Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Hiking the Metal Hills of Italy

                                                                                  Le Colline Mettallifere

The 25th of April is a national holiday in Italy.  It's the Festa della Liberazione, the day that marks the end of the second world war and the end of the Nazi occupation of Italy.

For the last eight years, it's also the time when JR and I join Italian friends on a hiking or biking trip. Since my trusty bike was stolen recently, there was no choice to be made.  We would be on foot for four days in the Colline Metallifere, the Metal Hills of the Maremma area of Southern Tuscany.  

The Colline Metallifere are little known today even among Italians, but from the 8th to the 13th century, they  were a major center of Italy and are mentioned by Dante in the Divine Comedy. As the name implies, the area was rich in minerals, including silver, which became the most precious metal of the Middle Ages when the Emperor Charlemagne declared a switch from gold to silver coinage in 781 A.D. Into the 13th century, feudal lords dug mines, exploited the minerals, became rich, and built castles and fortresses. Mining continued for several centuries, but today most of the mines are closed. 

In 1890, Buffalo Bill Cody crossed the area when his American Wild West Show toured Italy. Supposedly Cody and his men were challenged to a contest of skills by the butteri, the local version of cowboys, who herded the Maremma cows that still are raised in the area. There seems to be no actual proof of this event and since Buffalo Bill was a master of publicity, it's very possible that it never really happened.  Nonetheless, the Maremma with its rugged terrain and cattle culture is a region that could have produced riders able to challenge the Americans. 

The cowboys of the Maremma have all but disappeared, but medieval remains are still visible. A series of small fortified towns that sit perched on isolated hilltops dot the landscape. In between are dense woods and steep valleys. Many of the towns have histories linked to the Etruscans, who mined the area as far back as the 6th century B.C.

Our trip began in Massa Marrittima, a small beautiful city rich in art and architecture. Our actual walk began in Boccheggiano, a town of 800 people with one restaurant, which turned out to be good. There was also a fabulous bakery where JR bought so much that the baker gave him a bag of cookies as a gift. The next day, the 25th of April,  we walked to Torniella, a town of 400 people. When we arrived in the waning hours of this holiday afternoon, the young men of the village were playing handball in the main street with the old men of the town as spectators.  Roccatederighi, our next day's goal, has a population of almost 1,000, but seems bigger with its many markets and restaurants. Its series of winding streets culminates in a church built into the rock on the top of the hill.

On our last day, we completed the circle, walking back to Boccheggiano. We left early, trying to beat the rain which threatened. Thunder and lightening dogged us and we could see storms to the north, which, unfortunately, was the direction we were headed.  By lunchtime, it was raining and we ate under the protection of a trailside water trough. Fortunately, the regular users of the trough - huge Maremma cows - were nowhere to be seen.

We walked 15-18 kilometers a day; stayed in ancient small houses or apartments and ate great local food, including lots of pecorino cheese, wild boar, and pasta with butter and sage. We encountered no other hikers in this land of incredible beauty as we crossed forests carpeted with wild cyclamen, asphodels and orchids. We strolled at night through town streets with the aura of the Middle Ages all around us. 

Perched towns are beautiful, but they are, of course, perched which means to get to them you have to walk up and down seemingly endless hills. In between, there are lots of small rivers and streams, most of which have no bridges. The trails are not always well marked and can end abruptly in a mass of impenetrable underbrush. And as we discovered firsthand, it does rain in Tuscany, sometimes very hard. A compass, a good map, good cheer and good friends are essential. We had them all.

To see photos of our trip, click here.


Photos by Geraldine Calisti Kaylor 


  1. Looks spectacular Geraldine! And challenging--bravo! Loved all the photos also.
    Welcome back to good old A2...

  2. Really enjoy reading your stories about remote places in Italy. Like your adventurous spirit! Photos are great! Beautiful wild flowers.


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