A quiet day in the mountains
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A quiet day in the mountains

Ineeded a break.  From what, I’m not sure.  It wasn’t work; I had just spent 3 weeks at the sea.  Actually, I needed some hard, tough, exercise.  Plus some solitude.  Something that only comes from being in the mountains, and mountains

Thu 08 Sep 2005 12:00 AM

Ineeded a break.  From what, I’m not sure.  It wasn’t work; I had just spent 3 weeks at the sea.  Actually, I needed some hard, tough, exercise.  Plus some solitude.  Something that only comes from being in the mountains, and mountains are in abundance in Italy. 


In fact, there are 21 National Parks, with 3 more on the way, covering 1.5 million hectares, or 5% of all of Italy.  At the sea I could hardly find a place to put my towel. 


I loaded up my trusty mountain bike and headed for the Apennines via State Road 67 going through Pontassieve, Rufina, Dicomano, San Godenzo and then stopping at the Muraglione Pass.  This pass is located just outside of the northern boundaries of the Parco Nazionale delle Foreste Casentinesi, Monte Falterona, Campigna.  The park consists of 34,000 hectares and covers a long stretch of territory at the border of Romagna and Toscana.  By the way, you can be in the park in less than a one-hour drive from Florence.   


My plan was to bike down from Muraglione into the valley where I would easily find Acquacheta Falls, a place made famous by Dante himself, who happened to pass through there when, in 1302, he was exiled from Florence.  He enjoyed the waterfall so much that he mentioned it in the Inferno saying “it plunged down a steep and craggy bank, enough to deafen us in a few hours.” 


The journey down was ideal and I only got lost 2 or 3 times, which I consider a good result for following any directions in Italy.  Upon arrival at the falls I was later than expected, so I left after only 20 minutes, thus saving myself from deafdom.   Actually, Dante must have been there in the spring, as the falls in late August were fairly modest, yet still beautiful and serene. 


From the falls I continued down the trail to San Benedetto in Alpe, a little tough on a mountain bike as the trail is steep in places, with much of it being riverbed.  It made for a few dramatic falls of my own.  By the time I got to San Benedetto I was completely exhausted, but there waiting for me were several ristoranti, and they let me have a table even though I was drenched in sweat and bleeding. 


At this point I was very pleased with the trip.  It is a beautiful mountain area, mostly deeply forested, but at other times opening up to spectacular vistas.   I didn’t see wildlife though I sensed they saw me as I came crashing through the woods.  I did see a lot of cattle, some of which were of the white ‘chianina’ variety.  With their free-range lifestyle, no wonder, “beef Florentine” is so tasty.  Also, at the falls and on the remaining trail down, I came across quite a few people, all Italians, and I was almost startled by their friendliness.  I think there is something about being in the mountains that brings out the best in people. 


The final part of my journey involved peddling back up the pass to Muraglione where I had left my car.  Somehow, I had failed to realize that all of that going down through the woods would require a whole lot of going back up.  But, I returned to the saddle, put it in the lowest gear possible and pedaled away, only to discover very quickly that I was not going to have the highway to myself.  It seems that weekends bring out the “wanna be” motorcycle racers and this Saturday was no exception.  At first, I almost dove off my bike as a group of 6 screaming motorcycles went past, but I soon realized that they seemed to know what they were doing, lowering their knees to inches from the highway as they negotiated turns at full speed.  But, as I trundled my way up the mountain I found myself enjoying the action, even pulling over at times just to sit and watch them go by – these guys were flying!


My “escape” to the mountains was the perfect antidote to the “stress” of the “mare.”  It was an ideal combination of vigorous activity, serenity, crisp air, and a touch of excitement.


For more information about the national parks in Italy check out www.parks.it


The Florentine wants to encourage writers to tell us about their experiences “Outside in Italy.”  Please send your articles or ideas to redazione@theflorentine.net

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