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Monday, 12 February 2018

HIKES IN MASSA LUBRENSE - SANT'ELIA FROM TORCA


The last time I walked the trail to Sant'Elia was back in 2010! Although very panoramic, it was never one of my favourites, mainly due to the fact that it was there and back, since the one and only gateway making a loop possible was    always  locked and completely impossible to climb around, over or under. In addition the path had on all accounts become very overgrown and difficult to negotiate, probably through lack of use.
So when I saw that it was reappearing on the programmes of  other weekend hiking groups, I asked around and discovered that not only had volunteers from the Italian Alpine Club (CAI) cleared  it, but that it was now possible (be it with the maximum caution) to get around the side of the gate and therefore walk it as a circuit.
We set off from the village of Torca, walking down from the square along Via Botteghe di Sotto, turning into Via Monticello and then going steeply down Via Rivolo before passing through some olive groves and down an even steeper cement road which led us to the start of the actual trail to the left of some metal fencing.
We were already enjoying the stunning views of the coastline, the 3 peaks of Marina del Cantone peeping out to our right from behind the hillside, the Vetara and I Galli Islands straight ahead. 
Having negotiated the first uneven, rocky steps and subsequent fairly sheer descent along a narrow dirt path, we started enjoying the sight of the typical Mediterranean vegetation showing the first signs of spring: bright yellow gorse, pink asphodels, delicate purple anemones, scented rosemary, a clump of fragrant flowering stock and a pink cistus or two. We continued along our way hugging the coastline high above the sea. It is definitely not a path for anyone with vertigo, but it was completely clear and pretty easy to navigate, sometimes uphill, sometimes down and at times even nice and flat. 
We passed the pinnacle, worn by the rain and the wind, but still standing. The views got better and better as we proceeded along the hillside, the Amalfi coast now in sight,  Vettica di Praiano sparkling in the sun which had at last decided to grace us with its presence. 
After about an hour's walking, we came to the ancient farmhouse, no longer inhabited and falling to bits, but now with  padlocks on its doors (in 2010 the doors were hanging off their hinges and you could go inside).   The millstone in the little forecourt was still there, as was the water tank and a few fruit trees (the oranges, alas, small and unripe). Taking the path downhill to the right we soon reached the watchtower just above the sea. This has been restored but is locked, as is the ancient chapel, dedicated to Sant'Elia, hidden in the vegetation along the track to the right. It is a good place to stop and take a break.
Having walked back up to the house, we went to the right, eventually coming to the infamous gate. You have to be really careful getting around it since  not only is there a bit of a drop but also some rather nasty barbed wire. It is not an ideal passing point, (and who knows how long it will be before it gets blocked off), but until the owners of the land and the house are convinced to grant right of passage, it is the only way to proceed without turning back.
From there it is about another 2 kilometres  to the Colli Fontanelle, the path meandering round the hillside  in an extremely pleasant fashion (be it very steeply uphill at times, something I had conveniently forgotten..), dipping in and out of woods and along sunny and open terraces, at one point taking you under a picturesque stone archway. We came to a quaint wooden bench, one of its legs  a rock, in front of what seemed to be another pinnacle concealed behind the trees. This was in fact the western pillar of the Arch of Sant'Elia, or the "Queen's Arch", which spanned the gorge a couple of centuries ago before it collapsed. 
Once we reached the village of Colli Fontanelle, we decided to walk back to Torca via the pinewood of Le Tore rather than take the more panoramic Sirenuse Trail. Either route is perfect for completing this highly satisfying loop.It is a hike well worth the effort, however if you decide to go, please be aware that you may find the gap by the gate blocked and have to return the way you came. Even then, I am sure you will enjoy it.

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