In a guest blog post, Mick Borroff tells us a tale of six guidebooks - how the weather led to some changes of plan, but it all worked out beautifully.
A Tale of Six Guidebooks
One of the major benefits of a camping holiday whether in a tent or a campervan is the ability to stay longer or move on if the weather changes or fails to improve. A small library of guidebooks and maps is worth its weight in gold when you need this flexibility to wander. Our campervan trip was planned around an autumnal visit to Italy to visit the Sibillini National Park to the north-east of Rome, taking in opportunities for additional hikes en route - or should that be in viaggio? We were going to stay in Italy for a month … but the weather had other ideas!
Since the weather was perfect when we reached the Alsatian town of Colmar, we could not resist nipping over the border into the Schwartzwald for a walk armed with Kat Morgenstern’s Cicerone guide - Hiking and Biking in the Black Forest - used on a previous visit to the Feldberg and Belchen summits. First up was a varied circuit from Merhauzen in the Southern Black Forest up to the excellent viewpoint of the Schönberg and the ruined castle of Schneeburg.
Bet you didn’t know they had 4 metre Fire Salamanders in the Black Forest
The next day was again sunny and a walk to the source of the Danube beckoned. Another one of Kat’s varied routes took us through the Blindensee nature reserve and across to a peaceful chapel. Martinskapelle is close to the source of the River Breg, the most distant of the headwaters of the Danube, but unfortunately access to the source was closed due to path reconstruction.
Driving rain and low cloud greeted our arrival into Italy as we descended into the Aosta valley via the Grand St. Bernard pass. These conditions continued during our visit to the historic town of Urbino and were the subject of various disparaging comments about “sunny Italy” as we perused Gillian Price‘s Sibillini guidebook over a late and suitably lengthy lunch.
Lame Rosse pinnacles
We were persuaded to head for the village of Fiastra beside Lago Fiastrone. The sun came out briefly as we walked the lakeside path to the dam then descended into the coppiced holm oak woods in the Val di Nicola to reach the interesting conglomerate pinnacles of the Lame Rosse.
Lame Rosse pinnacles
Our next stop was the perfectly situated village of Castelluccio, perched on a remote limestone hill overlooking the Piano Grande, Europe’s largest polje - an extensive 18km2 depression having a flat floor and steep sides but no outflowing surface stream. The autumnal beech woods were the perfect contrast to the grey skies above as we climbed up to Monte delle Rose and along the ridge back to the village.
Castelluccio village in the Monti Sibillini
More rain and a poor forecast were taken into account as we played ‘whatabout?’ over an excellent lunch in the foodie capital of Norcia. It had so far rained for eight out of our eleven days in Italy, so we eventually decided on a strategic retreat to France where the metéo was a lot more promising.
On the way we did a walk from another of Gillian Price’s Cicerone guides “Walking in Umbria” leaving the walled village of Paciano for an ascent of Monte Paulillo and used the sister guidebook to Tuscany for a walk in the chalk and clay hills of the Sienese crete over to the famous monastery of Monte Oliveto Maggiore and its lovely cycle of frescoes by Signorelli and Il Sodoma on the walls of the cloisters.
Further north, we did a coastal walk in the Cinque Terre before crossing back into France and climbing from Nice to the unspoilt village of St Jeannet in the Alpes Maritimes. Readers of our previous contributions to the Cicerone Blog will know that we are big fans of Provence and thus needed no tempting back for a fifth visit!
Armed with the updated guide “Walking in Provence – East” which we’d used before, we headed up into the limestone peak of Baou de St Jeannet where we watched an adrenaline junkie crossing a tightrope rigged between two spurs. We heard rutting chevreuil (roe deer) hidden in the wooded valley on the descent.
Taking the Highwire on Baou de St Jeannet
On the other side of the Col du Vance, another walk took us up to the summit of Baou de St-Jean from Corsegoules where we met a large guided group looking for mushrooms and listening for cerfs. As we headed towards Castellane and the Verdun region, we stopped in a layby for a cup of tea to take in the stunning view up the Loup River valley under the gathering rainclouds.
‘Fingers of God’ probing the Loup Valley
Starting in the lovely little town of Annot, we did a remarkable must-do walk not covered by the guidebook. The well waymarked route of Les Grés d’Annot zig-zags up into ancient chestnut woods past eroded sandstone cliffs – a climber’s paradise with many bouldering, sport and trad routes. The path traverses a cliff with some exposure and soon leads into a narrow defile with a massive chockstone and tall spindly holly trees reaching for the light above.
The boulder field is a haven for bats and there are hidden abris and clefts to explore. At the top, bonsai pines grow out of the sandstone slabs on a plateau. Passing through Les Portettes (little doors), we descended through more woods, pausing only to collect chestnuts fallen from the gnarly trees above … a very interesting walk and a strong recommendation for when you are nearby!
We did another walk from Annot on the opposite side of the valley up to Les Roches de Rouaine, but this was much less interesting as most of the views across the valley were obscured by the tree cover except at the summit.
Revelling in the sunny weather, we were drawn by the view from the Sommet de Crémon on the guidebook’s cover. This route has been recently re-waymarked up to the new yellow sign on the summit. The views over the expansive blue waters of the Lac du Castillon were stunning.
View from the Sommet de Crémon
A drive over to Quinson set us up for a walk into the lower Verdon gorge alongside the old canal which used to take water down to Aix-en-Provence. The colours in the gorge were delightful. The route described has recently been upgraded with additional railings and the old ladders replaced by metal stairs. The direct ascent to the Chapelle Ste-Maxime has been permanently closed due to stonefall danger and the path re-routed to circle around the south side of the chapel to join the book's alternative route. The new route is clearly waymarked. See the guidebook update page.
Lower Verdon Gorge
Our penultimate walk was from the sixth Cicerone guidebook in our travelling library – the second of the Provence volumes “Walking in Provence – West”. From the unspoilt village of Monieux, a steep and scrambly descent into the Gorges de la Nesque took us to the little Romanesque chapel of St Michel built into an alcove beside the stream. A steep climb returned us to the path through the boxwood and oaks back to the village.
In the Gorges de la Nesque
Our last walk was from Remuzat in Drôme Provençal, home to a large flock of vultures who roost on the Rocher du Caire above the village (another great walk with a mini via ferrata… but not in the book). This time our sights were set on the attractive ridgeline of the Montagne de Gravières reached via a cabled scramble to the summit of Les Aiguilles. Some 25+ vultures could be seen across the valley soaring effortlessly on the morning thermals as we ascended to the first summit, not helped by the new path not being marked on our IGN map. The Gravières ridge was superb with views to the distant alpine summits of the Ecrins, before a descent through the garrigue took us past the overgrown ruins of Clermont - a long abandoned village and the Pas du Loup back to Remuzat village.
The Montagne de Gravières ridge
Despite the poor Italian weather, we ended our trip having enjoyed some very fine walking with diverse scenery enhanced by the autumn colours. Our change of plans were greatly helped by our six Cicerone guidebooks. Sadly, we did not manage to fit everything in and we will be going back to Italy to enjoy The Way of St Francis - the 550km pilgrimage route from Florence through Assisi to Rome.
This ‘tell us your story’ article was sent in by Mick Borroff. If you'd like to share a story with us then please do - we love to hear how you've been using your guidebooks.