The story so far: The Fearsome Three have braved wild boar hunters, a mountain stream and brambles in their quest for Monte Battifolle. On the verge of arrival they are faced with four unmarked roads. Which is the way to the mountain top?
Only two roads lead uphill. Do I remember bearing right when I came with the group from Crasciana? I’m not sure, and there are markers, old and new, in both directions.
We continue straight ahead. The road crosses over the top of the ridge giving us a view down to the Valdinievole. Looking south we can see right out onto the coastal plain where the old road from Lucca runs east to Florence. Across the valley are two tidy-looking villages, Stiappa and Pontito, at the head of the Pescia River which flows south to the city of Pescia at the mouth of the valley.
It seems improbable that it only takes about half hour longer on foot than by car to reach the top of this valley, since by car one has to drive by a very circuitous route. Admittedly, the route is more direct and the time less with a 4×4 vehicle, a better approximation to a mule.
The Valdinievole, also known as the Little Switzerland of Pescia, has two Slow Food presidium products: in the terraced fields of the village of Sorana, a very tender and flavourful variety of the cannellini bean, and an artisanal pecorino cheese.
Soon the rutted dirt road turns into a broad cobbled ramp flanked by a well-built stone wall.
After rounding several hairpin bends and climbing a barbed-wire fence, we are at the pinnacle of Monte Battifolle.
Battifolle means a temporary fortification erected in war time to keep watch for enemies or to hold back attackers. It had the form of a small tower built of wood, stone and earth. The ruins of the one we’re standing on is surrounded by a moat. If the slopes were clear of trees, as they certainly were in the past when flocks of goats and sheep maintained the vegetation as alpine pasture, the Republic of Lucca could have seen the armies of the Florentine Republic long before they arrived. The old-timers in Casabasciana remember that during the war the Germans constructed a funicular to transport troops and supplies up to Monte Battifolle.
We settle ourselves on some tumbled down rocks and tuck into our well-earned pannini. If only we’d brought the gin and tonic, the ice is already laid on.
We reflect that walking in these mountains isn’t just good exercise, it’s a history and geography lesson too. The past is so close you can literally touch it.
Feeling as if we’ve mastered the lay of the land, we explore some side tracks on the way home and arrive as the sun is setting.