I am not glamourous in any way when I perform any kind of physical activity. Soon after I begin, my face will be bright red, shortly after that I start to sweat. So, given I am not usually glamourous, I was horrified to discover that on this first day of walking in the mountains, my icebreaker merino top had been attacked by moths. Something I wish I’d checked before we left London. So I start these days feeling even more unglamourous – a sweaty hiker with a hole in her top – but with nothing I could do about it (since I needed to wear something warmer than cotton).
We left the Cinque Terre and drove to the high mountian pass of Passo della Croce about 1160 metres above sea level, stopping to meet our guide, Silvia Malquore, and buy picnic lunch supplies. From here we stayed together as a group letting Silvia lead the way and tell us about things as we walk through the Alpi Apuane (Apuan Alps)
These mountains are the source of Carrara marble, prized for its purity and luminescence… This is where Michelangelo travelled to select the blocks he carved.
There are shrines and refugio (shelters) along this ancient roadway and some of the villages are still inhabited in the summer months. The weather here is cooler and the paths are soft underfoot from leaf debris. Chestnuts and Porcini mushrooms are found here, though there is a fly that seems to be decimating the chestnuts so the harvest here has not been plentiful recently.
Here, today, is the day I’ve felt most happy. The whispering of the beech leaves as the wind catches them, the cool breeze, the stories, the companionship, the spectacular views as well as the majesty and history of these mountains fills me up. I feel quiet, peaceful and ridiculously contented.
We stop at the church of Colle di Favilla for a sumptuous picnic lunch of fresh focaccia, tomatoes, baccalà (salted cod), proscuitto, pecorino, figs, radicchio. Once we are rested and our bellies are full we carry on walking and pass out of the forest and out on to a meadow. At the end of this is a view down over the mountains and valleys that is so spectacular I can’t help but weep silently for a moment, in awe of the beauty of it all.
From here the path descends steeply down into the small village of Pruno where we are to spend two nights.
We shower then meet for dinner at the one and only restaurant in the village. The chef has prepared a feast for us, accompanied by local wines and I’m stuffed before the meal ends. Nic and I slip away before the meal has finished and fall into bed, exhausted and happy.
After breakfast on day five, a group of six of us head for the hills again whilst the rest of the group opt for a more leisurely walk and tour of some of the local villages.
Today, we drive to the trailhead above the village of Stazema and begin our walk 550 metres above sea level. The path leads through more forest to the mountain pass of Foce di Petrosciana (961 metres) and on, with a full-concentration-required hands-and-feet scramble to the summit of Monte Forato (1223 metres). It’s overcast and rainy and the walk through the soft beech forest is slippery in places and utterly magical. At one point all six of us stop and spend time just gazing at our surroundings, drinking it all in. We make it up to Monte Forato where there’s a huge cave worn into the mountain just above the summit. The clouds move quickly through here and the wind is cold; we catch glimpses of Pruno village below us through gaps in the clouds. I pinch myself – I’m here, up in the clouds on a mountain in Italy! I’m pushed to my physical limits, yet it’s all been worth it and my body is thanking me for pushing it hard. It remembers how much it likes to move and I’m grateful that I’m able to physically make this climb.
We move to the lee side of the mountain for another amazing picnic lunch before descending down into the Versilia valley. There’s a B&B we passed on the way up where we stop for a beer on the way down.
We meet up with the rest of our group in a small deli/bar that makes chestnut beer. Lucas, Marianne, Nic and I share a bottle and buy another two for drinking later.
These two days of walking have been my favourite on this trip. Though it was great walking the pathways and through the small villages in Cinque Terre, these alps feel really special and I am humbled by natures ability to move me to tears. There is a deep, rich connection I find in the forest that nothing in the online world can ever outdo.
I don’t know what ‘work’ will look like for me when we get back to New Zealand, though I am certain that I’d rather be climbing mountains than climbing any corporate ladder.
As I sit here writing this, I can feel the small details of these days slipping away from me leaving just a feeling. I want to remember everything but too much time has passed between then and now and some of it feels like it was a distant memory, not something that happens just a few weeks ago.