Now a regular feature of the CAI (Club Alpino Italiano hillwalking club) calendar, the Renaio to Lago Santo walk traces a trail used by shepherds moving their sheep from the low pastures and olive groves around Barga, to the high summer pastures on the slopes of Monte Giovo and Monte Omo.
Seven of us met at Renaio, a small hamlet set in the hills a few kilometres to the east of Barga, but 500m higher. We met at 10 pm on a beautiful clear night at the Restaurant at Renaio, an ancient watering place for both men and beasts! and autumn meeting point for legitimate and illegitimate dealing in funghi Porcini found in the surrounding chestnut forests. Much of the first section is on forestry tracks and though there was no moonlight, the stars of the milky way provided enough light to see the way.
After about 5 km, above the Caserma della Vetricia, the track enters beechwoods and torches were needed to follow the track. We stopped for the night at a tiny caserma (huts used by forestry workers and shepherds) which has been reconstructed by members of CAI Barga, and fitted with wood stove and oil lamps. We found it already occupied by a group of 12 from Lucca who partied well into the night accompanied on guitar and bongo! Several of the party had brought tents and crawled inside while the rest of us lay out under the canopy of stars and watched the Perseid shooting stars which are frequent visitors at this time of year. It was a beautiful clear night with little breeze. At 8 am we were up and breakfasting at the caserma before the party split, 3 returning to Renaio, the remaining 4 of us continuing up the steep path through the beechwoods to the open pasture slopes where we encountered the first flock of sheep and goats. The track (CAI 26) heads diagonally up the flank of Monte Giovo, up the valley of the Piano dell’Alteretto to the saddle of the Alteretto at 1840m (5860 feet) where the view northwards along the limestone scarp, is spectacular. To the south stands M. Rondinaio and deep below in the valley to the north east lies Lago Baccio.
The next section which follows the CAI 00, a long distance track which follows the Appenines down the “spine” of Italy, involves a climb up a steep section of rocky peaks part of which is “ferrato” (provided with a chain or cable for safety), with the first view down to the deep green waters of Lago Santo. Then follows a steady ridge walk up to the summit, where we encountered the second mixed flock of sheep and goats. The different sized bells on their collars provided a medley of music which carried through the still air. We met the shepherd, Luciano Gonnella, resting with his two dogs below the cross which surmounts M. Giovo, at 1991m (6340 feet).
Each morning he walks his flock up to the mountain and returns at night to milk them and produce the pecorino cheese for which this valley is famous. He keeps the cheese for 60 days, at which point he sells it as “fresh” pecorino, or for up to 2 years for “stagionato”. After resting at the summit with him, and climbing the cross, we set off down the steep track which leads to Lago Santo, and en-route were joined by a couple from Barga, who walked the rest of the day with us. The path down to Lago Santo (CAI 52) drops 500 metres through banks of wild mirtilli (blueberries) and lampone (wild raspberries) which are in season, and make a tasty refreshener.
By the lake there are a number of Rifugi, with restaurants, but we continued to the simple Rifugio Bertagni, owned and maintained by the Commune di Barga for the use of residents. It is a simple hostel with beds for about 20. There we had a lunch break of foccaccia, prosciutto and pecorino followed by fresh fruit, and a doze in the sun. Leaving Lago Santo we followed the CAI 529 which climbs to the Boccaia to the narrow path at the Porticciola (1670 m) where it rejoins the CAI 00 to drop down through beech and chestnut forests to la Vetricia (there is a rifugio with good food open in summer) then on down the forestry track to Renaio. The whole route involves about 6 hours steady walking so it would be possible to do in a day. Alternatively sleep by Lago Santo or, if booked ahead it would be possible to sleep at one of the Rifugi by the lake. Either way it is a memorable trip, suitable for a reasonably fit and competent hill walker. – This is my diary of the walk. Ron Gauld, Casa Fontana, B&B, Barga