21st.-28th.August 2006, Valle Maira
The Maira Valley is a paradise for hikers and a unique cultural landscape.
On the French border, in the southwest of Piedmont, in the province of Cuneo, exists a forgotten area of the west Alps despite the fact that it is only 100 km away from the capitol Turin. In the remote and rugged Valle Maira, which occupies an enchanting fold of the Cottian Alps, the Occitan language still lives on – often in song – and formerly deserted mountain villages are being born again, thanks to the renovation of a network of ancient paths known as the ‘PercorsiOccitani’which circumnavigate the valley.The abandoned hamlets, sunlit forests and expansive pastures make up a picture that remains in the memory of every hiker who visits the valley.
On theroutesone see, again and again, overgrown paths and tracks, the remainders of old stone walls, chapels and churches even with astonishingly beautiful frescoes in the most secluded areas. It is clear that these areas must have once been a well populated and in old accounts, one can read how the citizens of this valley worked hard to wrest their meagre existence from the land. As a result, the young people have nearly always moved away, especially in the mid 20th century, post-industrialization. In the community of Marmora, there are only 25 residents, spread among the 17 hamlets. In 1900, there were still over 1000. As the land was farmed less and less, acres of it reverted to pasture lands and lay fallow. This cultural landscape, which has been reclaimed by nature, emanates a fascination that affects every hiker.
Linking once picturesque hamlets and villages, many of the paths criss-crossing this extraordinarily beautiful high valley are paved in stone at lower levels – where mixed forest is interspersed with Mediterranean vegetation – and are often bordered by crumbling dry stone walls, while the rocky alpine landscape of the higher slopes is dotted with plentiful springs and lakes. Long ago glaciers shrouded the highest of the north faces, and the summits, though mostly free of snow in high summer, are impressive. The available accommodation mostly converted from old mountain dwellings allowone to enjoy this wonderful area and its magnificent views to the full, savouring the warm hospitality and delicious Occitan cuisine each evening.
My brother and I followed the ‘PercorsiOccitani’ taking the route and stages described in the guide ‘Antipasti und Alte Wege, Valle Maira – WandernimandernPiemont’, Ursula Bauer und Jürg Frischknecht. The stages were:
22.August, Dronero – RoccabrunaSant’Anna, up 850m down 200m 5h.
23.August, Sant’ Anna – Pagliero – Camoglieres/Macra, up 700m down 1150m 7.5h. (2 Stages)
24.August, Camogligieres/Macra – San Martino – Elva, up 1450m down 650m 8h. (2 Stages)
25.August, Elva – Ussolo, up 900m down 1200m 6.5h.
26.August, Ussolo – Ponte Maira (instead of Campo Base), up700m down 650m 5h.
27.August, Ponte Maira – Chialvetta (via Colle d’Enchiausa), up 1400m down 1000m 7h.