My Travels: Natural Life Camp by Rifugio Isera and Pania di Corfino

Alpi Apuane from the Versilia sea side
I travel alone with a light backpack, walking, riding my bike and by train. I can consider to thumb a ride. I spent a week camping in my tent by Rifugio Isera, in the mountains between Alpi Apuane and Appennino Tosco-Emiliano, and I went there on foot. Better: on foot and public transports. It's a quite secluded beautiful place but it's possible to reach it avoiding to drive a car. Easily if you ride a bike! There is a panoramic road crossing the Alpi Apuane by an old tunnel called Cipollaio that's a must for road cyclists and bikers. No bike? No problem: you can do as I did.
I was by the sea side in Forte dei Marmi where my family has got a summer house, and in spite of its name the 'Forte dei Marmi' railway station is in the less glamourous town of Querceta. There is a bus going there, not exactly frequent nor fast: you must check the timetable. Once there I had planned to take the train to Castelnuovo Garfagnana and it involves switching in Viareggio to Lucca and in Lucca to my final destination. From Catelnuovo Garfagnana a bus starts to the village of Corfino BUT two times per day: at 12.35 pm and at 6.35 pm (check it anyway). From Corfino to Rifugio Isera there is a hiking path (1.5 h more or les, 350 m of elevation) climbing along the Isera stream.
So in Corfino I turned off my useless phone – no line and no internet connection up there – put my backpack on and stepped on the path.
I said I travel with a light backpack and this time it was particularly light, that's what was in:
- a very small glacier tent: I picked this one because of its minimal weight but it also proved good against the wind because it's very low.
- a warm sleeping bag.
- a minimal mat.
- a bottle
- a mess tin
- a lamp
- a book ("Sessanta Racconti" by Dino Buzzati)
- Hiking clothes and sleeping clothes
- a small bag with my tooth brush and a comb
- a towel
It tooks me less than 1 h to get to the refuge. It was 3 pm when I arrived.
Rifugio Isera is at the foot of the Pania di Corfino, a vertical rocky face rising from a rich beech forest. Indead we are in a natural reserve including several refuges, a botanic garden, a vistors center all - sadly – linked by roads. I didn't get there to walk on tarmac! I needed a map. But first of all I had to place my tent. 
I looked at the campsite: a grass clearing in the beech forest, slightly downhill at my right hand side and still in the sun light, flatter and almost in the shadow at my left hand side that also looked more sheltered from the wind. As a rule I prefer to get the sun on my tent in the morning, when I need to warm up from the cold wet night, not in the afternoon when may be I want to take a nap, still the most of the tent were on the right hand side. I trusted myself and dropped my backpack in the shadow. The windy night confirmed that was the right choice.
Rifugio Isera is run by Fra Terra e Cielo, that also hold there its 'natural life camp' and that's what I came for: a simple shared life focused on consciousness. Vegetarian macrobiotic food by La Cucina Errante. It should assure a good selection! But you never know... From June to September the refuge is open to anybody: you can place your tent – paying – rent one or sleep in the shared bedroom (18 places). For break-fast, lunch and dinner there is a daily fixed menu. During the day there are three different activities - in the morning, in the evening and at night – also open. They change weekly and are offerend for free by people who get in return a free stay.
I had been lucky! Our small group went along very well. We are not used to share our spaces and it isn't easy to get off our private zone, it makes us feeling vulnerable and that's unpleasant even for the most openminded ones. What stroke me was the poor readiness to share ideas, actually to discuss. Being a philosopher I have the habit to wonder, to ask, to try to understand but I quickly got that it was considered rude: ideas, opinions, fears and inclinations were considered strictly private and unquestionable. It saddened me a little. Nevertheless we were a good group and I enjoyed my stay.
The weather was sunny, it rained only one day. It was hot during the day but very cold at night and in the early morning until the sunrise from beyond the Pania di Corfino. We used to wake up at 7.30 am in order to have breakfast at 8. A qi gong session was supposed to be held before breakfast but it was too cold so it had be moved later making it hard for who was hiking... you can't always have it as you'd like: for me hiking came first. The lunch time was at 1 pm, the dinner time at 8. Around 5 pm some – few! - fruits was available. Ok: is eating your priority? don't go there. But you can find a more various and abundant food in the several other refuges scattered all over the natural reserve's area. Keep smiling! In the afternoon there was a lesson of plantar reflexology and after dinner an engagging activity focused on chant.
Eating wasn't MY priority so that's how I spent my six days:
6th of August: easy walk to the botanic garden for a closer look to the Pania di Corfino. There is a very steep path climbing up, crossing a large stony landslide. It's in the shadow until 10 am, after I guess it isn't nice. The path signal says "40 minutes".
7th of August: in the morning, easy walk to the visitors' center to get the map and an easy circuit in the low land around Monte Orecchiella. In the afternoon guided vist to the Botanic Garden.
8th of August: in the early morning first ascent of the Pania di Corfino (1603 m) by the direct way and descent by a longest and less steep path in the forest. We were only two and we climbed fast. The view from the top is breathtaking: the Alpi Apuane in front, the Appennino at the back, a sweet grassy highland in the middle and lower the beech forest. In the afternoon we went walking toward Monte Ripa but we didn't reach it: the path starts from the Vistors' Center and keeps losing altitude – firs take the place of beeches in fact – and crossing a few little streams. The last part of the excursion, on the steep slopes of Monte Ripa and up to the top, should be interesting but the approaching is too long and boring. Next time I'll start closer, camping at the foot of the peack, or I'll start early in the morning avoiding the heat.
9th of August: in the morning second ascent of the Pania di Corfino with the whole group. Qi gong atop, packed lunch and back by the easier way. Lazy evening.
10th of August: deluge! Short walk daring the rain storm and long cofee break at the Vistors' Center.
11th of August: Guided excursion in the beech forest around the Pania di Corfino. We go down to Capanne di Pruno, cross the rocky area called Grottaglie, reach the charming 'Fontana dell'Amore' (Love Fountain) and keep climbing in the forest until the small village of Campaiana (1358 m). Here we have lunch and we even take a coffee by Rifugio Il Fungo. Up again until Rifugio Granaiola (1450 m) and crossing the cows' pasture we get to the highland beyond the Pania di Corfino. We wak down the Fossa del Lupo and eventually close the circuit by Rifugio Isera. The excursion was supposed to last 5 h but we went very fast and completed it in less than 4. As far as me I thought there was no reason to run that way so stopped a few times taking pictures and looking around...
 12th of August: I was supposed to leave on the 13th but I was offered a lift I really couldn't refuse, a local family brought me by the Cipollaio road directly home in Forte dei Marmi!

Sum up it has been a good experience: the place is beautiful. However I missed the chance to do longer excursions because we were supposed to have lunch by the refuge. Also 5 hours walking seemed already a big deal for the others, more interested in relax. Next time I'll camp by Rifugio Battisti, further in the natural reserve and more suitable for serious excursions. On my to do list I have Monte Ripa, Monte Orecchiella, Monte Prado and hopefully Monte Cusna. I just need a few days in September!

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