I have been dying to go on a hike in Italy ever since I interviewed Brittany Catanzaro – a sassy lady who hikes the Dolomites and beyond. To this day, her interview remains my most read blog post. Looking at all the stunning pictures of the Italian mountains and waterfalls and reading all the great information she kindly shared is enough to make you want, really really want to follow in her steps.
Yet, until this past weekend I never had the chance.
The temperatures and the humidity were crazy, making us feel like being slowly roasted in a dripping wet oven with a white sun glaring straight into our eyes.
So, what to do?! Head to the mountains, of course, which are less than an hour away from Vicenza and offer a much needed cool and respite. Usually we don’t really have a set plan. Instead we pick a starting point which is of some interest to us and then explore the area around it.
‘Look at this,’ my husband said over a leisurely breakfast on Sunday morning. ‘There is this place called Bolca at over 800 m height above the sea level where they have found the best preserved fossilised fish in the entire world. There is even a museum.’
To be honest I am not into fossils that much, but with my father being a geologist, I always feel like I should know more about them or at least wildly exaggerate how interested I am in them. Plus, for the past year or so, it has been mainly me picking the places where we go, so I couldn’t really shoot down a suggestion coming from my husband without a good reason.
It was not like that one time when I suggested that we go to a corn maze near Jesolo and he said: ‘Oh, it is going to be really hot. Let’s do it when September comes.’ Or that other time when I wanted us to go to a hot thermal spa and he looked at me like I was loosing it a bit and said: ‘But it is very hot outside as it is.’
You see, you should always have a very good reason when you plan to turn down whatever suggestion your significant other may have made. And, the truth is that in the case of the fossilised fish I didn’t have one. Plus, the hot weather had really made me rather sluggish to the point where I had lost the will to always want to be in charge of things.
‘So, there was a sea where nowadays there is a kilometer-high mountain?’, I asked.
‘Yes, millions of years ago’, said my husband.
‘OK, let’s go!’
Piled in our little red car, we drove up to Bolca. We passed through Montecchio Maggiore glimpsing the Romeo’s and Juliet’s Castles from afar. Then the road took us past a massive road construction site with huge cranes suspended in the weekend sun. We drove through Arzignano and straight after that through Chiampo – a rather industrialised town in what some time ago must have a been a very picturesque valley.
Through the open windows of the car we saw the huge buildings of the local marble companies and the quarries with railway lines disappearing inside the nearby hills where the blocks of marble and other stones were cut out and transported to the outside world.
A curving road took us up and up towards the sky along the spine of one of the hills. Spacious houses were huddling in small clearings overlooking the valley below and the mountainous landscape all around us. It was green and the air was fresh and all of a sudden we all felt how the temperature outside dropped by at least 10 degrees, which was such a relief.
The road descended on the other side of the hill revealing yet another green valley in front of our eyes. Small villages were dotted on the sides of the many hills with the bell towers of their churches sticking up towards the blue skies.
Before we knew it, we were pulling up in Bolca – a tiny village clutching tight onto a steep slope, with stone houses and barns and a fancy museum building at its heart.
We made a beeline for the museum which was completely empty and cool inside. Just as we were buying our tickets (4 euros for adults), all of a sudden large groups of people came in eager to see the fossils, too. Typical, isn’t it?! No-one seems to be interested in something and yet the second that you head for it, something like a thousand other people get the same idea and follow suit.
The museum was really cool though. On two stories they had lots of super detailed fossils of fish, insects and leaves, all discovered in the paleontological zone encompassing the nearby hills. It was quite incredible to see the detailed imprints these organisms which had lived millions of years ago had left on the hard stones. With your eyes you could trace their tiniest bones and based on one of the museum signs, a number of the fossils discovered locally even had some of their original pigmentation and some soft tissue preserved in the retina of their eyes.
Great, isn’t it?! What wasn’t great, let me grumble here a bit, was that all the signs in the museum were exclusively in Italian. So, even though we gave it our best trying to read some of them, we couldn’t quite get it all.
Apart from the fossils, the museum also had two aquariums – one replicating the Mediterranean sea flora and fauna and the other one representing a tropical sea.
On the way out of the museum, we saw a map pinpointing several hikes in the nearby hills. They varied from one to six hours in length and had lots of interesting points to see along the way.
A hike! I clutched at the opportunity to finally fulfill the promise I had given to myself after I had interviewed Brittany – that I would go hiking in Italy before long. We sustained ourselves with panini from the local cafe and off we went following the red trail – the easiest and the shortest of them all (well, we are beginners after all!).
The road took us up a steep incline along the houses and the gardens of Bolca. Hazelnut trees had been planted along the trail. Beautiful panoramic views were opening in front of us.
Here and there dense blackberry bushes attracted swarms of wasps. Just then I felt something stinging me underneath my arm. ‘Ouch!’, I cried. It really hurt. I tugged at my loose top’s sleeve to see what it was. An angry wasp flew from the fabric folds and off into the big wide world.
I panicked a bit. What if I got an allergic reaction to the wasp’s sting?!
‘Have you been bitten by a wasp or a bee before?’, my husband asked and handed me the cream for insect bites.
‘No, never!’, I said getting really preoccupied.
I felt angry with myself for wearing such a big loose top giving the wasp ample opportunities to get tangled in the fabric and attack me with its sting. Such a rookie mistake!
After five-ten minutes of wait, it was clear I was absolutely fine. The pain had subsided almost entirely and off we continued on the road up the green hill.
We walked slowly, our little daughter running up and down the steep road. Before we knew it we had reached the church San Giovanni Batista which had been built at that place back in the distant 1860. It stood tall at 890 m height on the slopes of the hill Purga which itself reached 930 m.
The church looked over the valley below and the nearby undulating hills. A monument stood by its side, followed by a couple of houses and the local cemetery.
The well signposted trail took us between the church and the houses and straight into the forest. We followed the narrow path deeper in. The path was right on the edge of a steep slope overgrown with trees and covered with big jagged stones. Like a river the stones sloped down the hill – some of them covered in moss, but most of them gleaming in the rays of the sun.
We looked up. The steep slope bordering on the other side of the path had jagged rocks protruding through the tall trees and dense shrubs. We had reached the ‘Colonnari Basalti‘ – 36 million years old prismatic basalt formations which were a clear evidence of underwater volcanic activity at that place many millions of years ago.
It was quite strange to think that at that place, high above the valleys below, at some point in the history of the Earth, there had been a sea and fishes, weird and strange, had swam where we now walked.
The sharp edges of black basalt stones were also sticking out through the softness of the earthen path. We kept walking ahead, always steering clear from the sudden drop to our right hand side.
Suddenly, the path left the forest behind and opened a splendid view in front of us. We found ourselves a top of a hill, in the middle of a small clearing covered with grasses and wild flowers. The sun was now low on the horizon and we had to shield our eyes from its direct bright light to admire the undulating line of hills all around us.
Just then something jumped high right by our feet.
‘A frog!’, I screamed.
‘Really?! Where?’, my husband and our little daughter started looking carefully through the grass.
Just then the frog jumped high a few more times and disappeared into the forest.
‘What is a frog doing on top of a mountain?’, I incredulously asked.
‘May be there is a stream nearby!’, reasoned my husband.
I just shuddered at the thought that the frog had been so close to me. I don’t hate frogs, they can be quite cute (especially at a distance), but (yes, another rookie mistake) I was wearing these very nice trousers with super flared leg. ‘What would have happened if the frog had jumped up one of them?!’ Honestly, I couldn’t bear to think of the potential horror of it all.
From there, the path widened and took us through the forest and back to the small square surrounded by the cemetery, the houses, the monument and the church. We walked down the hill from there, passed by the houses and the barns of Bolca and returned to where we had parked our car.
Wasp and frog encounters aside, I was filled with joy. We had done our first Italian hike. I wanted more.
‘Perhaps we can attempt some of the other trails through Bolca’s paleontological zone?!’, I suggested enthusiastically.
‘Yes, as soon as you get yourself some proper hiking clothes!’, my husband agreed.
Do you like hiking? Do you go hiking often? What would you deem to be ‘proper hiking clothes’? What is the most interesting animal you have seen during your hikes? Let me know in the ‘Comments’ section below.