Henri Craemer | Stage 5: On My Feet Again
One of the Shortest stages on The Way of St Francis lies between Camaldoli and Badia Prataglia. This is Henri Craemer’s account of Stage 5 on the Francigena di St Francesco or the Way of St Francis
Camaldoli, pilgrim, Eremo Camaldoli, Sandy Brown, trail statistics, trail, Badia Prataglia, Rifugio Cotozzo, tourism, adventure, hiking, tourism
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Stage 5: On My Feet Again

25 August 2017. The day’s trail from Camaldoli to Badia Prataglia beckons. After my day of healing in Camaldoli, I’d like to stay for a very long time. There is precious little to do, but the place has an atmosphere of deep peace about it. That makes it easy to understand why monks and pilgrims alike come here.

Niels tells me about coming across a monk yesterday, not far from the Eremo Camaldoli. His eyes literally shone with the Spirit. If one takes spiritual growth seriously, places like these can have that kind of effect on you.

The Numbers

The trail statistics in Sandy Brown’s book make it look like a relatively easy walk to Badia Prataglia. Total distance: a mere 8,4 km (5.2 miles). Total ascents and descents: 534 m (~1752’) and 519 (~1703’) respectively. Rating: “moderate”. Hopefully, it means I can break myself in after my day of rest.

Route map for the day (from Brown, S. [2015] THE WAY OF ST FRANCIS, p 74, Cicerone. Map edited by H.J. Craemer, 2017)

Regardless of the rating, these ascents and descents are compressed into a relatively short distance. The walk is also surrounded by poggios. This indicates the possibility of some steep climbs and drops.

Breakfast

We decide on a later start because the distance is the shortest we’ve had since leaving Florence. This means we can have breakfast. There is a lot of bread, tarts, and other very sugary foods. Niels and I both agree that most of this high G.I. spread won’t really sustain us over longer distances. I decide to add some cold meats and cheese to my selection. However, the real bonus for me is the delicious oranges and grapefruit. We top this off with an Americano each.

Not long after that, we’re on our way. Instead of saying our pre-hike prayers in the room before leaving, we decide to do so in the chapel. I am struck once again by the wonderful peace of the place.

The Trail

Just outside Camaldoli the path starts climbing steeply. Progress is still very much plod-plod-rest for me. Niels repeats his advice when I catch up to him: I must keep on moving because stopping slows us down. I fully accept this. I know I’m not fit enough yet. At least he accepts that I am pushing myself to my own limits. That means that I will get fit sooner rather than later.

Near the top of the climb, we reach Rifugio Cotozzo, a very simple stone Alpine cottage.

Rifugio Cotozzo (© Henri Craemer 2017)

We make good progress until we come to a meadow. There is a graded area and a two-track path to our left. Continuing along this path, all seems well. After passing a grader, the path leads us back into the forest and soon hits a dead end. We retrace our steps and start searching for the trail. Niels picks it up after noting that the undergrowth showed only the slightest of partings on the other side of the graded clearing.

The meadow of ferns and the barely visible signs of the path after the clearing. (© Henri Craemer 2017)

I thank God for the cooling effects of the forest. It’s already hot, with temperatures forecast around the 30ᵒs C (~90ᵒs F) yet again. The path becomes well defined and signage is good. The going speeds up as the path levels off.

The vibrant silence and beauty of the living forest seep into me. I wonder how many pilgrims have wandered this way, under these self-same oaks and birches.

Badia Prataglia

After midday, we have our first sighting of Badia Prataglia. It’s a steep drop into the little town. It’s around 13:30 when we take our packs off outside a bar-restaurant. We replenish our inner resources with some liquid refreshments, cold meats, and bread.

Badia Prataglia from a distance. (© Henri Craemer 2017)

After booking into Bosco Verde, we go through our post-hike routine. We go outside and enjoy the beautiful peace of the afternoon, overlooking the valley. We hear the plaintive howl of a lone wolf after sunset.

Badia Prataglia may be a small place but it’s very big on tourism. The quiet before supper is but the stillness before the storm. There are teams of school children participating in some athletic event staying at the inn. All hell breaks loose as the kids decide to party into the early hours of the morning. We call it a day at our usual time, well before 22:00. It’s a restless night until silence finally descends at 03:00.

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