It was the perfect kind of day for a walk. The air was crisp, the shadows cool and the sun was clear and hot and vibrant. Early spring flowers were opening their sleeping buds and we were leisurely awaiting our walking party at the only petrol station-café in Pretoro. Nestled 560m above sea level, Pretoro is your first-stop mountain town on a long and winding road that eventually takes you to the beginning of the peak passages of the Majella. The town is divided into old and new; the oldest part being the highest along steep, small streets characteristic of mountain towns; only big enough for humans and other animals and as such you will find many beautiful, old, abandoned buildings for which no use could be found when economies turned from local to global and cars replaced cows as transport.
So here we are and off we set. Our guide for the day goes by the moniker ‘Il Professore’ an homage to his illustrious career teaching many of our fellow hikers maths at a school somewhere in these here hills. He is joyful, friendly and knows his way around these hills.
We start our incline firstly along the road some faster, some slower, all of us being followed by a big, black, out-of-shape dog; we think she belongs to the petrol station where we started but no-one is really sure, one thing we do know is that she is very well kept wherever she comes from. We wait for the strollers and then turn off down a well-worn path, used among other things for bikes, motorised and otherwise. Every so often we meet a quad biker taking advantage of the beautiful weather or some fellow hikers crossing paths but never joining.
Goodwill spreads and we stop for a rest and a general photo op, somewhere along the way I became the groups unofficial photographer so I take advantage and snap away. Il Professore hands out clementines, someone else hands out dried sausages and glasses of red wine. We start to talk about ‘la lingua madre’ and how best to learn English which soon descends into swear words and hilarity. Laughter and swearing – those two universal human conditions.
Along the way we run into cheese caves (sadly lacking in cheese), watchtowers and rickety wooden bridges crossing over clear, icy, mountain streams. At points these streams cascade off rocks into waterfalls and natural pools. We make promises next time to bring a tent and camp out then become paranoid about bears and wolves which are protected and roam the beautiful playgrounds of these mountains.
By this time we are sure of the direction and the group splits into smaller ones, friends rest with friends and lovers take pictures by the pools to show the family. Our crew is holding fast and are easily recognisable by our newly acquired walking sticks each whittled by the craft knives that are essential kit for these types of expeditions.
Over the trees I see a big white church – this will be our final destination for lunch. We weave our way up and come across our walking party ready with glasses of vino rosso and the caravan of non-walkers cooking up a huge vat of polenta. From over the way comes the smell of barbecue and the taste of more wine. We drink, we eat, we sing songs to which only the select few know the words. We raise our glasses to the health of Il Professore and to the health of all of us, someone hands out cake. Even the old dog makes it all the way – such is the lure of excellent food and good times.
As the sun begins its slow decline behind tall peaks, we begin to worry about walking back – it took us half a day to get here maybe its time to return. Our fears are met with kindly laughter and reassurances that there are enough cars to take all the walkers back the easy way, because who wants to walk after all this lovely food and wine, we nod in agreement and merrily take the lift that’s offered to us.
Our adventure ends where it began, at the only petrol station-café in Pretoro. We bid farewell to our friends-with-car and head home. The sunset is chasing at our heels and a well-deserved nap hangs in the air – something tangible and within arm’s reach. Before we arrive we have already made promises of more mountains, longer routes, bicycles, camping and journeys with friends from far and wide.
Hats off to all the walkers, Il Professore and the Majella mountain range for an inspirational day.
For more photos check out: Photo Diary – Trekking the Majella Part 1
For info, tours and places to stay check out these links below: