Come! Let me tell you of a beautiful small town, in a place in-between, still in Tuscany, but nearly in Emilia, and of its vast and sparsely populated land that is difficult to inhabit but where, if you listen, the nature will reveal sounds, history and stories. I will tell you of four green valleys, narrow and steep, and of how they were reclaimed by nature and wildlife once the people had moved on. The rivers, trees, animals and the green of the woods, the blue of the water and the sky left to take their place. Let’s keep walking, for only on foot can this place be discovered.
Look up, to the top of the sharp slope that rises from the Limentra River, to the village of Sambuca. We’ll make our way there along this windy, centuries-old mule trail, up to the town’s steep stone streets that can only be managed on foot, into another dimension, which commands respect and calls for silence. A handful of houses still clinging to the rock face serve as evidence of a bellicose past and an ancient fame. Above it all stands the magical Selvaggia Fortress, while beneath sit the ancient church, fountain and washhouse and the Via Francesca, which cuts through Sambuca the same way pilgrims once did. From here everything can be reached on foot on ancient trails across forests and rivers.
Let’s go! We’ll keep walking, descending back down the ridge towards the Limentra. There’s a town down below, rising just beyond the dam where the valley widens and the landscape changes, becoming softer, gentler. Almost Emilian. The village of Pavana is like a memory left among the chestnuts of the Apennines, as Francesco Guccini once sang. Let’s keep moving, back up the mountain towards the east. From the ridge the view opens onto two more wild, isolated valleys. Through the dense forest lay other enticing villages such as Treppio, with its particular dialect and ancient church organ, and Torri, a stone village known for the stone faces carved into the sides of its houses.
Further down, we’ll continue our walk along another river and beyond, until we reach the Acquerino Forest, a true marvel of biodiversity full of conifer and beech wood trees, small clearings, flowers, streams that empty into the bed of the Limentra. All of a sudden we stumble upon the ruins of ancient abbeys and mysterious engraved stones and their etched arcane symbols that seem to come from a time beyond time. Yet these places truly belong to the bucks, does, wolfs, roe deer. Can you hear them around us?
Now let us stop. I must tell you about those of us who live amongst these hills that nature, crude, savage and demanding, has turned into mountains, and us with our humble ways and traditions into mountaineers. With our cooking that, like our land, is somewhere in-between, with our chestnuts, mushrooms and berries from the underbrush. And our simple celebrations, full of life and enthusiasm, like the one that takes place in Sambuca, the village from where we set off. And now it’s time to move on. Let’s keep walking. There’s still a long way to go. There are still things to discover.