Reference: Italy

Title: The slopes of Maggiore.

Length: 1200 words.

Publishing rights: All rights.

Travel operator: Page and Moy.

Copyright: Derrick Grover.

(Please click on thumbnails of photographs on this page to see enlargement, there is sometimes distortion when they are reduced.)

The slopes of Maggiore.

Villagio Church.

Who was it who said, "It is more important to ask the right question than it is to give the right answer". We were about to introduce a variation. We had arrived at Lake Maggiore at about 9.30 in the evening for four days of a two-location holiday. A full moon lit up the ripples on the Italian Lake in a continuous stream. It seemed the ideal start for a romantic holiday.

We had visions of walking over the mountainous shores by the lake and negotiating the footpaths to the top. The maps supplied by the hotel were of a very different style to the Ordnance Survey. Heavy red and green lines claimed to mark the footpaths for potential hikers. Our immediate problem was to decide on the meaning of the colour and in particular where these walking tours commenced.

The hotel receptionist suggested we made our way along the narrow alleyways of Canerro by the lake and then cross the main road obliquely where we would find the start of the footpath. These walks are bewildering since many of the alleyways culminate in private residences and it requires a measure of experience to decide on a suitable route.

After a false start we nevertheless found a path which ascended to the hills and started a stiff climb punctuated by steps in the rock. I had a continuing sense of wonderment at the height of many of the buildings up the cliff face. The steps were made for walkers rather than vehicles. How did they transport tons and tons of masonry, tiles and bricks up these narrow alleyways? It was clearly not possible by lorry but perhaps, at the time they were built, there was a succession of mule trains.

Lake Maggiore.

Our footpath did not have any resemblance to the markings on the map. We were on a zigzagging path, which was not shown, but there were little signposts made of wood, pointing to Comine with figures carved such as 225 m and h 0.50. After some deliberation we decided that the m referred to the height in metres above the lake and the h.50 meant 50 minutes walking time. If country folk in England minimise the time taken to follow their directions then the Italian directions took on a more Latin temperament. We appeared to be taking between two and three times the time allotted for our walk. This of course was caused partly by our occasional stops to look at the scenery and the ancient buildings remaining on the mountainside - many built from the surrounding rock with slated roofs. The wooden doors had rotted and inside there was a hollow where once there had been a wooden floor.

Our journey was to take us up to Chirac. We found the name on one of the wooden signs but since it was rectangular with neither a right nor a left arrow we concluded we had arrived. Why were there no houses? The only reassurance was the sign pointing to Comine. We expected it to be the stop for a bus for our return journey or a ferry down the lake back to Canerro.

Since lunchtime was close we had to make an important decision at a fork in the path. Comine Sup. was higher than the community by the lake. Comine Inf. held a brighter prospect for a restaurant. We made our way down past tumbling waterfalls and smallholdings on the hillside.

The village seemed bereft of a suitable facilities; there being one restaurant down by the waterside which was closed, and another at the side of the road which clearly dated from previous centuries and had the toilet facilities to match. The price of a meal, however, was the equivalent of £8 to £10 for lunch and £2 for an ice cream.

Walking along the main road was fraught with difficulties. There was no pavement. This added to the sense of adventure unnecessarily since the Italian drivers came speeding around the corners with inches to spare for the occasional hiker. We made our way back to the footpath having determined that the town was too small to justify a ferry back to Canerro. Rather than wait about an hour for a bus we took the mountain path again. The signpost had indicated a prospective historic site called Villagio Millenia. There was a moment of confusion when we were confronted with a shrine but on reaching the corner we found a concealed right-hand turn which led up the mountainside. It is of course recommended that one should get out of breath for at least 10 minutes three times a week and so our climb up the mountain side was beneficial.

We arrived at Comine Superior to find Villagio Millenias. It started off as a fort in 975 AD when people from the lakeside went there for refuge after being attacked by people from other states further South. The dwellings and church were built in the grounds of the fort about 1300. Shorn out of the cliff side it represented the massive effort that seems common with these buildings of former times. No doubt, the peasantry were encouraged to perform the backbreaking toil necessary to build these edifices. The church was not open and parts were railed off where wooden ramps, now rotted, had supported people walking over the sheer drop at the side of the church. There is a magnificent view from the courtyard over Lake Maggiore.

Having climbed to Comine Sup we had a gentle walk down to the fork and rejoined the path back to Canerro. We were conscious how long it had taken us and checked on the time - less distracted by the views and buildings we had seen previously. It is fair to say that, when stepping out with purpose, the journey can be made in the times indicated on the signposts but we would advise the casual tourist to multiply them by 2 to 2.5 to estimate their time of arrival. Many of the steep parts of the path were punctuated by steps made from boulders quarried out of the mountainside. Whilst this doubtless kept the path intact during flooding it could be slippery for leather shoes and a twisted ankle might be a hazard.

A difficulty of the area is that the guidebooks are usually in Italian or German. This is in keeping with the fewer numbers of English visitors at our hotel. In some parts the waiters did not speak English, but French was sometimes a mutual language.

For the remainder of our holiday we took the ferry to the many waterside villages. It was a more relasing way to travel.

View some photographs supporting this article here.

Villagio Millenias, Church, View of lake, Mask collection, Woodland views.

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