Thursday, 22 February 2018

St Augustine Way - Bussana Vecchia, Italy - Menton, France

Day 17. Bussana Vecchia, Italy to Menton, France 32km
Total walked: 379km
The final walk day.
Well today is the last days walk for a few months as I need to return home and earn some money to pay for the final leg....walking through France. At the moment I have self funded all the new Pilgrim walks.
I have spent a lot of time planning, walking this route virtually at home and editing walk notes which has certainly made this journey much more enjoyable. So yet another good reason to return home.
I woke early with the room still bathed in darkness and was heading out of the village just as the first crack of daylight was creeping into the sky. There was not a soul around as I wound my way through the narrow streets, not even a bird or cat to disturb the deafening silence.
The path down from the village is one of the original routes and in parts it had deep gouged channels, steep, slippy stones, overgrown in sections and basically just a nightmare to walk on. At the bottom and safely on the road I really did feel like kissing the tarmac in relief at arriving.
Ahead of me I had a day of ups and downs again, but this time more like pimples as opposed to mountains, with the maximum altitude to gain.....a dizzying 70m!
I negotiated my way to the outskirts of Sanremo after a breathtakingly beautiful descent from Poggio. The whole of that journey providing me with enviable views across the sea. At the old railway line once more I followed it into town. Despite the path clearly being marked one side for pedestrians and one side for cyclists, most people using it had other ideas. I bobbed and weaved my way along trying to avoid hot sweaty runners of all shapes and sizes. Cyclists zooming along in their attempts to break through the sound barrier. Dog walkers with their leads stretched across the path, blissfully ignorant of their dog squatting. After several days of relative peace and quiet behind me it looked like today was going to be filled with a cacophony of sound, smell and general irritation.
And relax.................
In the centre of Sanremo I slowed my pace not only because of the amount of people, but also to get the feeling of what the music festival was about. Along the main street there were several radio stations interviewing people, some were just talking others singing away, I have to say not always in tune, as if they were on X factor. What is it with everyone wanting to be just famous these days? The main Piazza was transformed into a heady mixture of mobile radio studios, stages, food and drink vendors, entertainment stalls. I'm sure everyone was having a good time, but just now it was not for me. I quickened my pace and left it behind me.
Back on the old railway line again I was soon bobbing and weaving along as swarms of people were heading the opposite way to me and into town. The day continued to be uneventful as I followed the coastline through Ospedaletti, Bordighera and Vallecrosia. Yes there were some fine views, ahead and behind me as I passed round the bays but in the main it was just monotonous unfortunately. On reflection I have to admit that I really can't remember much about that part of the day, just walking on the pavement by the side of a smelly main road, passing almost seamlessly from one town into the next. Lost in my own thoughts and dreams.
Mid afternoon was totally different and after leaving modern Ventimiglia and ascending into the old town my mood picked up. The town was originally called Albium Intemelium and goes back to the Quaternary period 2.58-0 million years ago. Today the main evidence is from the Roman period with examples from the 2nd century including the Roman Amphitheatre on the outskirts of town.
My walk notes directed me into the Cathedral of St Micheal and it was not a disappointment. The church was built in the 10th century on top of a pagan temple and then entrusted to the Benedictines. In the 11-12th century it was rebuilt in a Romanesque style. The original 11th century baptistry survives with a huge font in the centre of the room. Its presence make a bold statement about its importance and beauty. After paying my respects and saying thank you for a safe journey, I walked out of the church door.
The old town is not very big and after walking through the old gateway, Porta Del Fontanin, I was once more travelling uneventfully along the main road for the final 6km to the border and into France.
It was 4pm now and after walking most of the day without any real pause for a rest, I made my way straight to the hotel to drop my bag off.
Whilst sat in a bar by the sea, drinking a beer, I completed the final video blog I'd been making for the last two days. In it I reflected on the last three weeks and I introduced my permanent travel companion, Wee Man.
The Via della Costa is not a well walked path, in part because of the challenging terrain but also as there are some stages that just walk along the main road, through the trappings of modern civilisation including its noise, smell and concrete jungle. Myself I have viewed it as a means to an end.
These 17 days and 379km have completed stage two of my journey from Rome and the new pilgrim walk, The St Augustine Way - A Gregorian Mission. Sometime this year (2018) I hope to complete the final leg that will take me from Menton on the Via Aurelia footpath to Arles. From there I will create a footpath link through all the places that St Augustine stopped at enroute to Canterbury and the first Augustinian Abbey in England.
In 2019 the route will be complete for others to follow should they wish and just maybe I'll complete it then as one complete walk!
I hope you've enjoyed walking the Via della Costa with me, thank you for reading about my adventure. 

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

St Augustine Way - Torrazza to Bussana Vecchia, Italy

Day 16. Torrazza to Bussana Vecchia 25km
Total walked: 347km
After a super evening meal I was intrigued as to what breakfast would be like.....would it be just a brown breakfast of stale bread, shop bought chemically injected fruit tart etc? Non!
Breakfast was another gastronomic feast of delights. All the tables were laid for breakfast so I was unsure if there were ever any other guests. My buffet breakfast consisted of, fresh fruit juices, fresh fruit salads, fresh breads, pancakes, a meat and cheese platter. Fresh fruit bowl and copious amounts of scrummmy home made cakes to choose from and as much coffee as I could drink.....Burp!
I filled my boots and after settling my bill, was invited to help myself of goodies for my walk. I was close to the coast which meant that once again I had a number ascents and descents ahead of me. I was hoping to end the day at Sanremo but there was a music festival on and almost every bed had already been taken. Well I could have paid of €150+ but I am not that rich. I had found an Airbnb apartment in Bussana so that was were I was heading.
My first climb took me first past the medieval tower that sits above Torrazza and then after weaving around the hillside to the chapel of Madonna della Grazie (Our Lady of Graces). I paused to top up my water and admired the views back to where I had come from. It was going to be another humid fine day I mused to myself.
After descending to an old watermill, now a restored family home, I was quickly making my second ascent of the day. Initially it was a bit steep but once I was back on a road it was just a slow steady 4km walk up to the medieval fortress village Lingueglietta. The fortress being built to protect the village but now just a ruin. It turned out to be a sleepy place, with not a soul around as I passed along the narrow street lined with pastel coloured houses. One quick blink and I was heading out of the other side and continuing to climb a further 230m to reach the highest point of the days walk.
At the top I was met by the familiar ringing sound of bells that animals wear and the call of a shepherd as he moved his flock through the scrubby hill. His dog came over to say hello and received a short, sharp reprimand.......we both ignored the shepherd and got on with getting to know each other. Eventually I shooed him away and I got on with my walk, not knowing which direction had the finest view so constantly look around me.
Once more on a road, my progress quickened as I made the long slow descent down to Castello and past the newly built 4 star golf course. From above, for me it looked totally uninviting with the motorway hurtling past one side and the uniformly shaped houses sitting so close to each other they almost blurred into one......mmm definitely not for me and some would say that chasing a small white ball a waste of a good walk!
In what was once the Roman settlement of Tavia, now Taggia I crossed the medieval 16 arch bridge over the river into the old town and out of the other side into the modern trappings of suburbia. 
As I was going to be in an apartment that night I had decided to cook my own meal this meant carrying food in as I was not aware of any shops in Bussena. At the Trony shopping centre, which sold everything but food, I switched my GPS to locate a food store. Lidl, it replied, 600m, that will do nicely. I changed direction and took the small detour to the supermarket and stocked up with food for the evening. Now I don't know about you, but it's the simple things that I miss when I'm egg n chips. With supplies bought I returned to my path and the final ascent.
The route took me past and I quote my notes "past a colony", which turned out to be a large industrial house / factory. I have to admit that on occasions I have been nervous travelling in some places. This is due in the main to the amount of migrants that are now displaced in Italy and in some place in large numbers. Areas like the "colony" are perfect places that are large enough for them to stay without fear of being disturbed. I quickly passed by making as little noise as I could but did not see anyone. 
As I approached the top of the hill and Bussena, Bob Marley was singing his head off. This turned out to come from a garden cabin with its two elderly occupants singing away to the songs too, totally oblivious to me. Obviously stoned!
I had walked through Bussana virtually from my home office and knew there were two ruined churches and a maze of small narrow streets, like a bowl of spaghetti. In truth it turned out to be so much more and another one of Italy's gems.
The village had previously suffered from a major earthquake, hence the two ruined churches and all the occupants moved to a village at the bottom of the hill. In the 1960's local artists started to occupy and renovate some of the houses and so the repopulation began. It is now home to some of those same artists and musicians with a wealth of craft shops and studios to buy products from. There is even a resident jazz club.
As I sat at a small cafe there were plenty of tourists mooching around. With my beer drunk and feeling rested I went in search of my room for the night. It turned out to be one of the former settlers, and Englishman and his son who were letting one floor of their house out. 
The room was simple, comfy and with the aid of a portable gas fire, sufficiently warm enough. That night I settled down for my posh egg n oven roasted chips, washed down with a fine red wine.......heaven! 

St Augustine Way - Torrazza, Italy

Day 15. Evening time
I'd made enquires about restaurants in Torrazza and was informed, as there were none, my host would provide a meal for €15. When I checked in, I confirmed this and was told in Italian what to do and where to go. Roughly translated into English............I didn't have a clue, but basically I believe I was to go downstairs and outside, down the passageway and then who knows what? All clear!
So after completing all my chores including writing a blog, at 7.30pm I ventured out of my room and hesitated at the top of the stairs. Decision made to continue the bottom door opened and an Italian man called, "Tony"........"Si" I replied. Oh, come on down lad, grab yourself a pint glass and a bottle of wine as you pass and I'll take you to your table. Well I'm sure he said that in Italian.
He proceed to take me into the downstairs room with a beautiful brick vaulted ceiling and down a small spiral staircase into the dining room. This was also resplendent in it's original style but tastefully modernised. After being sat down and provided with a bottle of local wine to help myself, I decided to have a sneaky peak around the lower ground floor. It transpired that the original instructions I had been given were correct as there was a large door in the room leading to the outside. I'm guessing that this was the preferred route for guests to take to avoid the very narrow spiral staircase. In one corner room a small kitchen preparation area and the other a small storage room, but all rooms open plan. I'm guessing that at one time this may have been a cellar or a place that the animals / chickens may have lived.
I'd informed my host that I was vegetarian and my meal turned out to be one of the tastiest home cooked meals provided in a non restaurant. 
Antipasta (starter) Home made Ligurian vegetable soup with a variety of fresh non white breads.
Primo (first plate) A selection of four cheeses and finely sliced roasted root vegetables. Home made tomato Foccacia bread and boiled eggs as side dishes to choose from. With more wine.
Secondi (second plate) Home made fruit sponge and a fruit basket to help myself. Oh.....more wine
I have to admit I ate the lot and retired to my room, waddling and weaving up the stairs as I went.
If you are in the area, I would not hesitate in recommending Dal Patriarca

St Augustine Way - Diano Marina to Torrazza, Italy

Day 15. Diano Marina to Torrazza 18km
Total walked: 322km
A cooler morning today and a later start due to breakfast only available from 8am. Ahead of me were three reasonable climbs but thankfully nothing that didn't look too strenuous.
I returned to where I'd left off and aside from the few bits of fruit I was carrying, omitted to buy anything else, this turned out to be a bit of a mistake. I'd also taken to prefer to get water from the drinking fountains rather than use water from the hotel taps.....again another small error on my part. But I guess a lesson learnt is one that is not usually forgotten.
Soon I was leaving the sprawling but very quiet town streets and heading along cobbled paths, tarmac roads and hillsides littered with olive groves to pass through the three medieval villages of Diano Calderina, Diano Serreta (my water stop) and Diano Gorleri. The latter being where I summited the first hill at 210m, with extensive views across the Gulf of Diano Marina.
What goes up must come down and I descended into Sacra Famiglia which is a small suburb of the coastal town of Imperia. As I walked along the streets in my own little world and elderly man approached me and uttered something I did not understand but I politely uttered Buongiorno........ He proceeded to repeat what he'd just said and pointed at a large pile of wooden pallets on the floor and then at his three wheeled truck, a Piaggio Ape. 
"Oh, you want hand with those," I replied in English. So with my rucksack still on my back we proceeded to lift 4 large wooden pallets onto the back of his truck...."Grazie, grazie, Buon viaggio (thank you, thank you, good journey)", he replied once the task had been completed. I'm sure I saw the truck springs actively groan
The Ape's are fascinating and I would love one. They are the commercial workhorse for most Italians. They have motor cycle style handlebars and an enclosed cab that has either one or two seats with a 175cc engine. They are seen everywhere. I will dig out a photo of one that I came across two years ago, owned by a young boy racer of about 16 near Aosta and add it to this blog......
My good deed completed, I omitted to take the opportunity of buying food from the Pane (bread shop) before I left town. Once across the Impero river which separates modern Imperia and Oneglia which is possibly a pre-roman settlement, I started to climb the second hill of the day.
After a 2km slog on steep uneven steps, more tarmac and an old mule track, I was hot and sticky in the humid air. Finally I reached Bardellini Hill from there I had unobtrusive views of the valley of Imperia Porto Maurizio. I turned right on the road and over the course of about 2.5km my journey was a mixture of very short but steep uphills and then a quick descent, a bit like a rollercoaster but without the car. Eventually I started to descend, all the time continuing to pass between acres and acres of olive groves, occasionally dressed with large colourful nets draped between their trunks to collect the precious fruits before being turned into olive oil. At this time of year there is the occasional buzz of pruning or the crackle and wisps of smoke rising above the orchards as the debris is burnt. A lovely sound and smell.
At the Sanctuary of Montegrazia I chose to take a bit more of a rest and starting to feel hungry topped up my energy supplies with the aid of a very tasty banana, whilst sat on the doorstep of a closed restaurant. The church (The Grace's Sanctuary) was closed unfortunately which was a shame as parts of it are 14th century and it is known as one of the most beautiful monuments of Liguria. 
I eventually continued on my way through the olive groves on yet another old mule track, occasionally interspersed with steps to arrive at the ancient village of Caramagna. Now much more modern, a holiday hotspot and complete with its own olive oil factory. 
At the edge of the village I had my first dog experience and one I would prefer not to repeat. I was unsure which direction the path was and hesitated by a house fence. No sooner had I stopped when two extremely vicious looking dogs leapt out of nowhere and proceeded to hurl themselves at the fence. Now not wishing to become dog food I quickly started to move and using my GPS tried to identify the correct direction. 
I made a turn to get back on the correct path and then looked forward and there in front of me was one of those viscous dogs.....parp! I think I may have uttered from somewhere behind me. I froze and just looked at it for what seemed and age trying to think how do I get out of this.......alive?
A car suddenly appeared from nowhere, screeched to a halt and a man shot out of the drivers seat towards me shouting scusi, scusi (sorry, sorry). He pushed the dog out of the way and off the path and as it turned, booted it up the bottom. It whimpered away thankfully. Now I don't like to see animals mistreated but I was grateful that he'd come to my rescue.
With my knees still knocking I continued the final few kilometres in relative peace. Once more on an old pathway to pass the 12th century Oratory of San Martino in Clavi and then across a medieval bridge before my final ascent to Torrazzo.
I had been hoping to finish the days walk in San Remo but there was obviously something taking place because everywhere was booked up in and around the coastal town. I had managed to find a bed and breakfast though in Torrazzo.
I'd arrived earlier than I'd expected to and informed the owners, so I sat in the sun in the Piazza and started writing up my walk notes. I was a bit hungry now so I fished out my last spare energy bar, took my boots off and put my feet up and got on with some work.
An hour later and starting to get a bit coo,l I called the bed and breakfast to say I'd arrived. Within 5 minutes someone came and I was swept into the house and up the stairs. My room turned out to be in the old tower and what a treat I was in for. Not only was it exquisitely and sensitively decorated, it was warm and cosy, and I had a balcony with a view all the way back from where I had come from....across the hills and the villages to the Ligurian sea. I just sat on the bed and drank it all in, unable to move. 

Thursday, 15 February 2018

St Augustine Way - Alassio to Diano Marina, Italy

Day 14. Alassio to Diano Marina 22km

Total walked: 304km
I woke early and after a reasonable breakfast I returned to where I had walked off the path the previous day. It was a cool morning but with only a few large fluffy clouds it looked like it was going to be a fine day.
Ahead of me were two fairly strenuous climbs before a few kilometres of flat walking to the coast for the evening.
I meandered through the finally streets of Alassio before ascending 370m over 1.5km past the ruined 17th C church of St Bernard, it was slow going and it was warm despite being the first part of the day. At the top the whole of the Gulf of Alassio on one side, the Andora valley on the other and the Maritime Alps too unfolded all around me....I could have stayed there all day just drinking it in. The Alps looked as though someone had dusted them with icing sugar overnight. As I walked the ridge I could not help looking all around me not knowing where to look next.
Colla Micheri was the first Ligurian village I came across, blink too long and you'd pass through it. It's a sleepy place with a miss mash of higgledy piggledy narrow streets that you never see the end of. Each one showing something magical of the history, windows, old doorways, blocked in windows, ruined ground floor rooms where the animals once lived. The Via Julius Augustus Roman road 13 AD passes through it and it was where Pope Pius VII passed through whilst returning from his French exile. 
More recently the village became famous thanks to Heyerdal Thor, the famous Norwegian explorer and navigator who died on 18 April 2002. After travelling the world far and wide, he decided to spend his old age there because of the beauty of the location, the position and climate. His tomb is located under the sixteenth-century Saracen tower. With its dominant position over the sea and its circular shape it could have possibly been a windmill in the past. 
I continued out of the village on the cobbled path of the Via Julius Augustus, narrow, steep but beautiful in its own presence. Past a large 13th / 14th century medieval water fountain before being privileged to walk on the 100m 10 arch Roman Bridge into what was once the Roman village of Andora. 
After digesting the historical mornings walk my second climb of the day took me up 380m through the lush vegetation again resplendent with oaks, holm oaks, the sweet smell of pine trees, thyme and broom. Once again I travelled along wide sections of medieval pavements that depicts the importance of the route between the valley of Andora and the Dianese valley.
At the top I followed the ridge and slowly descended down to Cervo and what was once a Roman stopping point (2BC) on the Roman road of the Via Aurelia. A road I will be following once I have completed this second part of my walk from Rome. Cervo is now regular voted as one of the most prettiest coastal villages on the Italian Riviera, once you've seen it you will understand why.
I was now back at sea level and the day was hot and humid and as I was off the ridge now so I was soon getting back to walking in my t-shirt once again......oh I do have my trousers on too!
The final leg of the day saw me walking past large glass houses again, shimmering in the sunlight. In some sections the land is covered in carpets of black and passing by one such section I took a sneaky peek. Underneath there was a wealth of small green shrubs with what looked like red berries. I'm not sure what they are so if anyone does know please tell me.
At the ripe old age of 29 (well that's writers license for not telling the truth) I have started to rely on responding to my inner gut feelings and today was no exception. As I plodded along the road, late in the afternoon I thought that I'd either missed my turn off to my hotel or I was pretty close. I paused by the side of the road and using my Garmin tried to locate my hotel.............900m it replied!
With a renewed spring in my step I changed my course an pootled off to my abode for the night - 4pm and a perfect time to end the day.

St Augustine Way - Just a fine evening, Italy

Day 13. Just a fine evening
After I arrived in the hotel, I was soon back in my own little world and routine - washing clothes, washing me, resting, finding somewhere to eat, planning the next days walk, writing.
My top tip for eating in Italy is to firstly try to find a local Osteria. These are usually family owned, if you are really lucky Mama is the cook and they don't charge a Coperto....effectively a sit down fee / cover charge. Claire and I have found that sometimes in the bigger cities they still charge, the details have to be printed on the menu. So if it's not there, there's no charge. Sometimes they will add water and bread to the charge too, again printed on the menu.
This evening I found and Osteria only 5 minutes walk from the hotel, it had good Tripadvisor reviews and it catered for vegetarians.... I always eat about 7pm when travelling so I'm usually first in a restaurant but tonight was different as there were already a handful of guests.....always a good sign.
I was greeted warmly and shown to my table and whilst listening / watching 70's classic music on a large screen, I chose my food and drinks. Yes it sounds strange to have a large screen in a restaurant showing music. But I have to admit there were quite a few that I'd not heard in a long time but they were oh so familiar... It turned out that this was in fact also a live music venue. Whilst waiting for my meal a few musicians arrived including someone with a I have to admit I love a good Sax.
Half way through my meal the band struck up. Initially I was disappointed that the 70's music had stopped, but with Italian folky toe tapping music being played, I have to admit I did stretch my meal out......and had a pudding too.
The band turned out to be very good indeed and the Saxophone was not disappointing but unfortunately with another reasonable day ahead of me in the morning I had to leave. 
I dreamily made my way back to the hotel and was soon tucked up and in la la land...........

Sunday, 11 February 2018

St Augustine Way - Noli to Pietra Ligure, Italy

Day 12. Noli to Pietra Ligure 24km
Total walked: 255km
Well every story has to have an ending and this is the last day with Claire and Sue. We were up with the larks and we'd secured free breakfast in the bar because our B&B does not serve until 8am
From leaving Noli we were immediately ascending the hillside, past the ruined church of San Lazzaro and then to the promissory point and the ruins of Santa Margherita. The wind was blowing a bit despite the humidity so we did not stop for too long. Back on the trail we past the old farmhouse that now houses the wooden roof trusses and all manner of other things from the church. Everything left open to the elements as the door swung to and fro in the wind.
The walk notes have been interesting to read and interpret and today was no exception. We continued to climb on the narrow scrubby path lined with oak and pine, past two red robbers.....yes it mentioned to red robbers. These turned out to be two red rhomboid signs.....
At the summit is the local Carbinieri (police station) which I believe is there because permits need to be bought to walk through the park during the height of the season. 
I find days like today exciting when there is something special to see and you have people who share those same passions and today was going to be a special day. After passing a camping sight we picked up a stranger, or should I say he picked us up......a lovely old black and white sheepdog that walked in front of us, stopping every now and then to make sure we were going his way.
At a small hamlet an old Osterio was being rebuilt which sat perched above a prehistoric cave, we chose not to venture round to have a look as it was already going to be a long day. It was a bit surreal seeing a huge yellow mobile crane in the middle of nowhere going about its construction business.
For me it truly was a fabulous days walk, cooler, accompanied by a wild wind with unexpected splashes of sunshine. We walked through the now very familiar pine and oak woodland, soft leafy trails and when I can I love to kick my feet through the crunchy leaves. We slowly descended into a new valley through towering limestone gorge like edges.
The second special moment, if the cave was not one of those, was the three Roman bridges that criss crossed the red earth and over boulder strewn dry stream beds. Two were in very good condition and the third left in ruins. This was obviously a Roman road and so caled,l Via Julius Augustus.
Back on tarmac we weaved our way through olive groves and vineyard terraces, occasionally taking a short cut to avoid the long winding hairpin bends. This is mountain climbing country and one such route stood epically like a majestic giant proudly showing its size. Sorry thats not for me, I'll stick to walking it not so far to fall if you do!
Finalborgo was the first habitable place we passed through, again there were strong Roman influences around. After passing through the 13th Century Royal Gate into a maze of charming cobbled piazzas with numerous Osteria, bars and Ristorante, quite a few vegan friendly, which with the outdoor climbing, mountain biking, running and walking shops clearly marked this as a centre supporting outdoor sports.
After looking at various menus and one that even offered and English breakfast , we settled on one which just turned out to be an ordinary bar for Claire and Sue's Italian bean soup (Zappa fagioli) and tomato ( pomodoro) bruschetta for me. I don't think she liked the English or was having an off day as I never received any cutlery for my bruschetta which turned out to be two pieces of toast, so I settled on using my penknife much to the amusement of the lady on the next table.
Our final ascent took us virtually straight up, we took our time, stopping every now and then to see the view......there never was one just trees but Sue that it was funny as she called......"let's just stop to admire the view". On the ridge the churches of San Martini and San Maddelena overlooked the wide bay of Pietra Ligure from a lofty cobbled Piazza fringed with scots pine and stone planters filled with red and white cyclamen. After a fair rest and before we got too cold we descended down cobbled paths through a few more delightful medieval settlements, with tiny churches and piazzas overlooking the sea. Before arriving in Pietra Ligure and settling into our accommodation before searching for a well deserved beer!