Start at our base, a journey of 2 hours from Pisa airport (depending on traffic).
After breakfast at Braccicorti we begin the day with a 25 minute drive to the small village of Pruno, 1000 m above sea level, where we begin our walk into the Orechiella National Park. The park is home to a variety of flora and fauna changing throughout the year. In spring it can be covered in snow when wolf, deer and mountain hare tracks are easily identifiable. Late spring and summer carpet the land with an array of beautiful flowers and the beech trees begin to grow their iridescent lime green leaves which then change to deep oranges, browns and reds in the Autumn. If we are lucky we might spot a number of birds of prey; the common buzzard, the honey buzzard or one of the resident golden eagles. Set amongst the beautiful beech wood our walk first ascends to Sella di Campiana, a col, where on a clear day the lower slopes of the Apennines can be seen. From here the route continues up to the flat summit of Pania di Corfino at 1603m. If the weather is on our side a stunning 360 degree panorama will meet us as we arrive at the top; the Alpi Apuane mountains opposite, the Serchio Valley below and the Apennine ridge in the background. After a leisurely picnic lunch we continue our day firstly descending to the 16 century village of Campiana before following an old mule track across the mountain and zigzagging back to the bus where we would have completed a total of 13km.
Driving around the beautiful reservoir of Lago di Vagli with its submerged village and impressive backdrop of the imposing Monte Sumbra, our drive will take about 25 minutes bringing us to the start point for the day; Vagli Sotto at 550m. From here we initially walk along the quiet road before taking a small footpath that leads up to Vagli Sopra (upper Vagli) where we can already begin to enjoy views of our progress. After an optional visit to the church we make our way through the village to pick up a good path leading us through the chestnut and beech wood to arrive at the 16th century shepherds village of Campocatino where the buildings are now being tastefully renovated. Wandering through the village and seeing the beautiful terraced meadows, protected by the impressive wall of Roccandagia, it is easy to see why the shepherds chose this location. From here we make our way along another footpath, on to a forest track taking us to our highest point for the day at 1190m before descending through the trees to San Viano's hermitage. Built into the rock face, the hermitage is said to be where San Viano spent his time before his bones were finally discovered here in 1993. It is now used as a chapel and pilgrim's place of worship. Weather permitting we lunch on the terrace then follow the path as it continues to descend through the trees and out onto the open rocky area below the hermitage. Following switchbacks down to the lane, we make our way along it before joining a footpath leading to the quarry road and back to the bus having completed 12km.
Joining a local guide, today you will walk directly from the farmhouse at 410m, firstly visiting the new town of Villa Collemandina where you might stop for coffee before visiting the church and learning about the history of the town. After this your route will take you on tracks, quiet lanes and footpaths through the local farmland and houses giving you a chance to see how the villagers make their living. Midway through the day you should arrive at the medieval town of Castiglione di Garfagnana 545m, a small but beautiful walled town, still inhabited and visited by tourists throughout the year. Castiglione is also the place where the largest and most popular chestnut festival is held in the Autumn. Should you arrive on this date you would be able to experience the long held tradition celebrating the chestnut tree (the 'tree of life' or 'bread tree' as it has been known locally since the 16th century) and the growth of truffles and mushrooms. After lunch in the town and a stop at one of the popular cafes, the afternoon will involve crossing a 13 century bridge below the town leading into more farmland and making your way back to Braccicorti on easy tracks giving you a total of 20km of walking.
Free day to enjoy any of the following: 1 hr train journey to visit the stunning walled city of Lucca; 20 minute taxi and 1½ hr train journey to the coastal world heritage site of the Cinque Terre; 2¾ hr train journey to visit the capital city of Florence, home of Michelangelo's David or the 1½hr train journey to Pisa where you can ascend the leaning tower and walk along the beautiful river Arno. Other options would be to relax at the farmhouse and if warm enough make use of the sun loungers and outdoor pool or walk down to Lago di Pontecosi for lunch and a stroll through the local area or take a train 10 minutes along to Castelnuovo di Garfagnana for lunch and a walk to the old castle.
Today we drive 35 minutes to the small ski village of Vianova at 1093m where we begin our walk into the Alpi Apuane NP. Giving us time to warm ourselves up slowly, we spend much of the first part of the ascent on a wide forest track that continues through the beech wood to our first view point across to the face of Pania della Croce and the Omo Morto range. From here we take a footpath continuing upward to reach the impressive front wall of Monte Sumbra with its sweeping views down across Lago di Vagli and the submerged village. After a short break to take in the view and re-energise ourselves we make the optional ascent across the limestone plateau to join a small footpath that winds its way around the north side of Monte Sumbra, across a boulder field and up open grassy banks before arriving at the summit of Monte Sumbra at 1745m. From here, weather permitting, we will be blessed with an uninterrupted view of the Alpi Apuane range, the Versilia coast of the Cinque Terre and the enormous spine of the Apennines. We retrace our steps back to the limestone plateau before heading down through the trees following one of the old charcoal trails back to the minibus where we would have completed 16km of walking. On the way back to Braccicorti, time permitting, we join the locals for a drink in the lovely town of Careggine and have the opportunity to take photos of our days achievement.
After another good breakfast at Braccicorti we have a 40 minute drive to the small ski area of Casone at 1304m with the impressive hotel, holiday chalets and small chapel. Following a very short section along the road we head off into the beech woodland on a wide forest track that gently ascends to meet a small footpath leading us out onto the beginning of the wide Crinali ridge, a section of the 1600km Apennine ridge in the Tosco/Emiliano/Apennine NP. Weather permitting the views can be some of the most impressive of the week. During the winter the ridge is covered in snow, a great playground for skiers and snowshoers, spring brings the new growth of alpine rock garden flowers and autumn carpets the ground in purple hues from the myrtle berries mixed with the green juniper. Below is a basin of fiery colours from the forest leaves between the ridge line of Tuscany and the opposite ridge of Emilia Romana. Our route takes us along the ridge with stunning views in both directions, crossing Bocca di Massa, walking underneath the summit of Monte Vecchio (the 'old mountain') and leading us up onto the summit of Monte Prado, the highest peak in Tuscany at 2054m. On a good day we can enjoy views to the Alps and during the crisp clear days of October it can be possible to see across the Alpi Apuane mountains to Corsica and Sardinia! We picnic on the summit before retracing our steps to Bocca di Massa, where we descend to Rifugio Cella, a small shepherds hut and if we are lucky we might see the shepherds tending to their large herds of Pecorino where the famous cheese of the Garfagnana comes from. After another break to sap up the last views of the ridge we follow a good path through the trees arriving back at the hotel in Casone, where anything from delicious Italian hot chocolate to hot mulled wine can be enjoyed at the end of 16km of walking.