Tuesday, 30 April 2019
From Tellaro to Montemarcello and back
Having only briefly savoured the delights of Tellaro, a Ligurian fishing village that isn't on the Cinque Terre route so has a relatively unspoilt atmosphere, on the final day of my time last year at Gianluca Marciano's Suoni dal Golfo Festival, I decided I had to come back at the first opportunity, show J the beauty of the place, hopefully swim and certainly walk on the paths I'd only begun to discover. A good map bought at trusty Stanford's showed the further possibilities of the Parco Nazionale di Montemarcello Magra: we would at the least find our way further on from Fiascherino beyond Tellaro
to Montemarcello, another picture-postcard-perfect village, this time overlooking the sea but protected from it (a bit like those Corsican places where the inhabitants had turned their back on marine dangers and invaders).
Opportunity had to be planned for. We arrived from Pisa on the second day of April to spend a wonderful afternoon in Sarzana (more anon) on what turned out to be the last afternoon of Sirocco warmth. Italy hadn't seen rain for at least three months - reports varied - and river levels were worryingly low; the Po was at least three metres below its average. On cue, the Tramontane changed all that and we braced ourselves for two days of stormy weather.
It wasn't so much of a hardship; the Hotel Rosa dei Venti, despite having taken my booking, chose to tell us that it would be closed for two days' renovation work, and would we mind moving along the road to the unpromisingly named Albergo Blueline? As it turned out, that was officially an upgrade; though the room wasn't as spacious, the balcony had a better view over Fiascherino Bay, and it was cosy to be in, walled up with good books, when the storm finally broke, leaving us to muse on how poor Shelley drowned in just such weather on his way back in the Ariel from Livorno to Lerici.
Besides, the staff made a delightful double act. The wife of the owner was incredulous that I swam between storms off the public beach which had been such a delight in September. Now it was deserted, but at 7 in the evening the water wasn't too cold and I took the prize for first bather of 2019 in Fiascherino.
Earlier, I'd managed a preliminary reconnaissance of a couple of hours on the path up from Tellaro,
turning left at the top to take an old mule track back through olive groves to Fiascherino rather than right towards Montemarcello
and catching the glint of white irises through the trees.
The next day was going to be a washout until early evening, so once the morning storm had abated we took the bus down to Lerici, had a long lunch in a restaurant overlooking the harbour and, once the rain had all but ceased, took the lift up to the castle where several of the concerts had taken place last year. So much mud and water had come down from the hills that the sea below was very much two-tone.
Later we walked into Tellaro and down to the much smaller harbour there
after which the clouds were lifting
and a fine sunset formed across the bay at Portovenere.
As predicted, the Friday started sunny and was set to become even fairer: we could do our walk at last. Swallows had just arrived and were swooping over the hotel garden with its olive trees
and the bay.
Perhaps I should have read the sign at the start of the cliff route to Montemarcello: 'trail with steep sections for experienced hikers' - the same legend we found on a later board.
Experienced, yes, in terms of rock clambering, but the only time I've ever had serious vertigo was at the top of the cliff path down to the gorgeous Spiaggia delle due sorelle (two sisters beach) in the Marche's Monte Conero, and I got it again, especially in an open stretch like this - though steadying myself to take a couple of photos -
as well as on a part of the path that seemed to go ever downward virtually to sea level before climbing all the way up again (that bit has never been a problem). Still, though I didn't entirely relish them at the time, the vistas were dramatic
and finally we joined the (more or less traffic-free, minor) road for the last ten minutes into Montemarcello. Arborial traces of what had once been a 'giardino botanico' on Monte Murlo made a change to the landscape
while Montemarcello's fields and orchards sloped invitingly down towards the sea.
We entered the all-but-deserted village through a fine gate
and got our first glimpse of the view across to the Apuan Alps, still in dark cloud,
before winding around the streets
towards the church, which had some old prints of the Stations of the Cross against pleasingly coloured walls.
Wonder of wonders, the one place to eat was absolute perfection - the Caffè delle ragazze, where two very friendly ladies were serving just what we needed in the shape of chickpea and chicory flan. Which we were able to consume in a perfect piazza. Note man on roof to the left.
After this J decided to take a shorter route back to Fiascherino, while I was curious to see the botanical remains on Monte Murlo, which would mean ascending to a fairly modest 362 metres. I'd wanted to go as far as Bocca di Magra, the mouth of the river which separates the national park from the plains around Sarzana, but I did at least get perspectives of the river
and later of the coast towards Viareggio.
This is wild boar territory - hunting only between October and January on Wednesdays and Sundays
I heard a porker or two snuffling and trampling through the woods as I rounded the mountain towards the Zanego valley
with views down to attractive Ameglia
and across towards one of the Apuan hill towns (possibly Falcinello?)
Eventually this lovely path curved round to meet the minor road J had taken at Le Figarole and from that point on I was following in his footsteps, joining the other end of the same mule track I'd taken two afternoons earlier. Again, the fields sloping down towards the sea were so attractive in the late afternoon sun
and I just missed snapping this goat in the act of standing on its hind legs to pull down the branch of a tree, on the blossoms of which it is now munching.
Though an easier route than the lower coast path, the mule track's cobbles were punishing on the feet
but it wasn't a long way at all back to Tellaro, seen from above here,
and by about 6pm I was back at the hotel. If only I could have staved off the desire to rest and changed for a final swim. But idleness beckoned, followed by a wonderful evening meal. And so our little Italian seaside holiday ended in glory and deliciousness before the next day's four-change train journey (no hardship) up to Treviso and a splendid working weekend.