the traveller

Many people tell me I’m lucky to live in Verona because it’s close to everything: Lake Garda, the hills where the delicious Amarone and Recioto wines are produced, Venice, and the Trentino mountains. All true. But I tell them that to go for a good hike in the mountains you don’t even need to leave the region! Near Verona is Lessinia, a mountainous area with subtle landscapes. There are no towering peaks, but there are a variety of excursions for trekking fans, food lovers or those who want to discover the culture and history of this wonderful place.

Hiring a car, I head off to the east of the city, following directions for Bosco Chiesanuova and arriving at Erbezzo. From here I go to the old Malga Derocon hut, the nerve centre of the many activities in the Lessinia Regional Park where, between a moment of leisure and adventure, you can delve into topics such as respecting nature or learning to recognise the local flora and fauna with practical demonstrations (to book, call +39 045-8009686). Watch the deer and chamois, or stroll along the botanical path surrounding by greenery and quiet. If all that moving around has made you hungry, you can go down to the town of Erbezzo, the undisputed homeland of Monte Veronese cheese, which even has its own festival. Between one tasting and the next of cheese and the delicious Durello wine produced in the mountains, I’ll tell you about the Cimbri, the old inhabitants of this area.

LESSINIA - Verona Alternative guide
View from Lessinia
Tromini of San Bartolo, Lessinia
Trombini trumpeters of San Bartolo
Il Covolo (Dante's cave) Camposilvano, Lessina
The Covolo (Dante's cave), Camposilvano

According to some trusted historical sources, during the thirteenth century this population lived in the areas between Bavaria and Tyrol, before moving to the Lessini mountains in around 1287. That same year, sources record the decision made by the then Bishop of Verona, Bartolomeo della Scala, to grant a group of Cimbri the right to populate the local mountains. Other groups, meanwhile, settled in regions between Vicenza, Belluno and Treviso, where traces of their presence can still be found.

Crossing the Vajo dell’Anguilla (Valley of the Eel), in the heart of the Folignani Forest, much loved by mountain bikers, I arrive at Bosco Chiesanuova. This is where the Lessinia Film Festival takes place, dedicated to the life, history and traditions of the mountains. I wind down by taking a long walk in the footsteps of the Cimbri, on the look-out for signs of this ancient and fascinating culture. The typical stone houses and roofs dot the streets and paths, often immersed in beech and spruce forests, which offer an unparalleled spectacle in autumn. In the Coletta district I pause to visit the Ethnographic Museum, where I find utensils for making butter and cheese, and photographic documents that tell of ancient traditions and landscapes transformed over time.

Cimbri rooftops

After pausing at Pasticceria Valbusa for a snack of shortbread biscuits made with local butter, the typical s-shaped delicacies, in the church square I get back into my car and head to Camposilvano, a small hamlet in the municipality of Velo Veronese. The fossil museum in Camposilvano is a reminder that the sea once covered everything here. But the surprise doesn’t end there! I also come across the Covolo, a 35-metre deep cave. It’s cool and damp and appears to have once been used as a freezer by the local community. It seems that Dante Alighieri was also taken by a morbid fascination for the place, finding inspiration for his depiction of hell.

It’s not just the eyes that get a treat round here, flavours are also important. Stop by one of the many agritourism places and sink your fork into the famous sbatui gnocchi, made of the few ingredients they used to have in these parts: flour, water and cheese. Simple ingredients, made all the better by the melted butter that lends the dish an unforgettable taste.

Near Camposilvano lies the mysterious Valle delle Sfingi (Valley of the Sphinxes). Limestone monoliths, shaped by the erosion of red ammonite, giving rise to formidable rock formations. If you listen, you’ll hear the wind carrying with it the legends of this place, unknown to most. Tales that took shape in winter, during the filò, a traditional vigil held by peasants, who kept each other company in stables heated by cows’ breath.

The inhabitants would spend their time “filando” (which is where filò comes from), sharing stories of ogres, wolves and sacred dances while weaving traditional fabrics. The stories always featured fairies, who apparently lived in the caves around here. Among these rocks I find the sengio de l’orco, the Camposilvano mushroom, carried by an ogre so that the fairies could hang up a rope to dry the laundry, and the mythical fò de la pace, the beech of peace, under whose branches contracts were signed and quarrels settled.

Il Covolo (Dante's cave) Camposilvano, Lessina
The Covolo (Dante's cave), Camposilvano
Bosco Chiesanuova
Bosco Chiesanuova in Folignani Forest

Saying goodbye to the ogres and the fairies, head to the village of Giazza, a unique linguistic island. Although it is now only spoken in this country by a few older people, the Cimbrian language is protected and studied by the nearby University of Verona. After so much culture, it’s time to tickle your taste buds. Go to Osteria Ljetzan, where young chef Giorgio cooks with coal using the Cimbrian method inherited from his father and grandfather.

The taste of the food here harks back to a different era. In recent years, Lessinia has seen the birth of many value-enhancing projects featuring young people in particular. Like Chiara, a graduate in forestry science, who decided to revive the abandoned pastures of her family by cultivating saffron, which she exports all over the world. “We grow and work the saffron by hand, without using any additives or chemicals”, she tells me, “That way, the product retains its specific sensory characteristics. It’s unique and very special”.

You should go and visit her, you’ll see the passion shining in her eyes. Her family supports her and has allowed her to turn part of her grandparents’ old house, which used to be a tavern, into a food laboratory to process saffron and other delicacies such as vegetables and pickled fruits with mustard.

Osteria Ljetzan, Giazza, Lessina
Osteria Ljetzan, Giazza
Foresta dei Folignani, Lessina
Folignani Forest

Lessinia’s famous chestnut trees, in all their beauty, frame the saffron fields. There are several events and autumn tasting celebrations dedicated to chestnuts, such as San Mauro di Saline, one of the most loved by locals. The inhabitants of this small village are very proud of their marron chestnuts, which differ from normal chestnuts due to their oblong shape, slightly lighter reddish colour, sweet flesh and thin skin that is easily peeled.

If you’re lucky you might even run into the famous trombini of San Bortolo during the traditional festival, which takes place at the beginning of June. Also called sciopi or pistoni, these instruments derive from 17th century weapons of war from used to incite terror and barge through crowds. Each trombino is loaded with gunpowder and, in a collective dance (the strong recoil from the bang causes the trumpeters to spin round, like a dance), a truly unique concert is created.

Be da dar må hat an groasan kroas, ‘s bettar git um, or “Ring around the Moon, Rain Real Soon”. Take note of this proverb and if the moon says it’s time to retreat, listen to it. When you leave this area, you’ll take with you in your heart and soul the tastes and sounds of the traditions you’ve experienced.

di Tiziana Cavallo

Valle delle Sfingi (Valley of the Sphinxes), Camposilvano

other itineraries

  • the storyteller

  • the intellectual

  • the socialite

  • the sporty type