Thursday, August 30, 2012

Walking in the Apuane Alps

A week ago, Melanie and I completed a 2 day walk from our 'Hiking in Italy' guidebook (a parting gift from ESSSuper colleagues - thanks guys!) in the Apuane Alps.  Early in the morning, we Vespa'd out down the coastal road towards Carrara.  Just as the first few marble quarries began appearing, we headed inland down a narrow valley, ending at the trailhead village of Stazzema.  After a cappucino in the local bar, we set out at 8-40am.

The Hole in Mt Forato
Back in Lucca, the forecast maximum was 35C, and we hoped that it would be cooler at our destination, as Day 1 of the walk involved an elevation change - climbing-  of 1300 metres in total.  Starting from the outskirts of Stazzema, we quickly reached a forest which provided welcome shade.  A couple of hours later we reached Mt Forato, the Hole in the Mountain (people mention that a light plane has flown through it, but we suspect this is an urban myth).
From here, the vegetation was sparser, and the walk continued along a sawtoothed ridge, with magnificent views on boh sides, although we were now exposed to direct sun, and it was getting hotter by the minute.  We had lunch in the shade of a lone tree, knowing that the most challenging part of the walk was next - crossing the Costa Pulita, 400 vertical metres of traversing and climbing a mountainside, following a loose stone path, with the sun reflecting off the marble rocks and making us hot and tired, quickly.  The Costa Pulita is the top face of the mountain below, we ascended starting from the bottom left ridge, up over the top. It was a steep climb in the heat - later we estimated 30C - and we were glad to reach the top.


Another hour's traverse and with our calves already starting to feel sore, we reached our overnight stay, Rifugio Rossi.  Maintained by the Lucca chapter of the Club Alpino Italiano, it's at 1609 metres, and it was a pleasant 22C in the shade - what a relief!

The rifugio was built in 1924 and is one of the older style lodges, smaller and sparser than the rifugio we stayed in a month ago.  It has 22 bunk beds, all in the one room, but luckily there were just 8 people staying the night we were there - it must be a noisy night's sleep when it's a full house!

Relaxing on the terrace of Rifugio Rossi

View from the rifugio terrace of Pania Secca 1709m

Look at the unbridled joy in Melanie's face upon tasting the soup!

Dinner time approached, and we sat down with great anticipation, both because we were famished from a long day's walk, but also remembering the wonderful meal at last month's rifugio.  Well, you can guess what happens when one has great expectations - disappointment.  Instead of last month's 2 home made pasta entrees, we had chickpea soup - it was OK but nothing to rave about in a blog.  And instead of 2 different main courses to share, with a side of vegetables, we had a rather plain meat stew, with bread on the side.  Dessert of fig tart was OK, and we finished with coffee and grappa - purely for digestive reasons, of course!

 The next day, after a good night's sleep and an interesting breakfast - muesli in caffe latte anyone? - we set out for the highpoint of the climb, Mt Pania Croce 1858m.  An hour's steep climbing on a rocky hillside and we were there. The views were fantastic, nearby mountains on all sides, and the beach 15km away where we swim was visible, although a tad hazy due to smoke from a nearby bushfire.  Like all summits here, it's marked with a cross, although this one was unusually large.  A funny thing is that the afternoon before, we met a guy resting at the refuge who spent the night up on this very summit, sleeping out without a tent, to celebrate his 30th birthday the next day - now that's different!

Views from the summit of Mt. Pania Croce

The rest of the day's walk was down, down and more down - a descent of 1400 metres in all.  We traversed a steep rocky face of Pania Croce, slip sliding our way down, until meeting the treeline again and some shady forests.  Three hours later, we reached the valley floor, having passed a number of small chapels located in the strangest of places.  Some were dedicated to saints, and others to locals who were casualties of the fierce fighting in 1945 as the Germans defended their Italian lands against the oncoming allies.

One of the small chapels on the walk

We reached the end of our walk at 1pm in a village called Ponte Stazzeme, which we knew featured a trattoria.  Here we tucked into a 3 course lunch, cold drinks and a well earned rest before riding our Vespa back to Lucca. We agreed later that crossing the Costa Pulita, and the view from the summit of Pania Croce were our highlights.

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