On ancient merchants’ footprints: the Italian Apennine Mountains
This is a repost of my last year’s blog on the Salt Paths: Hiking ancient merchant trails connecting inland cities of Northern Italy to the Mediterranean Coast across the Apennine Mountains.
I hosted hiking tours on the footprints of ancient salt merchants in late Summer month with local guides & co-hosts Lorenza and Gianni. More hikes are scheduled for Spring and Summer of 2017.
Our group of hikers on our first day on the Salt Paths in Piedmont
In 8 days we hiked on separate path stretches, not following one single specific trail, starting from the quaint village of Pontecurone in Piedmont, Italy, eventually reaching the Mediterranean Sea at Portofino, on the Italian Riviera.
We “immersed” ourselves in more than 2000 years of history as these ancient routes had been used by prehistoric populations inhabiting these regions, later by the Romans and throughout the Middle Ages by salt merchants and their mules to transport salt from the coast to Italian inland cities.
One of the most ancient paths, trailing high on the crest of Mount Antola (about 500 ft) on the Ligurian Apennines, offers hikers the opportunity to admire a majestic landscape in the Italian regions of Piedmont, Lombardy, Emilia Romagna, Liguria: unobstructed mountains’ views, deep valleys dotted with small hamlets, distant creeks, the Mediterranean Sea peeking among the summits at some point.
As a matter of fact, after a few days of hiking in the remote distance all members of our group could catch a glimpse of the far away Mediterranean Sea and the Ligurian Coastal villages of Rapallo, Portofino, Cinque Terre, our final destination.
We spent the night at lovely B&Bs in small villages, in the past centuries thriving posts along the Salt Paths.
Due to the huge value of salt throughout history, praised as preserving agent, essential human and animal diet component and as flavor enhancer, simple rest stations along these Apennine Mountains’ trails evolved into villages and later in larger towns with their own economies, such as the ancient small town of Bobbio, which thrived in the Middle Ages.
Originally a convent during Roman times, the city of Bobbio became a central and favorite stopover for merchants and pilgrims during their journeys.
Enriched by the taxes imposed to merchants, it provided rest and protection to caravans, also a spiritual haven to thousands of pilgrims en route to Rome. A Roman bridge (the Humpback Bridge built, according to a legend, by the devil), medieval churches, an ancient abbey (the Abbey of St. Columbanus) and a mosaic of byzantine origin stand as witnesses of thousands years of history.
We spent our nights at “agriturismos” – the Italian version of country B&Bs – which also provided our amazing and overly abundant evening dinners.
In the morning, after healthy breakfasts we slowly descended from the top of mountains to more gentle trails among forests of beeches and chestnuts.
Along the way, we passed small alpine huts, distant castle ruins, towers and farms. Eventually the sea got closer, and we could feel the salty breeze in our nostrils.
Before reaching the coast we still had time to experience another village, with its own traditions and legends. At Uscio, we visited a church built 1000 years ago, spared from destruction by the locals’ struggle against the bishop’s plans to demolish it to build a bigger one.
Close-by, we were led through a 200 year old factory Trebino Roberto featuring a private museum of the company’s main manufacturing product: church tower bells. The factory still produces tower clocks for churches all over the world. Some of their tower bells are at the Vatican, others in other main Italian churches.
Through a splendid forest our last section of trail took us to the beach town of Portofino, on the Ligurian Coast.
Portofino is a picturesque, half-moon shaped seaside village with pastel houses lining the shore of the harbor, shops, restaurants, cafes, and luxury hotels.
The green waters reveal abundant aquatic life. A castle sits atop the hill overlooking the village.
The vegetation had changed and the salty aroma blended with the perfume of maritime pines, colorful houses lined the harbor.
After a 8 day hike along ever changing trails, crossing wooded area, bare peaks, quaint village, we reached our destination, the Ligurian Coast, not too far from the famous Cinque Terre, the place where everything started, the origin of the Salt Paths.
We celebrated the end of our hike with a scrumptious Italian gelato!