I got cabin fever last week and decided to take myself off for a short walk. The short walk soon became a rather long walk as I took a path I’d never taken before, going cross-country to La Crocetta. Why it is called La Crocetta (the cross) I am not sure. It’s probably called that because it’s where we cross over into the next valley. Or it might be that long ago it lay on an important crossroad. Or perhaps it is called that for the small chapel that is built just where the rising road turns a sharp curve and begins its descent into the valley on the other side.
Doesn’t that look impressive? Actually, the walk was shy of two miles each way, but since there was a 919 foot change in elevation I felt extremely virtuous. The first part of the walk was along the road that leads both over the mountain pass (La Crocetta) to the Val Fontanbuona on the other side (take the left fork) and to Montallegro (take the right fork). It was near this very crossroad that I noticed a sign I hadn’t seen before:
Via alla Crocetta – road to La Crocetta – but the road went down and La Crocetta is clearly up. Across the road is a bit of paved walk that runs along the boundary of a recently built home for retired nuns.
We always assumed it was part of the nuns’ property, but it is directly across the road from the sign and leads away exactly as if it were a continuation of the signed street. This required investigation. The worst that would happen is that my theory that this walking path led to La Crocetta would be mistaken, and I’d have to turn around.
Not far along the path began to narrow.
Walking along the path gave a good view of the Nuns’ home, and I was startled and delighted to see that they, too, have gone solar. That’s quite an array of panels, and as there are fewer than 20 women living there I have to think that they are generating a lot more power than they need. They live rather simply.
Soon I was walking through the woods with nothing but birdsong to accompany me. Although the road had narrowed considerably, there was no longer any doubt that it was going somewhere, probably La Crocetta. It was built in the same style as all the old roads here, with slim stones set into the earth on their sides, giving a ridged surface. Every now and then a few long stones are laid in for drainage.
(This is probably as good a time as any to tell you that Crocs are not appropriate foodwear for a walk like this. I must have stopped over a hundred times to hike my socks up.) I have asked many people why the stones are set in this fashion, and no one has ever been able to tell me for sure. My theory, and I’m sure it’s right, is that if the stones were laid flat they could be easily dislodged, and they would also be rather slippery when wet. In addition, the ridges, while uncomfortable for light-soled shoes, would be very effective to help mules and heavily-shod people keep their footing.
I was struck again, as I have been whenever I find myself on these ancient roads, with two thoughts: one, that I was walking on the same route that people had used for hundreds of years, a route whose frequent use was probably abandoned only within the last sixty or seventy years. Over the last decade I have spoken to two elderly people who have recounted walking from the Val Fontanabuona over the mountain to Rapallo, Santa and Portofino to sell vegetables and eggs. They arose in the dark, made the long walk, sold the little they had carried, and then walked back, arriving home after dark. They were little children. The second thought was that there is probably not a square inch of land around here that hasn’t been walked on or explored.
I climbed through the forest for quite a while and finally came upon signs of civilization.
It’s a poor picture – there were a lot of clouds and moisture in the air – but you get the idea. You can see forever from up there. A neighbor passed me in a small ‘furgone’ (one of the narrow pick-up trucks that are prevalent on and suited to our narrow roads) pinned down under a huge, swaying load of hay. I crossed the main road, and took off again in the woods, arriving in another twenty minutes at my objective, La Crocetta.
This is a sweet shrine, quite small, always well maintained. From here the road plunges down into the valley on the other side. A well-used hiking trail connects La Crocetta to Montallegro in one direction, and to a well-maintained refuge for hikers on the adjacent peak in the other direction. And of course it also connects to Rapallo on the seldom used path I had just arrived on.
It took longer than I anticipated to make this little trek (all that climbing!) so without lingering I retraced my steps. Isn’t it odd how different everything looks when you’re walking in the opposite direction? On the way down I noticed some wildflowers I hadn’t seen on the way up.
It’s hard to imagine what life was like for people who used these roads as their main highways, who walked by foot or rode on a mule to get where they were going, and did so frequently. The road would have been more open then; a lot of this land was under cultivation until not very long ago. How different their pace of life was! After a walk like this, when one feels cast back in time, it seems more than a little disorienting to return suddenly to modern life. Everything moves so fast, and it’s so noisy. What feels just right, however, is to climb into a hot tub for a good long soak. So that is what I did.