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