Focus on

Spring on the
Apuan Alps

by Martina Stanga

Deep breaths of unquantifiable value: the Apuan Alps

They are chestnut forests, beech woods, wild valleys, marble, karstic caves, bivouacs hidden and with ancient names. They are Highlands that embrace the sea and the Apennines, routes trade routes and railways, quarries from Etruscan times.

Why Alps if they are not Alps?

The Apuan Alps inhabit the Tuscan Apennines, but the similarities with the Dolomites are vivid. With their sharp profile they explode towards the sky, touching almost 2,000 metres. The Monte Pisanino and Pizzo d'Uccello stand out among all the peaks. The white marble that, when the sun warms the earth, one cannot help but close one's eyes and put on dark glasses: the light bounces off the precious albino rock.
The nakedness of the mountain uncovering the marble is not natural. It has been our work for more than two thousand years, when we started excavating. We started with simple and rudimentary tools until today we arrive at machinery large and infernal, noisy and disturbing. Impossible not to see them, not to hear these trucks, cranes and tractors.
It is an open-air operation that remains, and will remain, indelibly there forever. The mountain is fragile and naked in the face of rain, wind, sun, bad weather. In the face of all this we feel small, almost wrong, because we are responsible. Wonder and a sense of guilt arise spontaneously because we gutted these Apuan Alps. But there is also some good news: as walkers we have been able to respect them at least a little. Hidden here and there are works to be proud of, silent outposts through which to explore the mountains. There are many paths and refuges that dot it. On the western slope there is the Nello Conti, facing the Tyrrhenian Sea, which is a stopover on the Via Vandelli, the ancient trade road from Modena to Massa. It was built to cross the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines: 170 km to the sea. At the Passo della Focolaccia there is another outpost, this time however self-managed: it is the Bivacco Aronte, which from a distance looks like an aerospace tin. The bivouac, amaranth red, stands out amidst the white of the quarries and, with its 100 years of history, is the oldest of the Apuan Alps.
The name comes to us from the past, catapulting patrons 2,000 years back.
Aronte was a powerful soothsayer who became famous in Roman times, as well as for his mystical abilities, because he led a simple life, in the mountains, meditating in a cave.
From Rome he was called and went there to do his duty and help the Empire. But the mythical soothsayer, feeling out of place, soon decided to return to his Apuane, to home, renouncing glories and honours. In 1300, he was mentioned in the Divine Comedy: Dante Alighieri fantasised about him in his cave, lost among mountains, sea and stars.
Not only the shelters, even the footpaths are respectful: they are there but are sparse and often discoloured. These white/red signs mention kilometres and hours of walking but blend well in the surrounding environment.
The footpaths are important even if, in truth, it is enough to look up to distinguish forks and peaks, identifying the direction to follow. There is no shortage of passes and large valleys that offer breathtaking views when evening comes. Everything becomes silence and colour. Perhaps the most suggestive, is the Passo delle Pecore (Sheep Pass) that looks to the Tyrrhenian Sea, to the Orto di Donna Valley and the refuge of the same name. In the distance, the Pisanino and Pizzo d'Uccello stand proudly at the valley's edge. The Pizzo, with a a little (a lot) imagination, recalls the features and silhouette of Monviso.
From up there... ‘knock knock knock’. They are rolling stones: on the crest the goats challenge the rock to compete for flowers and blades of grass. Sunset comes and then everything falls silent again, even the animals. High above, our heads, the sky is clear while below, a sheet of clouds covers the valley and hides the sea, only a few kilometres further on. The valley is veiled but the ridges are not, the peaks are not. They emerge from the clouds and the sun colours them. All around are pink, red, blue brushstrokes, then grey when it gets late. There is no sea, but it matters little. In fact, perhaps it is better that way. The atmosphere of these ‘Monti Naviganti' gives us vertigo and is enough to satisfy our longing for the horizon.