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Saturday, July 27, 2013
11:13 AM | Dana Kaplan, Stresa Sights | Edit Post
The charming town of Baceno, nestled in Italian Alps just a stone's throw from Switzerland.
So... a priest, an astronaut, an American and an Italian walk into the woods. Sounds like the classic joke? Well, it's no joke. It happened last weekend, when we went to see the Orridi di Uriezzo. This is a fascinating natural formation dating to the last Ice Age, when glaciers moving through Europe carved great, long lakes (Lago Maggiore among them) and deep, flat mountain valleys. But a certain combination of factors in this location left particularly beautiful results: the now-named Orridi and the Marmite Gigante.
We drove up to Baceno, a pretty Alpine town in Italy near the Swiss border. It took about 40 minutes from Stresa. Parking for the Orridi path is in front of the medieval church; worth peaking into as it was one of those churches that looks so unassuming on the exterior but then opens to glorious treasures inside. To begin the walk, enter the path on the left of the church, down and around the church and into the woods. The ground varies between ancient rock-paving, to dirt, to solid rock that shone in the sunlight like metal. (continued ... )
The path is relatively easy to follow, as signs are posted at all junctions, and it winds past abandoned stone structures, lovingly tended vacation homes, and wildflower fields. There are several different Orridi to see; we chose a short two-hour route that took us to the Orridi Sud, South Orridi, which is the main one.
But in spite of well-marked trails we were still unsure which way to go to reach our destination. So it was very good that we happened upon ... a priest, who was leading a group of school-age children on a nature walk. He pointed us in the right direction; and he would catch up with us from time to time, sharing interesting bits of information about the formations we had come to see.
We reached the Orridi. Narrow and steep open-grate metal staircases wind down, and down, farther into darkness. Water drips from walls and all is green with moss. The stairs end and we must continue down on natural stone steps, unaided by a railing. In some places the walls of the chasm are very close together; I can easily hold on to both sides with my hands. Looking up, the sky is visible in odd shapes at the top of the chasm. Looking around the next bend, we see ... an astronaut. Of course. Wondering whether we were witnessing evidence of moon landing conspiracy theories, we continue on. (Astronaut, by the way, was modeling for some sort of photo shoot. If nothing else, this describes the surface down there as desolate and a bit alien.)
We surface into the light again, climbing stairs to a road. There are some waterfalls, and the next stop on the hike brings us to the source of the falls: the Marmite Gigante. This section of the Toce River has been polished by tens of thousands of years of erosion into beautiful white shapes, contrasting with the surprising aqua blue of the river. A bridge crosses over; good for viewing and to reach other trails. We've run into the priest again at this bridge, and he has a suggestion for us. So we gladly join him and his group. He knows a shortcut back, and it passes an original Roman bridge crossing the Toce. Only the metal railing is newer than 2000 years. He's been a lucky guardian angel guide for us, this lovely priest.
So there you have it. The story of an Italian and an American, hiking in the Alps, with a priest and an astronaut. Just another day offering unknown and definitely unexpected pleasures.
Baceno and the Orridi are here. The green pin at the top is Baceno; Stresa is at the bottom. It's a drive mostly up one highway; at the Orridi we are just a few kilometers from Switzerland.
Obviously this is for those of you with cars. But it allows me to mention, again, the vast amount of trails of all lengths and difficulties, crisscrossing all of the mountains around here. This was a very easy day trip, and there were many children making the hike.
From Stresa itself it is possible to do several different walks that start and can circle back to town. Stresa's 'general store' sells hiking poles. So bring your sturdy shoes and your water bottle, and start walking.
Read more about walking.
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