We have said before that the best finds when we have been sightseeing have been the ones we had no idea about until we got to the area we were staying in and did some exploring. And sure enough we did that again today with an amazing find way up in the hills above the Casentino Valley.
The weather gods have turned on us a bit this morning with some darker clouds overhead that later turned into a brief thunderstorm but very little rain.
Thunderstorms can sound and look impressive when your location is in a valley and on a hillside and this one that passed through, albeit brief, did not disappoint.
Then out came the sun and we were able to have breakfast on the terrace under the gazebo as we planned our day of exploring.
Today we are going to head to the other side of the valley, directly opposite, where we have been watching the lights of cars moving down the hillside at night.
We lazed around for the rest of the morning (no sense in spoiling the routine we have had since arriving in Poppi) reading and then after lunch headed off
down the hill in the car.
Soci is the town on the other side of the valley and we discovered as we drove the road up to the town that its altitude compared to where our apartment is situated is a lot lower. Yet it doesn’t seem like that from where we stand on our terrace and look out.
Driving to Soci it seemed like we had gone over a small hill and the town was sited in a small valley of its own. If that was the case then we were always looking down into it from our position on the other side of the valley because from where we were in the car we couldn’t see back to our apartment. This is the second time we have noticed this, the other being at the castle on Saturday, we now feel that our apartment is actually quite high up on the hillside and we suppose that is proved by the 4km distance from Poppi up to it.
There wasn't actually much to see in Soci so we followed the road up the hill to see how easy it was to access a couple of smaller villages
where you could just make out their settlement in the forest.
On the way though we noticed a sign to Camaldoli which indicated there was a monastery there as well.
The road would its way up the hillside through lush green forest that still had that early spring look unlike the trees down in the valey that looked at that well established late spring almost summer stage.
Mind you spring probably hadn't been around too long at the altitude the car was reading of 750 metres above sea level.This was when we started to notice the tall,slender snow markers on the side of the road and then a notice to show you should have chains on the road from November to April.Yikes just a month or so ago!
We reached Camaldoli at 840 metres above sea level.
The monastery is sizeable and included a church and an ancient pharmacy that still makes up remedies from ingredients found in the local forest.Adjacent to the monastery was a hotel with restaurant and yet there were no houses for a local population to live in.There was an apartment building that housed the local police and we assumed any
locals not connected to the monastery lived in that block.The location therefore was essentially just about the monastery.
Monks came to the area in 1046 and established their order building a small hospital but it wasn't until the 16th century that the building was enlarged to what it is today.Given its isolated location it is hard to imagine who came to be treated there although there was information about people being treated free in their last days and then buried for no cost under the floor of what is now the expanded monastery.
The pharmacy has been in existence since the 15th century and is still in operation today.We took a look at the display of the instruments etc that were used centuries ago which have been carefully restored and maintained.With most of the items for sale having their labels in Italian it was hard to say what each actually were except for the more cosmetic items.The people who work there must have been busy concocting things out the back as no one came out to see if they could help us while we browsed around.There was one modern piece of equipment at the sales desk,an EFTPOS machine!
The church though was the real find of our exploration.There has been a church on the site since the monks arrived but has had to be rebuilt 4 times due to past fires.The last reconstruction was in the 18th century.It was the frescos on the ceiling that really stood out and although they are of recent(18th century)completion they still had that ancient story to tell.Perhaps because they were more recent the colours and vibrancy stood out more vividly than what might have been expected if the existing church structure was older and less maintained.
Today the monastery hosts conferences for lay people and up to 200 people can be accommodated in this vast building in the middle of a forest,800 metres up in the hills!
On the return journey down the hill we stopped in at the hill village we had really gone up to find in the first place.
We drove into the village and after a short distance found ourselves in a dead end street and little room to turn around.We gave entertainment to two old guys sitting outside a house as we went backwards and forwards to be able to turn.We gave them a wave as we departed but got no response.Perhaps they were just too amazed by Gretchens driving skills in such a confined space!
Apart from another church and a view down the valley to Soci there wasn't much else here for us and we started the drive back home calling back into the supermarket in Bibbieno that we had gone to on Saturday.This afternoon though there were no crowds or African men suddenly appearing from nowhere wanting money.
We got a short time outside enjoying our last early evening in Poppi before the clouds rolled over again and another very brief thunderstorm sent us inside to finish our pre dinner drinks.
Tomorrow we head north towards Lake Maggiore stopping at a spot that we had worked out was roughly half way to break the journey.
PS:Tune in to Youtube and enjoy the Chant which will give you the feel of being in such a spiritual place.
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