While on holiday at Griante on Lake Como in Italy I had taken a short walk up to the stunning San Martino Chapel, and had noticed a footpath snaking off up the mountain. On getting back to the hotel I did a small bit of research and it appeared that this was indeed the path to Sasso San Martino, a peak with two tops, the higher being 869m, the lower 818m. This would equate by Scottish standards with a Corbett, being a tad shy of Munro level, but a respectable outing nonetheless.
I had not done any hillwalking, or indeed walking of any reasonable height or distance since last August, 8 months previously. On a walk round Newcastle prior to departure for Italy I found myself hobbling in pain within a few minutes. The Italian climate must have agreed with me though as I found my aches and pains diminished and I was able to walk with little difficulty, though I wasn’t exactly leaping around like a spring lamb. Having had no plans for walking I had no gear with me, but considering the weather and terrain that wouldn’t be a major concern as I could cobble together some basic items. Footwear was the only problem and I was forced to use a pair of Timberland boots which had never seen a hill in their life. Time to hit the trail!
From Griante I followed the signs through the village for the Chapel of San Martino as detailed in my previous walk report to the point at a bench just short of the chapel, before heading off to the left, contouring along the hill. Within only a few minutes I had arrived at a mountain hut with a grove of olive trees and a pile of neatly chopped firewood.
The path led off south west across a steep ravine, before turning back on itself where it begins to ascend in a series of long twisting loops. Had this been a hill back in Scotland the twists and turns would have been smaller, more direct. With my knee troubles I find the more gradual climb beneficial and despite the heat I make good progress.
As I climb up I increasingly notice just how similar many of the plants are to those I would see on a hillside back in Scotland. Even though I am thousands of miles from home in a country I have only just arrived in I feel completely at ease here. There are noticeable differences though. As I climb the path becomes drier and dustier, the soil has a crumbly consistency which Scottish hills could seldom attain. Then this gives way to more greenery, lush grass and trees. The trees are the real giveaway, and looking across the lake you can see how in some cases the forestry completely covers the tops of the hills. In Scotland at this height on the hardiest of trees survive, twisted rowans cling on to isolated outcrops, bent but unbroken by years of wind action.
On a boat trip down the lake the previous day I glimpsed some buildings up here, and this is the another major difference. In Scotland farms and villages may occupy the lower slopes, but seldom to they attain any great height. In this area of Italy as you drive along the roads your eyes are drawn up, up, up to see churches apparently stuck on the side of mountains and huts and houses occupy what would be bare hillside. I can now see the huts I had seen from the lake, sitting in a small niche, surrounded by trees, just below the summit marked on the map at 869m.
Having promised to be back I am aware of the time and this is as good a place to stop as any. I sit in the grass near the mountain huts of Pilone and tend to my feet, both blistered from the boots which are as unnacustomed to hillsides as I now seem to be. The top of the hill is just above me, no more than ten minutes walk, but I am happy with what I have achieved. The summit isn’t the point, the walk is, and in that respect my aim has been met. I return the way I came, meeting only few other walkers including a man out running, searching for a lost dog.
As an introduction to hillwalking in Italy this was ideal. There are bigger mountains nearby, no doubt having the same draw as the Munros back home in the respect that attention is poured on them, leaving other hills, just as fine, to be visited on the rare occasion. This is one of those hills, and if you are staying near Griante you should put this on your to do list. You won’t be disappointed.
1:50,000 Globalmap Lago Di Como E Lugano is available in the local shops and is suitable for hiking.