The Bride's Walk - Ameglia to Tellaro

The old signora had a store -a small grocery - on the Piazza della Liberta in Ameglia, where Liguria meets Tuscany.  Elsa Aluisini was 94 years old, and her store opened every day at 8am - even though her daughter had to drive her the 300 meters from her home. She had a smile for every customer, and the bit of blusher she troubled to wear on her cheeks multiplied the warmth. We were new to Ameglia - it was 1991 - and our Italian was pretty bad. But this gentle lady took the time to talk to us every time we came in.  One day, she gave us a gift. The gift of a small story, a picture really, which we cherish. We hope to pass the gift to you.

The signora's mother, Lisa, grew up in Tellaro, a small fishing village on the Gulf of La Spezia, across the peninsula from Ameglia. The way of life was humble, since fishing and agriculture were virtually the only livelihoods. Since Ameglia was the political center of the area, the land route to Tellaro was the path from Ameglia.  Tellaro was also part of the Ameglia parish, so when it came time for the signora's mother to be married, in the 1890's, the wedding had to be in Ameglia. On her wedding day, the bride-to-be, dressed in her modest wedding dress with a yellow veil, set off from Tellaro to Ameglia, a hike of about 2 miles. The path was paved with stones and dirt - a mule track - and it climbed up and over the spine of the peninsula. In order to look her best, the bride carried her ribboned yellow cloth wedding shoes in hand, and walked the rough path to her wedding - barefoot.

Ethnographic Museum La Spezia
18th C. Traditional Festival Dress
Our walk begins after the ceremony. Starting from the piazza in front of Ameglia's church in the Centro Storico, we will walk to Tellaro. It's about 2 miles -each way- and in this direction there's a modest rise, and then a long downhill to the sea. It will take about an hour, it's a moderately easy walk, and can be done with energetic children. Along the way there are panoramic views of the mountains and the Gulf of the Poets. You'll walk along terraced olive groves, and through a scented and characteristically Mediterranean landscape. There are several lunch options in Tellaro, and a quaint fishing village to explore. To return there are two options. One is to walk back the way you came. The second option is to take a bus or boat to beautiful Lerici, and after exploring and/or lunching there, take a bus to the locality called Zanego, at the high point of the hike, and walk back down to Ameglia in just 20 minutes. To visualize, look at the Bride's Walk Map  Oh, we forgot to mention, you will remember this pretty walk for the rest of your life,  just like Elsa told us the Bride did.

See below for Getting There,  About Ameglia,  Bus Info,  Boat Info,  Lunch Info, and More Info.

Ameglia. Ancient Slate Relief
Walk Description. From the Ameglia church piazza, there's a grand view of the Magra River, the Luni plain, the Colli di Luni (the hills), and the Apli Apuane (the mountains). Unseen beneath the plain in front of you is the important Roman city of Luni and its harbor, Portus Lunae, long since buried by the river's silt. The historic city of Luni is one reason for Ameglia's development, as well as for its importance. It's worth taking the time to explore this unique town, with the help of the About Ameglia section below, and when you're ready leave, go back through the arch onto Piazza della Liberta.

Walk directly across the Piazza and up the street, past the little Bar in our building, past the Rolla Alimentari, and past a little bakery. The road will turn, but you'll go straight. Ahead is the lovely Oratorio di Nostra Signora Assunta. Rarely open, it dates from the 18th century. The trail goes to the left of the church, and begins to rise, as we head up a pass between the hills. The current CAI map signals our path as Trail CAI-2b, connecting to CAI-3 at Zanego and then branching to Tellaro on CAI-3h. Older maps may well have different designations

Ameglia Tower and Castle, rear view with Alpi Apuane.
Walking along, you see the CAI-2 trail branch off to the right. The road will curve, and you'll get your first overview of Ameglia and the valley over the roofs of some new construction. At the gate of a modern home, the road becomes more trail like as you turn right. From here you are going essentially straight until you cross an asphalt road at Zanego (ZA-nego). You'll pass one final house guarded by some very unenthusiastic watchdogs, and the rise becomes more pronounced. There are a few side paths you don't take, and a frana (landslide) that has disturbed the trail, but on and up you go. Don't forget to check the view behind you as you rise.

The trail levels off, the view is gone, and it passes through olive groves, some neat and tended, some overgrown, some hosting horses. Later in the year, there may be red or orange nets spread below the trees to collect fallen olives. Though the olives look like the black olives in the store, they must be cured to be edible, otherwise they are way beyond bitter.

As you walk along, you'll see that, in places, the dirt beside the trail has been dug up. This was done by cinghiali, wild boars that weigh as much as 200 pounds, who were using their sharp tusks as trowels while looking for grubs and roots. Also look for u-shaped troughs on the slopes under the brush near the trail. These are slides that the cinghiale use as trails, and - we have read - for fun. The cinghiali are extremely wary and intelligent, and you almost certainly will not encounter one.

Thanks, CAI volunteers.
Most of the land in this section is terraced, in order to increase the arable surface area, and slow the water runoff. The terraces could be used to grow grain or vines or vegetables or olives, but due to their small dimensions would still require cultivation by hand. Perhaps the practical hiker might give some thought to the effort involved in creating these terraces. How many decades or centuries did it take humble peasants to change this from a smooth steep hillside to a series of level strips, to reinforce it with rock, and restore the topsoil? And for what? In what society would the extra olive oil or barley be worth that much effort!  It happened in a world unimaginable to us, by people with few other choices: in the very same society that gave us the Firenze duomo and Galileo.

A Path to Lunch

Soon enough you'll feel the fresher ocean air, and then see the landscaping of the suburban human. At the road there's a shrine, a well, and some trail signs, and that's Zanego (a/k/a quattro strade). This is also the bus stop you need on the Lerici to Montemarcello bus, if you decide to return via Lerici. You will cross the road and begin the descent to Tellaro on CAI-3. Here there are more hidden houses with gardens, but it becomes even more Mediterranean. Here the path is modern crushed stone, there the path is ancient stone set in dirt for traction and to limit mud. The trees start to reveal the view of the Gulf of the Poets, and all's right with the world.

Much of the walk since leaving Ameglia has been through The Parco di Montemarcello-Magra, link below. This park was established to preserve this wonderful peninsula in its present state, and thank goodness. However, you've also seen recent development, so what does preserve mean? The new construction you've seen is either because the Park boundary zigged and zagged in places as it approaches more settled areas, or because there was the foundation of a habitation that pre-existed the Park's founding. In the later case, the owner is allowed to improve the property. To exploit the opportunity, an engineer and an archeologist must certify that the foundation is old, and then the owner can rebuild the house. Yes, it has been abused at times.

Tellaro and the Gulf of the Poets
The way down is well marked, even at the trail junction, where you'll branch left to Tellaro on CAI-3h. The view in the distance shows on the left, the small Island of Tino, then the Island of Palmaria, then Portovenere on the mainland, and then the Portovenere peninsula, rising to the mountain area called Il Muzzerone. On the far side, beyond the Muzzerone and up the coast are the Cinque Terre. Out of sight to the right is La Spezia. You'll see ships waiting for berths at La Spezia, and perhaps a little naval destroyer acting as a symbolic protector of this important naval base. There are floating supports for mussel growing behind the breakwater to the harbor. Gulf of the Poet mussels (muscoli or cozze) have been grown here since the 1800's and are justifiably famous. Little pleasure boats, fishing boats and sailboats and ferry boats travel fast and slow, here and there, each adding to the relaxed imperative of the Gulf. Down you walk, and at one point you can look over a fence on your left and down to a beach below. It's a wonderful little glimpse because it's really DOWN. Soon the houses thicken, and the streets narrow and become village-like and our job is done. Welcome to Tellaro.

Getting There
Reach the Centro Storico (Capoluogo) of Ameglia by exiting at the Carrara exit northbound from the A12, Genova to Livorno,  or the Sarzana exit southbound from the same A12. Follow the Ameglia signs to the Statale SS432 either north or south, and watch for the Ameglia turnoff. Northbound, it's a left about 2 km. after the bridge over the Magra. Southbound, the bridge means you've gone too far. You will see the pretty hill town as you drive up toward Ameglia on Via Cafaggio, and the road becomes increasingly - some might say alarmingly - narrow. As you begin to enter the town, there's a  P sign for Parking, and you turn left down into the parking lot. HOWEVER, the upper two lots are for residents only, and are poorly signed. You need to go down to the newly built lower levels 3, 4 or 5 and park. Fortunately, the lots are safe, free, and there are no time limits. At the top of the long stairs on the town side of the parking lots, you reach one end of the Piazza della Liberta. Turn left under the arch, and you'll reach the church piazza where the description begins.

About Ameglia
Ameglia, Liguria. Defense tower, 10th Century.
The history of our little town is immense, even by Italian standards, so we offer but a few fragments. There was a Ligurian village here by 500 B.C., and their necropolis, at the foot of the hill,  yielded evidence of extensive trading in that period.  By at least the 900's, the round tower rising above the castle was present, a period that corresponds to the increased pirate and Saracen raids that eventually finished off Luni. The tower's use was defensive as the entrance was high above the ground, allowing a ladder to be pulled in after all had entered.  Some castle walls and town walls (now largely gone) date from the 10th century, but the castle we see dates beginning in 1174.  After Luni was completely abandoned, in 1058 A.D., Ameglia and then Sarzana became the residence of the Bishop/Counts of Luni - who were both religious and secular rulers. The when and where of the Bishops' residence is still debated, but in the early 1100's it was Ameglia. At other periods, Ameglia was apparently the Bishops' summer residence - probably because of the summer sea breeze as well as malarial concerns in Sarzana.

In later periods, like most of the area towns, Ameglia belonged in turn to various competing city-states. The ownership records reads like the deed to a house: from 1141 Genova, from 1252 Lavagna, from 1284 back to the Bishops of Luni, from 1321 Lucca, from 1328 three or more different feudal families, and from 1380 back to Genova. The transfers continued until 1562 when the Republic of Genova finally established control which lasted until the Napoleonic era.
Ameglia Campanile.

The town layout is somewhat unusual, as the castle is the center, not the church. In front of the castle, there's a courtyard (originally a defensive ditch) and a little rectangle of streets. Then concentrically around the castle are three round streets which connect to each other but don't complete a circle. From the outer street there's an excellent view of Ameglia's little valley and the Alpi Apuane. Note that many of the houses are built on -or even around - solid rock. The small streets and narrow houses evoke a timeless feeling, enhanced by some of the ancient details that have been preserved. In particular look for ancient reliefs in slate around some of the doorways near the church.

Bus Info
Buses here are by ATC, and we happen to have a thrilling article on how to take a bus Getting Around La Spezia. You should check the bus times yourself since a new summer schedule starts June 16, 2011. However, to give you an idea of the service, here are Feriale (Mon-Sat.) midday times on May 30, 2011. Tellaro to Lerici:  9:55 / 10:45 / 11:45 / 12:50 / 13:30 / 14:05 / 14:45 / 15:15 / 16:35 / 17:45. Lerici to Zanego (Montemarcello bus) : 11:26 / 13:41 / 16:41 / 17:41 / 19:26.

Lerici , Liguria. The Italian Riviera.
Tickets Sellers/Codice. For a complete list of sellers, refer to our article above. All Poste (Post Offices) in La Spezia province sell bus tickets according to the ATC website. In Tellaro there's a coin self-service machine for single tickets at the bus stop, and the Tabacchi (closed Monday) at Piazza Figoli, 2, sells singles and 8-trip tickets. Tellaro-Lerici is Codice 01. In Lerici, there's a coin self-service machine for single tickets at the bus stop in Piazza Garibaldi (at the harbor end of town). Single and 8-trip tickets are sold at the Tabacchi at 19 Piazza Garibaldi, and at the Bar Casa del Caffe at number 14. The large edicola (newstand) just back from the waterfront park promenade also sells tickets. The Lerici-Zanego trip is Codice 02. (Thinking ahead: a party of four going from Tellaro to Zanego via Lerici could use one 8-trip ticket Codice 02).
Fishing Boats Lerici Harbor
Lunch Info
Ciccillio a Mare at Lerici
Around the piazza at the entry to Tellaro, you'll see several less expensive food options. A few minutes walk along the road to Lerici, there's a small alimentari suitable for buying an impromptu picnic. Further down that road, are two more expensive restaurants reviewed by Megan Guerrera of Bellavitaitalia, namely Locanda Miranda and La Caletta.

For some of the many Lerici restaurant options, study our notated map of this Caprione Promontory, Restaurants and Overview Map. We've given info on restaurants we've tried, that Megan Guerrera has reviewed, and that a friend, Julie H., has tried.

More Info
Parco di Montemarcello-Magra (IT)  There are many good trails through and around the park. Maps and guide books are available in bookstores. The Parco's office is at the far edge of Montemarcello, across from Il Giardino cafe.

CAI Sarzana (Club Alpino Italiano) has a good recent hiking map: Bassa Val di Magra (4Land Alpine Cartography #141) (1:25,000) which includes this area. Available at book stores, some newsstands, and CAI Sarzana,  Piazza Firmafede, 13, just off Via Mazzini near Porta Romana.

NY Times Lerici The New York Times discovered Lerici, and, luckily, they sent a good and sensible writer.

Ethnographic Museums For insight into the lives of ordinary people here in the past two centuries, the area has two excellent museums. In La Spezia, Museo Civico (IT) and in Villafranca, Museo Etnografico (IT).

We are grateful to a distinguished neighbor we never had the pleasure of meeting, Ennio Silvestri, for his book, Ameglia Nella Storia Della Lunigiana, and to his widow, Ilva, for presenting it as a welcoming gift.

Written by Martha