Rogue Carver on the Loose in Italy
Part 25, Pontremoli to San Rocchino
When the day came to move on from my lovely Airbnb guesthouse a few miles outside of Pontremoli, Lunigiana I did so with more than a tinge of sadness, for throughout the week I had spent there the place had continued to grow on me. I loved the openness of it all, along with the freedom to roam the miles upon miles of beautifully sculpted and virtually empty roads. All-in-all it turned out to be a most exhilarating week, and one that I will look back upon with a genuine and heartfelt fondness. But independent travel is as much about hellos as goodbyes and sad as it was to leave such an enchanting corner of the world I knew as I packed my things and loaded them into ‘The Bee 2’, my trusted rented Fiat Panda, that before the day was through another chapter of my three month Tuscan Adventure was about to begin.
The kindness and hospitality I received from my hosts, Francesco and Eugenia, made my departure feel more akin to bidding farewell to long and trusted friends, and as I sat for the final time, having grown accustomed to such wonderful epicurean daily feasts, at my ‘Breakfast Fit for a King’ I felt an acute pang of sadness that my breakfasts were about to revert back to more mundane fare.
But as they say, parting is such sweet sorrow, after saying my goodbyes I hopped behind the wheel and plotted my way along the gorgeous Lunigianan country lanes for one last time (on this trip, I will be back!) and charted a course that would see me cross the Apuane mountains, of Cararra marble fame, and drop into Garafagnana’s gorgeous Serchio Valley where I am in the course of spending the final four weeks of my stay.
Although the usual Mediterranean haze made silhouettes of the jagged peaks I was about to skirt the day seemed full of promise as a ridge of high pressure laid on a brilliant blue sky that sent the thermometer soaring.
The shady lanes however provided plenty of cool, dappled sunlight that made my final automobile excursion through the Lunigianan landscape just as beautiful and enjoyable as the many other trips I had recently taken and proved a fitting finale to my week of such thoroughly enjoyable good old fashioned automobile touring.
It wasn’t too long though before I stumbled across my first ‘anomaly’ of the day. Independent travel is full of these sort of quixotic experiences and to be honest I just love them. They take all sorts of forms, shapes and sizes, and you never know just when you are going to come across one. Sometimes they manifest themselves as events (as we’ll see a little later) and sometimes they turn out to be big empty squares full of expensive marble, such as this.
Well, this is actually the first big, completely empty and forlorn looking marble square in a tiny town I have actually stumbled across… ever, when I come to think about it. But having spotted it out of the corner of my eye when travelling along the road, hidden by the marble wall running along the left hand side of the square, I immediately pulled over to see just what it was all about.
To be honest I didn’t quite know what to make of it at first. It was certainly huge, and obviously expensive, but why was it here, in this tiny little village of a town?
Closer inspection revealed… a solid marble recycling bin (stuffed with random garbage), complete with carefully and beautiful hand carved v-cut lettering!
Adjacent to it stood what appeared to be an old abandoned railway station in an advanced state of dereliction. But it turned out to be one of Italy’s many locked and empty station buildings. Apparently the trains still stopped there, as I discovered when some days later I took the train and snapped a few train’s eye pics of the place.
To be honest if I hadn’t have previously explored it for myself I would have imagined it to be one of Italy’s countless thousands of pristine cemeteries, or perhaps an extravagant war memorial.
However, quite by chance, as I am a persistent sort of chap, I stumbled across this rather nice gift shop/information center at the very far end of the plaza, staffed by a very articulate and friendly local by the name of Laura.
Laura was in the process of making a lovely hand painted sign informing the railway station passengers of this gleamingly modern building’s existence… as it was quite camouflaged into the whole scheme of things, and not exactly obvious to all but the most determined and intrepid tourist. I got the distinct feeling that I was her first customer in some considerable time.
Purchasing a few odds and ends while I sipped my espresso I quizzed her about the place – just what it was for? Why such an enormous great huge massive marble square in such an out of the way and frankly provincial town? Ignoring my implications she simply explained that it was the work of one “Petro Cascella”… a “famous artists” apparently. The conversation never really advanced beyond this point as I got the distinct feeling that Laura assumed that the mere weight of the great man’s name would suffice to explain everything – what more was there to say?
What I would have loved to ask her is why, instead of building a purpose built structure at the far end of the plaza… why didn’t they just renovate the lovely old station building itself? Then she wouldn’t have to go to the trouble of painting a sign with which to lure railway passengers? But I thought wiser of it and kept my bemused thoughts to myself. I am, after all, simply a guest in this ancient and complex land.
But then, as I was leaving I took an inkling to mosey around for one last look, and there I stumbled across the answer: Two Thousand and Eight. Of course, it was a pre-recession good old fashioned boondoggle! Dare I say EU money perhaps? Two thousand and eight – that explained everything.
Besides a few sundry items such as local pecorino cheese, wine and bread, I also came away from Laura’s kitchen with a hot tip that the nearby town of Fivizzano (I just love these northwestern Tuscan names) was having a fair, and so just minutes later I found myself face to face with my second treat of the day…
I had no idea just what it was about but clearly the locals were having a swell time.
Food, and drink, seemed to be the main preoccupation, but bubblemen seemed to capture the crowd’s attention too.
My own attention however was taken by these two chaps. They were busy heating up those clay pots into which they dolloped dough which would then bake using solely residual heat – an interesting concept… I was curious to see how it worked. Purchasing a 4 Euro ticket it was with some dismay that I calculated that my sandwich would take perhaps half an hour to appear, and so I set off to take a look around the rest of the fair that encompassed the entire central area of town.
Although the fair was certainly wonderful and interesting enough in of itself I was now becoming quite ravenous and so some 25 minutes later on returning to the clay sandwich stall I was dismayed to calculate that my epicurian delight seemed to be still a good 15 to 20 minutes away.
Finally I came to the sad realization that the day was escaping me and it was time to climb back into The Bee and make some ground towards my destination, and so I cut my 4 Euros adrift and headed for the hills. I couldn’t help but notice though as I made my leave that although obligingly patient to begin with the now famished locals were looking decidedly restless as they swarmed ever closer to the booth, ticket in hand, eyes fixed upon our two intrepid bakers.
Luckily I had my bread and cheese, some olives and fruit and so I was set. It was back to the lovely empty roads, and more sumptuous country lanes as I climbed up and ultimately over the crest of the valley, out of Lunigiana and into Garafangnana.
The roadsides were simply bursting with flowers. The birds sang, accompanied by the song in my heart! ‘This place is amazing’ I thought to myself as the miles rolled by and the panoramic vistas came and went with practically each bend of the road.
Eventually I crested a rise and there before me Garafagnana’s Serchio Valley dropped into view.
An hour or two later I arrived here at San Rocchino on the outskirts of Borgo a Mozzano where I have been enjoying the good life for almost three weeks now, with nine more days to look forward to.
Through his magic hole in the bushy wall there lies a veritable paradise as the slideshow below will hopefully illustrate:
Yes, I’d say that ‘paradise’ is no exaggeration. I discovered Monica’s gorgeous ‘Loft Surrounded by Nature” on Airbnb, and if you’d care to learn more about it it’s not difficult to find: Podere San Rocchino, Borgo a Mozzano.
Until next time, when I’ll be reminiscing about some of the stand out experiences I have enjoyed these past weeks but have not yet found the time to upload in the form of a blog, thanks for stopping by.