Behind the scenes

If you crane your neck to look up as you drive along the rocky corridor of the Lima Valley from Bagni di Lucca, you’ll catch glimpses of stone villages in small tears in the forest that cloaks the slopes.

Val di Lima from above

A bird's-eye view of the villages and church towers

There are 31 scattered around the 165 sq km of the comune of Bagni di Lucca (similar to a township in the US, smaller than a county in the UK), and Debra Kolkka is pursuing a project of visiting all of them and showing you their charms over on her blog Bella Bagni di Lucca.

Since one of my great pleasures, particularly during the winter months, is walking in the woods, I’ve observed that the villages are only the tip of the iceberg of a culture that existed in this territory until only a few decades ago. When reading Debra’s recent pieces about two adjacent villages, Cocciglia and Palleggio, a much expanded project entered my head.

Villages of Cocciglia and Palleggio, Bagni di Lucca

View of Palleggio from the top of Cocciglia

Why not try to follow the remaining mulattiere between the villages? These beautifully crafted cobbled roads formed the main arteries of transport before asphalt arrived in the 1960s.

Mule track at Cocciglia

What engineering skills the mulattiere must have required!

Yesterday, with my faithful walking companions Keith and Penny Barry, I set off to walk the short distance from Cocciglia to Palleggio. Here’s what we saw, compliments of Keith, since I had left my camera and iPhone at home.

Oratorio San Michele, Cocciglia

Oratorio of San Michele of the 13th century

We began at the Oratorio of San Michele which Debra noted at the bottom of Cocciglia. The mulattiera descends to the right of the oratory, and is completely overshadowed by the tarmack road leading up to the village. You might miss it if it weren’t also designated as Trail 10 of the Italian Alpine Club.

CAI route 10 at Cocciglia

Where's the mulattiera?

As we descend we see some of the cobbles have washed out and a little way along we’re directed up to a higher level at a point where a landslide has nearly washed out the original mulattiera. At least someone is still maintaining the path.

New route above landslide

We climb up a safer path that has been cut above the original.

Iris foetidissima / stinking gladwin

Iris foetidissima, a resident of dry shady spots (Stinking gladwin/Giaggiolo puzzolente)

Now we descend toward what we know must be the Scesta River, and we wonder how we’ll cross. On another walk we met this major tributary of the Lima higher up and it’s a sizable torrent, not to be hopped over on stepping stones. Yet despite all the rain we’ve had, we don’t hear water running. Gradually a stone arch camouflaged by moss and ivy emerges ahead.

Stone bridge over Scesta River

Stone bridge (Ponte d'Annibale) over Scesta River

Stone bridge over Scesta River

The bridge is in excellent condition although presumably centuries old.

The riverbed below is dry. We surmise there must be a dam higher up the river, but that’s another walk. Now we have just a short uphill stretch until we reach Palleggio.

Palleggio side of bridge over Scesta

Onward and upward toward Palleggio

Will we arrive at the bottom of Palleggio at the little Oratorio di Santa Maria della Quercia that Debra found at the end of her visit?

Shed in field next to Oratorio Santa Maria della Quercia

Hunting not allowed

This certainly isn’t it, picturesque as it is.

Field below Palleggio

A beautifully mown field — there must be sheep nearby

We’re on a rough tarmack road now which curves to the left and meets the modern road up to Palleggio. And on our right…

Oratorio di Santa Maria della Quercia

Oratorio di Santa Maria della Quercia (16th C), Località 'Pian di Scalchi'

Are the two bells hanging in a rusty iron frame waiting for the mason to arrive to finish the tower?

We start down the road Debra ventured a little way along and can’t stop ourselves continuing to the end, but that’s a story for another time of a more recent road and more recent construction. Two hours later we are back at the church and find the lawn mowers at work in the field opposite.

Sheep and goats of Marcello of Palleggio

A flock of long-legged sheep and goats herded by a dog

The shepherd is lurking above by the municipal dustbin. His name is Marcello and he makes cheese. Not now of course, he explains, because the animals aren’t lactating, but between April and September I can come buy cheese from him at the top of Palleggio. What’s his surname, I ask, so I can ask the way. Oh, that won’t be necessary. Just ask for ‘il pastore’; there’s only one shepherd these days.

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8 Responses to Behind the scenes

  1. Debra Kolkka says:

    What fun! I can’t wait to get back to Bagni di Lucca and discover some of these trails. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see them used again? I am constantly asked by readers of the blog about walking trails in the area, but they can be extremely difficult to find. I would be really good if they could be signed a little better. Even armed with a map handed out at the information centre they can be difficult to locate and to follow.

    • Heather Jarman says:

      Debra, I can’t wait until you’re back and can help with this new project you’ve inspired. You’re right that the old mulattiere are sometimes very hard to follow, but this one is easy and you can safely send people on it.

  2. Debra Kolkka says:

    We will have to get out there on some fine, cold days. I have to warn you, I am not much good with hills, but I can do it slowly. I look forward to our new discoveries. I will be back on 21st January.

    • Heather Jarman says:

      I’ll try to think of some level ones. Tough around here, as you know. See you at the end of Jan.

  3. Janine says:

    You lucky girls! Heather, it was a joy reading this post. Like walking right there with you. I love the idea of the project. If anything will bring me back to BdL (as if I needed any encouragement) it would be the idea of some long walks like this one in the winter sun.

  4. janie says:

    What a lovely way to spend a day. I look forward to seeing what you discover.

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