Bypassing the long trail yesterday for an unscheduled rest day wasn’t in our original plan, so we were extra motivated to get out and hike this morning. Our B&B host kindly prepared our breakfast at 5 am, allowing us to get onto the trail early. We hoped this would help us beat the worst of today’s forecasted heat.
Via Degli Dei – Day 3: Madonna dei Fornelli to Santa Lucia
Better than good; today was great!
Our early start worked a charm! We had a fantastic hike in the mountains overlooking scenic valleys below: through woods and meadows, amidst wildflowers and active pollinators, along stretches of an ancient Roman road, across the regional border from Emilia-Romagna to Tuscany, and over the Via’s highest point. I have been fortunate to hike many places in the world and believe this stretch was one of the best trails ever! It was hot and humid, as predicted. We missed the highest temps by hitting the trail early and arrived at our B&B in the early afternoon to cool off in its swimming pool!
Today is the Summer Solstice, so there was ample sunlight for a decent photo at 5:45 am.
Throughout the day, we came across several sign boards explaining some of the history of the route and its ancient origins as an ancient Roman road.
Some of the 2,200-year-old Flaminia Militare ran over part of today’s route, and the foundation stones were awe-inspiring.
Now and then, we walked through patches of mud left over from last month’s storms that were topped up by recent afternoon thunderstorms.
We crossed the regional border into Tuscany.
Another aspect of the Via reminded me of the Santa Cruz Mountains, where we often hike near our home in California: ruins of old lime kilns (furnaces). Built in the late 19th Century, our kilns were vital to the reconstruction of San Francisco after its 1906 earthquake – the remains can be seen on trails to this day. We didn’t find any of the ruins in Italy, but this sign board confirmed their existence. What a difference between our countries when we talk about something being “old!”
After a steady climb for 3½ hours, we reached the highest point of our day and the highest point of the Via Degli Dei.
From the summit, we had a long steady descent and were very happy to come within sight of our destination B&B, Podere Belvedere, with gardens of beautiful flowers, herbs, and fresh produce for home-cooked meals!
Speaking of beautiful flowers, I couldn’t resist taking photos of the wildflowers we saw during today’s hike. I wish I could have also captured their fragrances!
Each new town brings a unique selection of local cheeses, particularly as we are now in an entirely new region.
Day 3 Stats
Distance: 21.1km / 13.1mi
Elev Gain: 804m / 2,638ft
Today was exactly what I had hoped for in my dreams about the Via Degli Dei, and it more than made up for the frustrations of the first two days. It was nice to finally be in our groove!
Via Degli Dei – Day 4: Santa Lucia to San Piero a Sieve
Hey kids, don’t try this at home!
Our ecstasy of yesterday was quickly dashed after we set out early this morning due to my poor route planning. I’m so embarrassed – let me explain…
Our superb B&B last night wasn’t on the main route of the Via. It was 4 km away, back up the hill we descended in the afternoon – we had no interest in retracing our steps. Today’s forecast called for afternoon thunderstorms, so I thought I’d be clever and find us a “shortcut” to get back on the correct trail more quickly. I checked my AllTrails app and found a route that appeared to traverse the hills and intersect with the Via closer to our destination. “Perfect,” I thought. Boy, was I wrong: despite the app’s name, not all trails on AllTrails are created equally…
The journey started well enough, with the sun shining through morning clouds and lovely views into the valley below. A broad, level jeep trail took us into the woods, and I felt confident in my impromptu adjustment.
The only other people we saw anywhere close were a couple foraging for porcini mushrooms. She didn’t mind showing off one of her finds so long as I didn’t show her face.
Suddenly, the trail began to deteriorate. The woods got denser and darker, and we had to climb over numerous fallen trees across the path. Thorny vines started to reach out to grab anything they could. This is when I should have realized how unusable the trail was going to be…
And indeed here… but no, my pride got the better of me. We continued.
When we could no longer see a clear trail, we followed our digital topo map. The overstory was so thick that the intermittent GPS signal to our phone caused our onscreen location to hop and skip around erratically. We didn’t know where we were relative to the trails we wanted. Even once we decided to turn back, we couldn’t find a route that didn’t require hacking away at the underbrush, sliding on our bottoms, and pulling thorns out of our skin. Yes, blood was drawn.
After this point, I lost interest in photographing our struggles and put the phone away to focus on escaping our predicament. My goodness… Two serious mishaps in four days: I thought I was a better planner than this! I was so upset with myself and really in a funk!
Fast forward two hours, and we finally returned to our previous night’s B&B to our hosts’ surprise (shock, really!): battered, bloodied, and beaten. They allowed us to clean ourselves up and get bandaged and called a taxi to drive us to tonight’s destination town. San Piero a Sieve is the first town in Italy that reminded me of the many towns and villages on the Camino Francés in Spain. And it was the first such town where we allowed ourselves time to sit and enjoy alongside the local folk – which we did for the entire afternoon.
In less than a week, we are already learning that this trip will deliver surprises. Joanie is coping with this better than I am. She does a great job of pointing out the things we see that we would miss completely if all my plans worked out. A fine example was the sweet potato ravioli we ate for our main meal today. It is the only item on the menu, hand-made daily by the matron of our cafe, and served to a steady stream of locals dining in or taking home. It was one of the best of so many excellent meals we enjoyed in Italy! And we only found it because we were forced off our original plan.
Our top-floor apartment gave us a nice breeze to help dry our day’s laundry…
… and nice views of rapidly changing clouds.
Day 4 Stats
Distance: 5.3km / 3.3mi
Elev Gain: 154m / 505ft
Time: 2:36 (plus 2:00 to return to our starting point)
We fit into this sleepy little town so comfortably and went to bed early tonight, hoping for a renewed effort tomorrow.