Old pilgrim ways don’t exist anymore? | Day 4 of Via Francigena from Altopascio to Fucecchio
Several days before…
The last two days we had the time out of the trail because we needed to get some shopping done and also because we felt like we needed a break from that heat.
So the first day we went from campsite in Torre Daniele to Ivrea – the closest biggest town where there was a Decathlon sports goods store. Our shoes were already tearing apart especially after challenging mountain hike we did recently and it has been a year since we changed them. So we thought it was a good moment to buy a new pair.
Fortunately we found the shoes quite easily in the trail running section because we already knew they were the best for us. Also Dima had quite a lot of concerns about his current backpack that was simply not comfortable enough for him. But unfortunately there wasn’t any better alternative at this point.
So wearing our new pairs of shoes we went to the supermarket where we ate our favourite focaccio margherita and ice cream and were out on the road to search some ways to progress further and to get to the Lake Viverone. From what told us the local people in Decathlon there was no good bus connection in this area and there was only one bus at 21pm. It was a bit late so we decided to try our luck hitchhiking.
We were standing there for 15 minutes when one car pulled off the road for us. It was a young man who barely spoke any English and we used half English half Spanish and lots of gestures to communicate. He took us to the lake and even further closer to the forest because we asked him about wild camping and he said that it’s often possible as soon as it’s not a private property. Also it varies a lot from province to province and how strict the rules of the private land are there.
So he dropped us off in the forest road and it was around 20.30 already. So we knew we are not going to search for long but we still wanted to find some quiet place. And there it was in the middle of the forest plain with lots of dry leaves under our feet. Close there was some dirt road but we didn’t see any fresh traces so we thought that it wasn’t in use. So we found our spot there, set up everything very quickly and were ready to go to sleep even without having dinner because it was too hot.
The next day we also decided to spend at the same place at the lake Viverone but we wanted to find some campsite this time. The days and nights were extremely hot and being hiking for only 3 days we felt like we needed a break.
So we walked along the lake for some time enjoying the big mountains view in the background. We noticed that lots of the area around the lake was in the private property and thus inaccessible for walking. There were lots of small piers at the people’s houses where they parked boats and yachts. Also there were quite a lot of places where you could rent catamarans, paddle surfs or boats. But the parts that were going close to the lake were very nice, we could see lots of the water birds living at the lakes like ducks, swans, cormorants. And they were having little chicks too that was really cute.
So we did a half circle around the lake and found our campsite almost at the outskirts of the town. It was a nice little camping with a special dedicated area for the tents and camper vans which is always great. But the best part was the access to the lake with two little piers where we had a great time watching the sunset and local inhabitants. Apart from the lake birds we saw the otters! It was our first time seeing them and we think they were little babies because then we saw a bigger one which was more on alert. The babies were behaving very carelessly though and were pasturing on the lawn in front of us for some time. That was the sweetest moment ever and we were so glad that we got it on camera. So we spend this day quietly at the lake, chose a shadowed spot for the tent and were good to rest there.
After a few day interruption of Cinque Terre hiking tour we were back on the Via Francigena again to do the Toscanian part of it. Before we spend several days at the campsite close to Spezia just resting and recovering from extreme heat conditions we were hiking in.
We got from Spezia to Viareggio and then to Altopascio by train. Had a bit of an issue with a conductor of the train when we didn’t have time to buy a ticket because the train was arriving, hoped on the train hoping that we still could buy a ticket directly from him(again the Spanish habit). And when he came up to us it turned out that we had to find him on the train right away to buy the tickets and that if you buy it on board you pay 5 euros extra per person. We weren’t really happy about it as we payed double this way but at least we weren’t fined for it. So now we know that you have to always buy tickets in advance.
With the bus we had similar strange experience when we tried to take it several times and they couldn’t sell us the tickets saying that we need to buy it in the Tabacchi shop and there is no other way. So we missed several buses this way and wasted a lot of time as we find it super inconvenient. For example before in Aosta it was still possible to buy a ticket directly on board but in the other province there were other rules. So it is very useful information to know when you’re travelling in Italy.
Also in that period of time Dima had to go to the hairdresser salon as the hair was getting really messy and long and you know when it’s hot it can be really annoying. And we had a funny story with it. At home we normally do cut the hair by ourselves as we have everything we need -scissors and shaving machine. But when we’re travelling we had no other choice but to go to the first found hairdresser that turned out to be a Chinese one. We insisted and asked several times to not make the haircut too short. He listened and waved his head saying yes of course all the time. But then he took a shaving machine and everything was clear right away. He ended up doing a very short haircut anyway and he didn’t care at all. We saw that everybody was leaving the salon or completely shaved or half shaved. So it was a lesson to us that if you want a really short haircut you may turn to the Chinese master otherwise it’s better to avoid it:)
Back on the trail. Day 4 of the Via Francigena
So we spend the night wild camping in the little forest in the fields of Tuscany that turned out to be quite a calm place. It was raining during all day before and a bit that night but then it stopped in the early morning. We gathered all our things in the backpacks and were out on the field to have our breakfast that were the leftovers of the rice cooked from previous night.
We started the day at 9am and the sun was already up on the sky and quite hot. The rain the day before helped to cool down the temperature and the ground a bit so we were enjoying the fresh wind all day long.
We were really unhappy to know that the first few kms of official Via Francigena trail were going on the fast car road which seemed almost a highway sometimes with the plenty of big trucks passing by. We thought that we skipped all the bad roads already by train but unfortunately it wasn’t the case. And at first there wasn’t even space for pedestrians to walk and it was really dangerous. Then there was a narrow sidewalk, which was much better, and we feel like it has to be on every difficult part like this.
We already learnt with the Camino so it wasn’t a discovery for us that nowadays most of the long trails are like this. They’re inevitably crossing the car roads and there are just parts of it that go on some old quiet forest paths away from the traffic. That’s just the reality of it at least in Europe. And for us there’s nothing wrong with taking public transport and skipping really bad parts as we like to discover the most natural places and don’t want to waste time rubbing our soles on the pavement car roads.
Then the trail turned away from traffic and we appeared to be on the quiet and green forest path, which nowadays you see mostly in some fantasy movies and cartoons only. We even have spotted a baby hare that wasn’t really afraid of us and was pasturing quietly eating the grass in front of us. Probably he was living in the dense bushes down the trail that we saw. Also there was some man on an old cart riding a horse which we don’t really know was for some work or just entertainment. We met some half-ruined old bridge and many old rocks that were serving as signs of the road number and direction back in time.
We would have loved to continue walking solely on this path but after 1km we were out on some village car road again back to civilization. We filled out water bottles with a water from drinking fountain (which there were quite a lot of them around and the water was always good) and fortunately the trail turned back to the forest again.
This part was around 8 kms long and was a bit boring going very straight along the young pine trees that weren’t giving much shadow at all. But it was so much better of course than the car roads so we were happy about it anyway. Also on the way we met some quite big pond with water lilies and some birds and fish living there. We had a little break there in the shadow having our snack and continued on.
We passed by the village Ponte a Cappiano where was located an old bridge over the river that served as a fortress at one time as well. From that point we started to see the typical Tuscany landscape that you would expect from seeing many photos on social media with the green hills and big masons on top of them, cyprus trees and yellow fields around them. That is mostly why the people are attracted to these places to see this unusual type of picture.
The trail continued going along the river very straight and easy. On one of the electric columns or poles we spotted some perfect circular nest and some big birds sitting there. From a far it looked like some monument and not alive but coming closer we saw that it was actually a stork staying on the guard and two baby storks sitting in the nest. The circular structure was so perfect because the metal base was man made probably knowing that the storks love nesting on such structures. We are sure that they would prefer an old dry tall tree in a natural environment but close to people nowadays, it was the only option for them. We were fascinated to see them as it was our first time and we were lucky to see them nesting. We would love to spend several days there observing their life if we could.
So we had our lunch there in the shadow on the field close to their nest and continued walking a bit more to the town Fucecchio that was located on top of the hill.
It was quite a big village with a huge hypermarket in it. It’s funny how you don’t expect from such places to be that big and they kind of look as a countryside but the amount of traffic and huge supermarkets tell you the opposite.
So we bought some food for the next dinner and breakfast there and headed towards the fields to search for the camp spot.
There were no campsites around so we knew we were going to wild camp this night. We headed towards direction of the forest sign that we saw on our map and it was obvious that we have to go uphill.
So we wandered around the streets and private houses and had to turn away from the Via Francigena for around 3 kms. We were getting close to that forest and all we were seeing were the high metal gates with the private houses deep inside. Then we passed a bit further and hoped to find some place in the fields. And wandering around the area on every corner we stumbled upon the sign that the access is forbidden and it’s a private property. We didn’t really know was it just for the cars or for people as well but we had no other option rather than just pass through the sign and go straight to the little forest between the fields. We were lucky to find some spot between the trees and not in the open field. So we stopped there and as it was already getting late and dark we didn’t really had any dinner and went to sleep right away.