There are no better walking months in our part of the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines than May and September-October. The mornings become ever fresher and by the time the sun warms up at mid-day one is well within the beautiful beech forests that shade from excessive heat.
I was invited to a walk yesterday which normally should have taken four hours but which somehow lengthened itself partly because, I admit, I was not in the best state of fitness, but also because there was so much to admire and see on our excursion.
The Apennines are probably some of the best walking country anywhere in Europe and my delight at being able to join a friend to tread the footpaths in an area which was quite unknown to me was unexcelled.
The first part of the walk took us from a point a little above Coreglia Antelminelli at a height which was already above 900 metres (2952 feet). We proceeded through unmetalled forestry roads traversing the most wonderful beech forests whose trunks shone silvery in the slanting sun beams.
At one point we met up with a forestry worker who was thinning the beech forest. Beech is all very fine but too many trees will completely cut out sunlight from the forest and impeded the growth of indigenous flowers and grasses. The worker informed us that beech forests were planted mainly after the war and that few trees were over fifty years old. Previously this had been pasture land but poverty, the seduction of emigration and the lure of the paper mills had caused a massive depopulation of the area after the last war and, consequently, the abandonment of pastureland and fields used to grow cereal crops. There was also the problem of drainage. Blocked channels and torrent would eventually lead to landslips – the bane of so much of Italy.
Beeches are fine if kept thinned but there are two trees which have proved to be rather more dangerous for the area. The first is the fir tree whose shallow roots cause devastation in the case of high winds. My friend pointed out to me a whole area which had once been populated by Douglas fir but which has been flattened by the hurricane of last February. The Acacia is an aggressive tree, again relatively recently introduced but which is the area’s equivalent of the rhododendron in Wales. Another problem is of course finance. So much more money should be spent on maintenance of Italy’s forests for Italy is, indeed one of the most wooded countries in Europe. A third of Italy is forest – almost three times as much as the UK!
Our route took us to a little plateau called Il Pretino standing at 1215 metres (almost 4000 feet) whence considerable views could be had both of the Tuscan side of the Apennines and the Emilian side.
Normally humans are rarely seen in this area but it’s now the mushroom season and, sure enough, we met several people in search of the prized porcini (cep) mushrooms which should normally abound in this area. I’m not sure whether those who say that it’s a bad season so far for mushrooms this year say this just to discourage others from coming and picking these valued natural commodities of the Italian Apennines!
We carried on towards another pass – the foce di Fobi – following footpath no 38 (why footpaths aren’t similarly numbered in the UK is beyond my ken). Here more splendid views unfolded before us and there was even a table where we had a picnic of dates.
We then traced our way back to the starting point through a wide un-numbered and unmetalled forest road wending its way more wonderful beech forests now scattered with that one-time sustainer of human life here – the chestnut.
Through various vantage points in our ramble I was able to see well-known mountains to me at quite different angles: the Prato Fiorito, for example, which rises behind us in Longoio:
The Apuans on the other side of the Serchio valley were slightly hazy but they still presented a wonderfully jagged silhouette in contrast to the gentler contours of the Apennines.
I was particularly fascinated by the almost dry torrents which had, as pointed out by my friend, an almost Japanese flavour.
Man can make very beautiful botanical gardens but the ultimate gardener has to be Nature: As Wordsworth so aptly wrote:
One impulse from a vernal wood may teach you more of man, of moral evil and of good, than all the sages can.