Not always good advice, but as often as not it works out well here, so if you’re planning a trip to Italy, be sure to pack your walking shoes.
We used to wonder why so many places in Italy were built in ‘inconvenient’ locations, for example San Fruttuoso, which was once a very important abbey. Nowadays you can reach it only by boat or on foot. But of course, we finally realized, in the 1200’s when it was built it was as convenient for it to be there as anywhere else, in fact being on the sea made it more convenient.
Italians are inveterate walkers. You can be out in the middle of nowhere on some trail that you figure no one has been on for a century; you’ll round a corner, and there will be a middle-aged lady in her straight skirt and high heels walking towards you. The passagiata is one style of walking, and ‘footing’ along the sentieros is another, slightly more energetic approach. After that I guess you graduate to hiking. One reason Italians seem so much slimmer and healthier than Americans, I’m sure, is because walking is still central to life here (leaving out the Mediterranean diet for the moment). In the town where we used to live in the U.S., people routinely drove to the Pharmacy to pick up their newspapers, then got in their cars and drove about 100 yards to the Post Office to pick up mail. The pace of life here accommodates the time it takes to walk in a way that the hurried life in America frequently doesn’t.
Almost every community, certainly every region, has available maps of the public paths, so it is not difficult to find places to walk. Not all paths are on these maps, however; there’s no substitute for an ancient neighbor who can tell you which unpromising looking set of steps to take to get someplace quickly. Every place in Italy is connected to every other place by these paths. Some have been turned into roads since the invention of the automobile, but the shortest distance between two locales is frequently still the ‘sentiero’ – the path. A good example is the connection between Rapallo and San Maurizio, the frazione where we live. It’s about 8 kilometers by car, but it is surely not more than 4 or 5 by foot through the woods. Now that autumn has arrived it is a lovely walk, dry scuffling leaves underfoot and cool breezes off the sea just when you think you’re becoming overheated.
After leaving our street I walked down this long flight of steps, cutting out 2 switchbacks in the road – isn’t it inviting?
Then I crossed the street and walked down a curving road through a small settlement. Now I know where all the barking we hear comes from. I’ve never seen so many watch dogs.
One house had 3, each fiercer than the last!
Continuing down the hill I arrived at the old mills, which have recently been restored. We’re told there used to be five or six mills in this narrow valley; now there is just this one, but it served double purpose, milling both olives and chestnuts. The old mill wheel between the buildings could be used for both milling operations. Now it is a civic museum and quite interesting to visit.
The stone paths here have always interested me – they’re the devil to walk on because so many of the stones are set end-up rather than flat. I don’t know why, but have decided it was to give better traction to the mules as they made their way up and down these trails loaded with goods.
You know it’s autumn when you start finding chestnuts on the ground. The ones on the ground now are a bit early; the recent big winds brought them down before they were ripe. The wild boar, cinghiale, love these nuts, so it’s a good idea to keep your eyes and ears open when you’re in the chestnut forest, even though the boars are usually nocturnal.
Amazingly there is a ‘last homely house’ well along this path. I met the woman who lives in it several years ago; she works in the hospital and has (of course!) a lot of dogs. It’s impossible to drive to her home; she parks about a quarter of a mile down the hill and uses this ingenious device to get her goods up to the house – the Modern Mule.
At last I arrived in Rapallo. It took me over an hour to make this walk, but only because I stopped to take so many photos. It was a glorious day to be out and about and hard to find an excuse to be indoors.
But I had to go to driving school…