In Italy, the region of Liguria is famous for its long and beautiful seacoast, and for two of the country's best-loved foods. It is also a wonderful place for walking.
There are miles of great footpaths taking you all over the wooded hills of this largely rural region. The views are terrific, and you can spend your day in beautiful countryside while never being far from a village and a little bar or restaurant.
Let's deal with the food first. Liguria is the home of pesto sauce, which is now appreciated all over the world. The capital Genoa, or Genova in Italian, gave its name to the dish 'spaghetti alla Genovese', which is a mix of spaghetti, diced potatoes, and French beans in a pesto sauce topped with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese. Liguria is also home to the bread called 'focaccia' which you can buy elsewhere in Italy, and even abroad, but which never tastes as good as it does in the region.
It is important to mention the food because you have the ideal picnic in focaccia, locally produced cheese or ham, tomatoes, and wine. In 'pasta alla Genovese' you also have the ideal hill walker's food with its great mix of energy giving carbohydrate, and tasty beans and basil. It's a great when you come down hungry at the end of the day, and prepares you for the next day's walk.
My last walk in Liguria was an ascent of Monte Gottero, the highest point of Liguria's eastern province of La Spezia. This was a typical scenic route through rolling, hill country. The highest point is about 5,000 feet. That's high enough to see the most amazing views, but not too tough for an averagely fit walker.
We camped the night before in order to start the walk up about 2,000 feet already, and so give us more time next day to stop and enjoy where we were walking. It is hot in Italy in the summer, but we were quite cool that night. It reminded me that when you are down at sea level, and feeling the heat, you could easily forget just what altitude does to the weather. Even a couple of thousand feet can make a big difference. We needed thick jumpers in the evening and a good sleeping bag.
Our walk started near some windmill electricity generators. In Italian wind power is known as 'energia eolica', a much more poetic term than ours, as you would expect in Italy.
That name comes from the story of Ulysses and his journey home from Troy. He stopped off at the island of Aeolus, who helped him by giving him a leather bag containing all the world's winds except the one he needed to get home quickly.
The foolish and greedy sailors thought that the bag contained treasure. They opened it, thereby letting out the winds and causing a storm that completely threw them off course.
I wonder if the term Aeolian Energy would ever catch on in English? One thing that is the same in Italy is the controversy these windmills cause whenever they are built. Still, they gave us something interesting to talk about as we climbed.
We stopped frequently to eat wild raspberries and study the mushrooms we found under the tress. They were protected there, but I was able to learn about them for future reference. Italians are great mushroom gatherers and they all seem to know what you can and cannot eat. I learned a lot, but would still only eat something I had had checked by an expert first.
When we came out of the trees with the summit in sight we were looking forward to our picnic. However, besides the most glorious 360 degree views, there was another treat waiting for us first.
We met a fellow walker and his 60 year-old son. Yes, the dad was a fit and energetic 94 year old who stopped to chat and tell us tales about life in the area when he was a young man. It was funny hearing him talk about the local village rivalries and the fights they had 'enjoyed' on the slopes of Monte Gottero.
He also told us sad stories of the fierce wartime fighting between partisans and the Nazi occupation forces. It was hard to imagine that this tranquil spot was the scene of the Battle of Gottero, which is still well remembered locally.
This was a fascinating encounter with a wonderful old man, and is the sort of magical moment that seems to happen when you are out walking.
Then came another reminder of how careful you have to be when you go up high. We were eating our picnic in a cooling breeze, feeling sorry for all the people roasting down at the seaside, when a thick mist came sweeping along the valley and filled it up until the view on one side of us was completely obscured. The speed with which it happened was remarkable and we were glad we had come well prepared with the right clothing.
Even in a fairly safe location on an August afternoon the temperature can quickly change. Whatever the weather is doing when you set of, you have to remember that it may be very different just a short time later. People who are new to the hills find that hard to believe until they have seen it for themselves. The mountains can never be trusted, and command a healthy respect from the most experienced of walkers.
Our walk down was as enjoyable as the way up and our day on Gottero remains a happy memory. In many ways it was a typical day's walking. We had new things to see and learn about, interesting people to meet, delicious wild food to add to our picnic, the close, therapeutic contact with nature, and a healthy tiredness in our legs at the end of the day.
There really is nothing quite like a walking holiday and few places are more suited to one than Italy. With its natural beauty, fascinating old towns, friendly people, and wonderful food you can't go wrong.
There are organized walking holidays that will suit every budget and level of fitness. For the very energetic, trekking in Italy is fantastic because you have the Alps as your challenge. Whatever you level you are at, you can go in a group with an experienced local guide. You can take a self-guided tour where you are given maps and an itinerary, but find your own way. You can find holidays where you are based in a centre and take daily circular walks. You can also book a tour that takes you from place to place with all your accommodation booked and your luggage transported for you. The choice is yours.
What all these holidays have in common is the relaxation, the healthy exercise, the quiet contact with nature, and the surprises that come when you leave your vehicle and give yourself time to explore at a human pace.
My name is Robert Marriott and I am an experienced traveler. I have put together a website full of exciting, value for money trips with reliable and responsible adventure travel companies. Visit my site http://www.adventuretravelshop.co.uk now and find details of walking holidays in Italy and elsewhere, and information about all kinds of fantastic overseas adventure travel.
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