the valley and this was an early scene along the way. The mountains are special.
- Coming to the end of the mountain-road part of the ascent. We are about to close the loop which means we still have about 3km to go including the more than a kilometer of big descent