A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Monday, 7 December 2015

Via Francigena: Days 22, 23 & 24: Passo Della Cisa To Sarzana

Pontremoli. (Image from Wikimedia Commons.)

Three days of strenuous walking took me 70 km from the col to Sarzana, which was positioned near the mouth of the river Magra and overlooked the Ligurian Sea (part of the Mediterranean).

At the Passo della Cisa I walked under the Porta Toscana's wooden archway (any portal or gateway like this may be considered a pilgrim rite of passage) and descended 500 m through cool and shady forests to Groppoli. Here the path climbed relentlessly upwards 200 m, then down again 400 m to Pontremoli. The way was beautiful, with many flowers and vineyards, but tiring in the heat, and at midday I was getting low on water. Also I had no food and was running out of energy. However, by a stroke of extreme good luck, a mobile grocery van happened to stop at a small and remote village I was passing through, and I was able to stock up on supplies. I came across no other shop all day, and without this van I would have been struggling. The van driver only called there once a week, and then for just 15 minutes. Either this was an incredible piece of good fortune or the guiding spirit of the Camino was looking after me . . . After buying bread, cheese and prosciutto, I was given a free bunch of grapes, then ate a lazy lunch in a field on the edge of the village — after which I promptly fell asleep. Yes, life was good . . .

Finally I reached Pontremoli and ascended wearily the narrow streets of the old quarter to the castle of Piagnaro, which dominated the town. I spent the night in a refuge in one of the towers.

Aulla. (Image from Wikimedia Commons.)

Another long day of mountain walking brought me to Aulla and the abbey of San Caprasio. The resident monks have a long tradition of putting up pilgrims. I enjoyed a hot shower, then a superb meal shared with other wayfarers in a local restaurant, and later slept soundly in a dormitory bunk bed.

Reception for pilgrims at the abbey of San Caprasio. (Image from Wikimedia Commons.)

The route from Aulla to Sarzana was a highlight of the walk and one of its wildest sections. The path contoured the mountainsides, zigzagging around countless side valleys. At times it was very narrow and overgrown, with a steep drop to the left. You really had to watch your step. I dreamed my way through some charming hilltop villages — Bibola, Ponzano — and was completely entranced by the breathtaking mountain views.
Sarzana. (Image from Wikimedia Commons.)

At last I climbed the final hill, which was scattered romantically on top with the ruins of La Brina castle. The Mediterranean lay in front of me! I headed quickly down to Sarzana — which still, however, lay more than an hour away. Here I was welcomed — in a fashion — by a member of the parish of San Francesco. The church accommodation was rather squalid compared with the previous two nights — though still cheap at the usual price of €10, so I could not grumble.

The 15th-century fortress at Sarzana. (Image from Wikimedia Commons.)


Timecheck said...

Just to let you know I am reading and enjoying, though I rarely comment. Sometimes I forget that a little feedback is nice.

The Solitary Walker said...

So glad you are reading along, Ralph! Hope both you and Susan are well.

backpack45 said...

Ralph sent me the link to this day's adventure, so I read through. "Either this was an incredible piece of good fortune or the guiding spirit of the Camino was looking after me . . ." I think both!!!

This trail intrigues me a lot--as does hiking in Italy in general (which we have yet to do!).
Happy holidays to you. Susan

Laura said...

Lovely post. This makes me want to get started on the Via Francigena. I gave your blog address to a couple the other night who are hoping to walk it soon. While on the Invierno, twice I took advantage of the bread van when one stopped nearby - such a gift to come across fresh bread in the middle of (seemingly) nowhere!

The Solitary Walker said...

Hi Susan (Backpack45)! I'm sure you would enjoy Italy and the Via Francigena... just be prepared for a few flat and tedious sections in northern France and the Po Valley. Also waymarking is poor in some places. However, there is much spectacular scenery along the way, including Lake Geneva, the Alps and the Apennines. Also, don't cross the Po Valley in the summer heat like I did, unless you want to be bitten to death by mosquitoes...

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks, Laura for your comment — and for passing on my blog address to others. Yes, that mobile food wagon was such a gift!

dritanje said...

The Way Angel was clearly looking after you here Robert.
What struck me most was a memory of passing this way many years ago, not walking but in a car, in winter. And thinking then that I wanted to return to these amazing places that we passed through all too quickly. They placed a hook in the mind and now you writing about it ....Inspiration!!

The Solitary Walker said...

Yes, another visit by that trail angel... What's great about these places, Morelle, is that most are not on the tourist map. Pilgrim walkers follow pilgrim routes from A to B, and that's main consideration — not the architecturally iconic or famously beautiful places which tourists seek out (though the two sometimes coincide). Therefore you get to see more of the 'real', authentic Italy, Spain or wherever (though all paces can be seen as equally 'real', but you know what I mean!) This means experiencing ugliness and maybe some tedium too — but that's part and parcel of life, and to be embraced if possible (ref. your previous comment about Tirana). Pilgrimage is about the ordinary things as much as the awe-inspiring things and about the people one meets. Holy encounters, one could say.