Day 25 - Pontremoli to Passo della Cisa
We left our extra gear and my pack in Pontremoli and headed out quite early. It was still raining, dark, dismal and chilly when we left town. Our VF guide indicated this would be a challenging day and they described it correctly. To get us geared up for the day’s climb, we began by trudging up the old Roman road leaving town and then it was all up the rest of the day.
Pretty much the entire day’s trek was spent walking on paved roads, but with less traffic and great views making it much more enjoyable than our previous day’s walk. The sun toyed with us a few times, peeking out behind the rain clouds, but mostly it misted, drizzled and drenched us.
When I said the day was all up, I meant ALL up. No ups and downs like usual, just climb, climb, climb. We are in the Tuscan Apennines now. We figured we were pretty close to heaven, and still we climbed. We’d see a little town above us in the distance, then we were at the town and then we were looking down at the town from above. Switchback, after switchback, after switchback and there was always more. Click on the thumbnails above to enlarge them and see what I mean.
It was like climbing a 14er in the Colorado Rockies, several false peaks before finally reaching the summit. It was definitely a workout for our legs and stamina … a precursor of things to come? We finally reached Passo della Cisa at 1041m (3383’), an altitude increase of 800m (2600’) from where we started. Whew!
Right at the top is the Bar Passo Cisa, conveniently located for a well-deserved beer and some lunch. Everyone inside was escaping the weather. Motorcyclists had stopped to warm up. Old men played cards at a nearby table. An Italian couple apparently on holiday sipped wine and ate a substantial meal while waiting for the weather to calm down.
By the time we got back on the road, the temperature had dropped considerably, the rain had increased to a solid, saturating downpour and the wind had begun to howl. Lucky for us, it was only another mile to our hostel. Walking this last mile, however, seemed to take forever. We saw our first group of pilgrims walking this stretch. Eleven of them, all looking miserable and we wondered where they were heading so late in the day.
Cold and wet, we finally spotted the bright red stone building, Bar Ostello Cisa, a well known pilgrim accommodation. The place was warm and welcoming with a wood stove stoked up and churning out heat. Seven pilgrims were already in residence taking advantage of the warmth and the well-stocked bar under the auspices of a jovial barkeep.
We’d never stayed in a hostel before, so this was all new to us. There were seven beds in our dorm room and a shared bath. The hostel had a total of 40 beds and 4 bathrooms. Luckily, we ended up with the room and a bathroom to ourselves. Dinner was family style … not great, but adequate, but the congenial company of four Swiss hikers at our table made for a pleasant social evening.
The rooms and bathrooms were particularly cold at night. We slept in single beds (pushed together) and piled on wool blankets and a down comforter to stay warm. Evening and morning ablutions were completed very, very quickly.
Day 25 - Pontremoli to Passo della Cisa
14.31 miles walked – 33,278 steps
Leg distance: 12 miles – 926 miles to Canterbury
Day 26 – Passo della Cisa to Cassio
Still on our Plan C scheme, we left La Cisa without breakfast early the next morning accompanied by high winds, dense fog, and minimal visibility.
We continued along Strada della Cisa, a road built over the pass by Napoleon in 1808 which connected Pavia with Sarzana, an important trade and travel route.
This area, by the way, was once considered particularly dangerous for pilgrims and wayfarers because of robbers and highwaymen. The situation became so bad that the magistrates of Pontremoli ordered that all trees within range of a crossbow on both sides of the road be cut down. Fortunately, we had no problems.
About 3 miles down the road, we came to the delightful little town of Berceto. After a much longed for cappuccino and a croissant, we took a quick tour of the Berceto Duomo aka San Moderano Cathedral, founded in the 9th century.
Berceto lies in a valley and of course, we climbed back up when we left. The town obviously welcomes pilgrims as we noted there were several markers, murals and signs during our visit.
The sun finally poked through and stayed with us for the rest of the day. The views and vistas were outstanding.
We were off the paved roads 3 or 4 times and each time, there were huge puddles, thick mud and rough, slow going. We finally gave up and kept to the paved roads … faster and easier.
The little town of Cassio is kind of hidden from view till you’re pretty much there. It was ‘up’, of course, but not a bad walk. We spotted the bright red house with green shutters from a distance and knew it would be the Ostello Cassio.
Andrea is the hostel host and he’s quite a character. Other than the bed charge, everything else at this hostel is on the donation honor system. There was so much there… wine, liquor, soups, veggies, hams, canned goods, drygoods, cheese, pastries, coffee/tea and a full kitchen. We scavenged together a picnic dinner with a glass of chianti.
We had the place pretty much to ourselves. There was only one other pilgrim for the night, though we saw 9 pilgrims on our route. There were 4 bunks in our room, but we lucked out again and were the only ones in the room. Once again, it was very cold, but the wool blankets and comforters provided kept us warm.
Day 26 - Passo della Cisa-Cassio
11.37 miles walked – 26,439 steps
Leg distance: 11 miles – 915 miles to Canterbuy
Day 27 – Cassio to Fornovo – Then Back to Plan B
It was mostly down to Fornovo di Taro on the Taro River. It was cool and sunny when we set out, but the wonderful, warm sun had us shedding layers in no time.
The path led us on the paved road for awhile, then on tracks and forest paths. It was still wet and muddy, but thankfully it was finally starting to dry out a bit.
We stopped briefly at the Pieve dell’Assunzione di Maria, a small parish church originally built c.854 and noted as a rest stop for pilgrims. Only the portico is part of the original structure. It’s been modified many times throughout the centuries. It was not open when we visited, but I was very content to photograph the exterior detail which was very graphic.
There was one huge ‘up’ near the end of the day that was a whopper and had us panting as we reached the top of a long, winding hill. Then it was down, down, down to the Taro River and the town of Fornovo. Switchbacks and steep descents were tough on the knees and had our feet aching as they were crammed into toes of our shoes. Finally, we were down and looking for the tourist Info office for a ‘timbro’. The modern, well-situated office near the Duomo was closed and its only hours were 2-5 pm on Wednesdays. Really? We have repeatedly found that Italy’s tourist info offices aren’t very tourist oriented.
Since this is the end of our current Plan C, we caught a late afternoon train back to Pontremoli to spend the night and collect our gear. All in all, we’re pretty satisfied with our Plan C approach. As we move forward, we think we’ll use a combination of all the walking plans as needed. Hopefully, a Plan D will not be required!
Day 27 – Cassio – Fornovo
13.6 miles walked – 31,637 steps
Leg distance: 13.0 miles – 902 miles to Canterbury
Next time, we move from Pontremoli to Piacenza with a fun stop in Parma. Join us.