These scorching hot August days have us desperately seeking cool. With its shade and icy cold pools Orrido di Botri is probably the coolest activity we’ve found. Orrido di Botri is a nature reserve in northern Tuscany and in summer you can ‘walk’ along the river bed and through the canyon formed by the Pelago river. It’s the largest and deepest canyon in Tuscany.
So with helmet on you start the walk. Quickly you find you have to cross from side to side of the stream. First time I did this carefully, using stepping stones and trying not to get wet feet. But not anymore, now I take the easiest way, even if this means straight through the water. Because once you get half an hour in you find yourself at Guadina where the walls narrow and there is absolutely no alternative but to wade through the water!
And again after 45 minutes at Prigioni it narrows. The water comes above knee height and is of such the extreme iciness that it takes your breath away and you just want to get out of it fast! This is mountain water at its purest and coldest and is shocking on such a scorching hot day. We only go on scorching hot days! The point is to relish the coolness, and of course then you dry and warm up again quickly.
The walls of the canyon reach 200 metres high and are nesting sites for golden eagles. I’ve not managed to spot one, I’m too busy watching where I’m placing my feet to look up too much! But those high sides do give great, cool shade.
The further in you go the harder in becomes. The rocks you have to scramble over become ever larger. From 80 minutes in at Salto dei Becchi the route becomes difficult and ropes are used in some places. Personally I sit it out and let the braver ones continue on. After 2 hours the authorised route ends at Piscina. A special permit is needed to go beyond.
But then comes the hard bit. The return! Clambering over the rocks works some rarely used muscles and they start to protest badly about half way back. The return always seems slower, longer and harder!
We always seem to build up a massive appetite, and feel we’ve ‘earned’ refreshment. Fortunately here’s a rustic trattoria, il Nido dell’Aquila that offers simple, local food such as a merenda snack platter for 8euro and fried pasta, lovely with a piece of pecorino cheese.
Orrido di Botri is within the territory of Bagni di Lucca. It’s easiest to reach by the SR 445 road, heading from Lucca or Bagni di Lucca north (as going towards Barga) then turn off right at the roundabout for the Val Fegana and Tereglio. The route from Bagni di Lucca directly is a dirt track after Montefegatesi, driveable in a normal car but not as easy as the route via Tereglio. Park and access the canyon and hiking paths at Ponte a Gaio.
The canyon can only be accessed June to late September when the water level is low enough to make it safe to walk through. Children over 6 are permitted. Allow 4 hours.
There are lots of marked CAI hiking paths in the Orrido di Botri nature reserve which can be accessed all year, weahter permitting.
website for Corpo Forestale dello Stato who operate the nature reserve. Guides can be booked for groups. http://www3.corpoforestale.it/flex/cm/pages/ServeBLOB.php/L/IT/IDPagina/432