Category Archives: Other Walks

Walking in Ticino

There’s less than a week to go now until I start my long walk in Spain along the Via de la Plata. I’ve been getting some preparatory walking in though, most recently in Ticino which is an Italian speaking Canton in the south of Switzerland. This area has been part of Switzerland for around 500 years. Whilst there are strong cultural ties with Italy, there are also many differences, given the long association with the northern parts of Switzerland.  To give but one example, using a zebra crossing in Italy can at times be a life threatening experience. However, in Ticino, you only have to look like you’re thinking about crossing the road, and cars will come to a stop !

I went for two walks over a weekend with a friend who lives near the town of Lugano. The first was a climb up to a rock formation known as “I Denti della Vecchia” or “The Hag’s Teeth”.


On the way upwalking ticino

A bonsai tree.

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Wild cyclamens grow in rock crevices.

ticino wild cyclamens

A view of a few of the teeth at around 1,500metres.

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The next day we went for a longer walk to the summit of  Garzirola, a mountain of 2,116 metres in the Lugano pre-alps. We were lucky with the weather and were rewarded with splendid views back down towards Lakes Lugano and Maggiore as well as towards the Alps to the north.

The paths are all well sign-posted, though its still not hard to make a mistake. We did the previous day and had an extra 5km to walk to get back to the car!

signs ticino walks

This walk was strangely similar to my recent walks on the Greek island of Ithaca  as there was the frequent sound of bells. This time though it was the deeper sound of cow bells rather than the higher pitched bells carried by goats on Ithaca.

Ticino cattle bells

There were many pretty wild flowers along the way.

wild flowers ticino

Only a few hundred metres of climbing to go!

Garzirola

A view of the Swiss town of Locarno and Lake Maggiore from the peak.

Garzirola Locarno

Looking north towards the Alps.

Garzarola

Looking south into Italy.  

Garzarola

On the way down.

Garzarola

Back down at the San Lucio pass there were two hostels. This area is right on the border and one hostel was in Italy and the other, 100 metres away, was in Switzerland. We had lunch at the one on the Swiss side. Their flag pole had three flags, probably in order of perceived importance, with the Italian one at the bottom, next the Swiss flag and finally the big Canton Ticino flag at the top. Behind the flag pole can be seen the mountain peak from where the previous photos were taken,

flag  ticino

I ordered polenta with venison and this huge plate arrived. Somehow I managed to eat the lot.

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The 15h century church of St Lucio sits at 1,542 metres near the pass which shares its name.

San Lucio Gazirola

On the way back down we passed through what seemed to be an “enchanted forest”.

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I can certainly recommend Ticino as beautiful place for walking, although it does help to have a local friend! Also you need to choose carefully the season for your visit. I visited earlier in 2016 in late March and we were unable to do these walks in higher altitudes due to recent snowfalls.

Ticino Tesserete

 

Walking on Ithaca

Ithaca is one of Greece’s Adriatic Sea islands. It’s thought by many to be the home of Odysseus, or Ulysses in the Latin version of his name. The island certainly has been inhabited since pre-historic times. This plate in a local museum dates from the 8th century BC.

Ithaca Greece museum plate

We recently visited the island and given that I’m planning a 1,000km walk through Spain starting in a few week’s time, I thought I should spend some time walking rather than just eating and swimming! The island is quite mountainous with the highest point, Mount Neritos being 800m above sea level. There are a lot of walking paths on the island, many marked with painted spots on rocks. However, I found it was easy to lose my way and many of the paths have been overgrown over recent years. On numerous ocassions I found myself slipping and sliding down goat tracks and being scratched on the legs by the common low thorny bushes.

Ithaca  Greece
Typical Mountain Landscape

Nevertheless, I was constantly rewarded by magnificent views such as these. Ithaca is shaped a little like a dumbbell with a narrow isthmus connecting two major parts of the island. This view from Mt Neritos is looking over the isthmus to the southern part of the island. The neighbouring island of Cephalonia can be seen on the right.

Ithaca Greece

 

I came across some quite beautiful wild flowers.

Wild flowers Ithaca Greece
There are many olive groves on the island as well as fruit trees. I had a nice feed of figs from a tree in an abandoned village. Some villages were abandoned after the disastrous earthquake of 1953. There were a couple of short tremours during our stay and an underwater 4.2 quake 21km north of the island.

Prickly pears are quite nice to eat but have to be handled with care!


There are many goats in the island and their presence is revealed by the sound of the bells placed around their necks.

Ithaca Greece goat

 

I also came across many beautiful churches located both in villages and also in more remote spots.

Exogi church Ithaca
Monastery bell Ithaca Greece
There are also the remains of windmills on many ridges. This one still had its millstone.

Ithaca Greece windmill
Some paths lead down to small pebbly coves where you can have a swim. Being August and in the middle of the cruising season, there were almost always boats anchored near each beach.

Ithaca Greece
Ithaca Greece

After a long walk and a swim, it’s time for lunch!

Ithaca Greece Frikas

Via Degli Dei Bivigliano – Firenze 26th March

The hotel breakfast didn’t start til 8am and given I’d bought a train ticket to return to Bologna for 2.30pm and I’d calculated a 4 and a half hour walk, I got down to the breakfast room dead on 8 to jostle with the other guests .

There were some family photos and paintings and the lady running the place told me that the hotel had been the house of her husband’s family. The little boy in the photo, taken in 1914, was her father-in-law.

Once again I was climbing, the walk has been quite strenuous . After an hour or so, I reached Poggio Pratone. This is a wide open field at 709m altitude. It’s believed to be the site of a large scale battle in the year 405. A horde of around 100,000 Ostrogoths, including probably 20,000 combatants and lead by a certain Radagaisus, were besieging Fiesole. Their intent was to burn Rome to the ground and sacrifice the Senators to the gods.

It took many months for the empire to respond , recalling troops from the Rhine. However in the battle that ensued,the Goths were decimated and so many prisoners were taken, that there was a collapse in the slave market.

The guide books talk about the view of Florence from here, but I could barely see the city through the haze.

Up and over the fence !

I had one more steep climb before I reached another vantage point.

Florence is down there somewhere !

  

I was supposed to have one more climb through the hills on a track starting in Fiesole and then a descent into Florence. However, I had trouble finding this pathway. In fact I had trouble finding Fiesole! Somewhere in the hills I took the wrong path and ended up miles away to the west . I ended up having to do an extra hour’s walking along a busy, windy and narrow road before I eventually reached the outskirts of Florence. My 16 km day ended up stretching to 27 km!


 

I had another hour of walking through the suburbs before finally reaching the centre of town. It was very busy, with long queues to get into all the popular attractions .


I made it to the train station with a half hour to spare. After almost 5 days of walking to get here, it took just 35 minutes in the train to return ! I pitied the poor Chinese tourist who had to sit next to me as I was pretty smelly. He seemed pretty intent on his computer game, maybe this was to take his mind off the smell!

My reward in Bologna ( after having a beer and doing the shopping ) 

I actually found this quite a challenging walk. Perhaps I wasn’t as fit as I should have been but there was a lot of climbing and descending, much of it through thick mud and slippery surfaces . The most challenging was coming down Monte Gazzaro where the path was very steep with slippery rocks and a very steep drop off the side of the track. Luckily along the most difficult  200m or so a steel rope has been placed. I wrapped a hanky around my hand and hung on to the rope as best I could. I found out later talking to other walkers ( the only two I got to chat to)there was a sign that meant that the path was of higher difficulty and I could have taken an alternative!

Here’s the stats – 134km, 5,068m ascending and 5,013m descending over 4 1/2 days. My only injury was due to accidentally kicking a small tree stump. A toe started loosing its nail making descending paths a bit painful.

Via degl Dei March 25th Gabbiano – Bivigliano 

After the long day yesterday, I took things a bit easier, though I still had almost 1,000m of climbing. I’ve found this walk quite strenuous !

I had a pleasant view this morning before heading off on my walk .

Another one of those Italian local festivals!

After my first climb of the day, I reached the Castle of Trebbiano which largely dates from the 12th to 14th centuries . It was a favourite hunting base of Lorenzo the Magnificent .


Here’s a complicated set of road signs!

After even more climbing along quite pleasant mountain trails, and meeting 2 walkers coming the other way , I arrived at the Badia of Buonsallazzo.

The name of this monastery comes from the Latin ‘bonus solarium’ as the place was supposedly always sunny. It was founded some time before 1000AD. In this photo, the Castle of Trebbiano that I passed some hours before can be seen in the middle distance , whilst the mountains I spent the last few days crossing form the distant background.

I came across a group of large pine trees all blown over in a storm.

A typical sign along the way  – turn left!

I arrived at my hotel in Bivigliano quite early in the afternoon and found I had the smallest hotel room I’d seen in a while! Tomorrow I have a half day walk and then I catch a train back to Bologna.

Via Degli Dei 24th March. Madonna Dei Formelli – Gabbiano 

Today was almost a bit too much, but I made it! It was 33km in the end after I made an error and lost the track, which actually reduced the length of the walk. I walked for around 9 hours.

It was also a day of slipping and sliding. Slipping climbing and slipping descending. Slipping in the mud, slipping on ice and slipping on deep piles of fallen leaves. But let’s go back to the start of the day!

I had a warm and comfy room in my B&B.

 Elisa who runs the place is enthusiastic about ‘trekking’ and has a little momento for guests that is a copy of the signs along the Via degli Dei. She also kindly gave me some cake for the day. https://www.facebook.com/Bed-breakfast-Romani-320996204737430/

This is a typical sign along the way.

 A brisk climb up the hill behind the town gave me a view of yesterday’s wind generators .

As I climbed higher, there were traces of snow left from the falls two weeks ago .

There was also frost and some slippery ice on the path. I tried to see how thick the ice was by breaking a frozen puddle with my walking stick and it cracked like thick glass.

Well somebody had to break the ice! (Well thats today’s pun out of the way)
Along the path today were visible remains of the Roman road that traversed this route back around 200BC. The Romans had been distracted by the Punic wars and much of northern italy had been taken over by the Celts and  Ligurians. One of the means of subduing the area was to built roads to allow the rapid deployment of troops. This one was built under the aegis of the consul Caius Flaminius and bears his name as was the practice – the Via Flaminia militaria.

     
It’s built to the standard Roman practice of 8 Roman feet wide or 2.38m. It’s existence was doubted by experts and it’s only due to the efforts of 2 amateur archaeologists is the 1970s that these remains are now able to be seen.

There’s also a small artificial lake near the Roman road which is thought to have been also built by the Romans  as a supply of water for troops and horses passing along the route.

There were beautiful views of some of the highest peaks in this part of the Appennines

I encountered lots of very slippery muddy tracks. The most insidious was the mud hiding under layers of fallen leaves which was often very deep .

I also passed medieval lime furnaces that were fed with limestone

There are lots of wild flowers in the hills.

At the Futa Pass, there’s a large German war cemetery . The bodies were collected from local graves all over Italy.

 

When I finally emerged from the hills, I was in Tuscany with a completely different feel and landscape.

 

I also came across two pairs of other walkers – the first I’d seen in two days. Two German girls were heading north and were very nonchalant about the distance they still had to travel before nightfall. I also had a nice chat with two students from Bologna who must have been walking just a short distance ahead of me all day.

Via Degli Dei. March 23rd Badolo – Madonna Dei Fornelli

I had a very nice dinner at my B&B last night. An interesting dish was a salad of fennel, orange and little violets which grow wild in the forests of northern Italy at this time of the year.

 http://www.novarbora.com

My walk took me straight up and over Monte Adone, one of the mountains named after gods that gives this walk it’s name . The path up was quite steep, muddy and slippery in parts.


The mountain is largely composed of sandstone and is noted for the presence of fossils. The Appenines were underwater in the plesocene era.

The view from the top was spectacular . Even though the day was cloudy, many distant mountains were visible as well as the valley below with the Bologna – Florence freeway .

There was a cross on the peak with an attached metal box with a exercise book inside. I added my name and comments to the hundreds of others.



After my descent, I followed a medieval mule trail for quite a while. It was in excellent condition .

I passed by Monterumici. There’s not much to see here now, but the fortifications formed part of the so called’ Gothic Line’. This was a series of defences stretching across Italy intended to stop or at least slow down the allied advance up the Italian peninsula. Incredibly, the Germans held out here from October 1944 until April 1945.

By now, I was getting pretty hungry. It was a cold and windy day with little sunshine , maybe 4 or 5 degrees.I was despairing of finding somewhere out of the weather to eat my bread roll and smelly cheese when I arrived at the Ospitale Di Monzuno. This was a medieval hospice for pilgrims but is now in ruins. However, it offered welcome respite from the weather .

My smelly cheese by the way had come with me from Bologna and is getting smellier by the day. It comes from the Alto Adige region and is called Puzzone Di Moena.

The path followed what seemed to be a recently built road branching off from a roundabout and bypassing the town of Monzuno. However it was blocked off to traffic. I soon found out why !

I had a fine view of Monte Adone that I had walked over earlier in the day before climbing over yet another mountain ridge.

 I came across an interesting landscape devoid of undergrowth . It was an old chestnut and hazelnut plantation, if that’s the right word .

 There were many stumps of chestnut trees but some have survived like this this old beauty.

‘Not that old chedtnut!’ ( sorry couldnt resist that one)
There were a few man made eyesores along the path including this one and a set of wind generators. It was clear though why they were here – it was veryhigh and

windy and I was getting colder by the minute.  
What’s that peeping through the trees?

I finally arrived in the little mountain town of Madonna Dei Fornelli around 4pm with frozen hands. Tomorrow I’ll have to get my gloves out. It had taken me 7 hours to cover the 28 km with a total climb of 1,400m.

I had an interesting and inventive meal at the little restaurant next door, including tortelloni with radicchio in a cheese based basket and pork fillets with berries. The cook’s dream is to come to Australia !

Tomorrow is a long day – 40km!

Via degli Dei – Bologna – Badolo March 22nd

Unfortunately the weather forecast today was for fog and rain but I set off nevertheless from our little apartment in Bologna. Like most old Italian buildings, there is a huge front door .

 
I passed by the main piazza with its statue of Neptune before heading south to the hills.

  
For most of the day there was quite heavy fog and light rain making walking on roads a bit dangerous 

Every now and then the fog lifted a little allowing glimpses of the surrounding hills  

   

 As you would expect, the path was muddy and wet so my socks were soon wet through. However, I followed the road through the hills which follows closely the original Etruscan route and I’m sure it was a lot dryer than the alternate path. The alternative follows the river valley and is usually recommended as it avoids the bitumen and traffic. But after my terrible experience on that path the other week, I avoided it (see my last post!) 

   
   

   

After around 5 hours and 26km I reached my B&B at Badolo and my wet boots and clothes were soon drying in front of a comfy fire.