The other night I was reading from Patience Gray’s awesome and strange Honey from a Weed. There is a section about trekking in the landscape around Castelpoggio, a small village high up in the hills above Carrara. She describes the vineyards, chestnuts groves, rocks, wild thyme and rabbit grass with such deep vegetal knowledge and poetic ramblings.
‘Flowers are not named, I realized, because in essence they are hay to a mountain peasant. They are unseen because no one goes into the mountain pastures until it is time to cut it…On these slopes which offer a marvellous view of the distant wall of mountains of the Garfagnagna, still crowned with snow, were to be found, on a groundwork of dwarf broom and heather, many orchises, leaves of hellebore as large as a peony’s, green spurges with coral centres, the yellow spurge which smells of honey, exquisite Solomon’s seal, wild fennel, and the sinister dragon arum growing in the cleft of a stream.’
She lists the overlooked flowers in a such gorgeous way that brought on an intense longing to go on a hike myself to explore Ischia’s hills.
And so on Sunday, we drove up to Testaccio, a hamlet in the comune of Barano and tried to find one of the Lizard paths – I sentieri della lucertola. Barano has created a series of mountain paths in different parts of the comune that cut through the terraced fields and vineyards and offer amazing views of the sea and islands in the bay of Naples. Ischia Review has generously provided a section in English about all the trails and where to find them and we decided to take a call along the red lizard path in Testaccio. According to Ischia Review, you can find the entrance to the path near Nik Bar in the piazza, and when we got there was the sign on the sidewalk that had a map of the path, but we couldn’t find the entrance.
We asked some elderly gentleman at the bar, but none of them knew what we were talking about even when we showed them the sign. In the end, one of them told us to take the road behind the supermarket and we would find the entrance to a path there.
So we walked and climbed up a long narrow road behind the Deco supermarket, we saw lots of gardens and cats, but no paths. When we got to the end, there was a driveway up a little hill.
We saw an old lady smoking a cigarette and asked her if there was a trail and she pointed to a path that started behind a house. We walked across the sidewalk, said good morning to lady hanging out by the window and started our way to the mysterious ‘Tenuta di Cannavale.’
We started the steep climb through the woods that were full of chestnut trees. The path was kept clean and on certain steep climbs there was a wooden railing that helped you make it up. We passed by terraces and deep ravines and the terrain got rockier. When we got close, there was a sign with an arrow that pointed up another steep path with log steps.
And at the top of the steps the terrain opened up into a clearing and a vineyard.
A bit further there it was, the ‘Tenuta di Cannavale’. There were olive trees and a vineyard and at the top of the hill there was a sort of mountain house and picnic tables and this incredible view of the Castello Aragonese down below, Capri, Procida and the bay of Naples and the faint outline of Vesuvius and Napoli in the distance.
We sat quietly and ate the sandwiches we brought with us. I felt a bit like Patience Gray in the stillness and crisp air. I don’t know the names of mountain flowers, but maybe one day I will. On a half-sunny day in January, many things were growing and there was so much green. All of this coming green that’s promising a full explosion in spring in just a few months.
It turns out that the Tenuta di Cannavale is an organic vineyard and garden. According to the website, you can have dinner there by appointment and buy some of their local produce and products. You can reach it by various different trails some shorter than others, all accessed by the bus routes.