Thursday May 23:  Susan writes:
39 Poly Ramblers travelled to Milan Linate where we  boarded our coach to Corniglio, unfortunately minus Melida’s suitcase, which had been left in London. We were somewhat disconcerted by the very heavy rain and the sight of the flooded fields for much of the journey. After two and a half hours we arrived at the family run Hotel le Mura in the little Apennine village of Corniglio where most of the group were staying.  After unpacking and a quick aperitive at the hotel bar, we all gathered for our four course dinner at le Mura. Throughout our stay the staff couldn’t have done more to make us comfortable, nothing was too much trouble, including arranging for our guide to lend Melida her daughter’s walking boots. It was Jackie’s birthday, so we presented her with a delicious cake. However, we decided to eat it another day as the dinner had proved rather filling! Some of us then retired to the bar for a nightcap.

Friday May 24: Susan writes: 
The long walkers took the coach to the Lagdei refuge where we met up with both our guides for the weekend, Alessandro and Monica. Our group set off with Monica quite steeply up through a beautiful beech forest. Monica has a wealth of knowledge about the area and especially the wildlife and flora, so we stopped every now and then while she explained about the habitat and answered our questions. The weather was dry but rather cloudy so we were unsure whether our efforts would be rewarded by the spectacular views once we reached the top after a 600 metre climb. We arrived at Sella della Braiola but unfortunately, no view, just a quick glimpse of the nearby valleys and mountains as the clouds parted. On a good day it is possible to see the sea with Corsica in the distance. We persevered along the ridge to Monte Marmagna (1848m/6063ft) where we quickly took a group photo before descending in the chilly wind to Lagdei (the Holy Lake), the largest of the many glacial lakes in this area, and the Mariotti refuge where the middle walkers were already tucking in to polenta with mushrooms or wild boar. After lunch we descended all together down a rather rocky path to Lagdei to pick up our coach and return to the hotel for another abundant dinner.
Hilary writes: The medium and short walkers were completing a gentle climb to the Santo Lake along the Sentiero di Maria Luigia (the path that the Duchess, Napoleon’s second wife took in 1821 to visit the lake). On arrival the intention was to take a circular walk around the lake, having lunch at the Mariotti mountain hut before descending back to Bosco di Corniglio.  We started our walk climbing a moderately steep rocky path towards the Santo Lake to be rewarded with beautiful views and a number of view points.  We descended to the Santo Lake. Unfortunately we were unable to walk around the lake owing to recent heavy rainfall. We continued to the Marriotti mountain hut where we had some really tasty cheese and mushroom polenta. We then met up with the longer walk group before descending to Bosco di Corniglio to catch the coach back to our hotel.

Danny writes: On the first full day in Corniglio, the short walkers set off with the middle walkers led by our guide Alessandro. However, within a short while, it became clear that the terrain was a bit tricky for a number of us. Therefore, as suggested by Alessandro, a breakaway group of seven headed down the road towards Bosco di Corniglio, around 4.5 miles away. There was little traffic and the sun was shining so it was a pleasant stroll via the Ponte del Cogno to Bosco. We arrived there around lunchtime so we went into Gino’s Pizzeria for food and drinks. We then adjourned to the nearby Trattoria Ghiradini, where we sat in the sunshine awaiting a local bus back to Corniglio.

Saturday May 25: Susan writes:
It was quite sunny when the long and medium walkers boarded our coach to Cancelli. Here the guides joined us and the coach was escorted by the Carabinieri to Lagoni. The road is quite narrow and the escort served to assure us we would have no unpleasant encounters with any cars in the opposite direction. Only authorised traffic related to the State Nature Reserve Guadine Predaccio is allowed, public access is only by foot. Later, Monica explained that it had been 50 years since a coach party had ascended this route and 3 different authorisations had been required. We had caused quite a stir! We started by the lower of the two lakes, Lago Gemio Inferiore, up on a rocky path mostly through trees. On reaching the Lago Scuro it had started to rain. Monica decided it was too dangerous to continue up to the ridge as planned and we descended back down the same route and then continued along the path the middle walkers had taken. We encountered the latter group as they descended from the picnic spot. By the time we reached the Capanne di Badignana, an old shepherd’s hut, the sun was shining and we ate our picnic in an idyllic meadow by a stream. We returned to Cancelli by the same road through the nature reserve that the coach had taken. During the afternoon, as the walking was quite easy, Monica gave us a lot of information about the history of the area and the current problems. She explained how the territory had been over exploited in the past by shepherds and locals collecting wood for charcoal which led to the state acquiring the area of the nature reserve in 1914 and introducing very rigid regulations about access. Now the conundrum is how to preserve the area while making it more accessible to visitors who contribute to the local economy.
Hilary writes: We set off on the same route as the long walkers but then deviated to Lago Scuro, Fugicchia pass and Badignana pass before rejoining the same route as the long walkers.  We had lunch in a very picturesque area at a mountain hut to avoid a sudden rain shower. The sun came out and we started our route back to Bosco de Corniglio Our guide Alessandro gave us some really informative talks on the local plants and animals in the area, this included a talk about snakes, only to see two cross our path shortly afterwards! We went on a very pretty route back to Cancelli.

Danny writes: The next day our group had swelled to eleven after some found the previous day’s walks a bit challenging. In the morning, six of our number did a four mile circular walk from Corniglio, via the hamlet of Lago and the Ponte Romano. We saw friendly cats & frisky dogs enroute [and a dead snake – editor] and chatted with a local in a mixture of pidgin English & Italian! On returning to Corniglio, we had a short walk around the town before refreshing ourselves in a local bar. The remainder of the group took a local bus to Langhirano, which is famous for its production of prosciutto. Most of them visited the ‘Ham’ museum in the town which they found surprisingly interesting.

Sunday May 26:   Susan writes: 
We woke up to a splendid day with a clear blue sky. Our guides joined us in Corniglio for the short coach trip to Grammatica. where we spent a little time getting a good group photo in the sunshine. Our group set off with Monica up by fields and pastures to Monte Navert. This was to be a walk in very different scenery, much greener and a stark contrast to the rocky mountains of the other days. We were able to observe various flowers, including orchids. Monica is involved in a programme which tracks the presence of wolves in the area and she gave us some fascinating information about how this is carried out. On the way we received the news that finally Melida’s suitcase had arrived!! We ate our picnic at the top with a wonderful view over the other side of the valley where we had been walking the other days. A very large group of horses was tempted by our food, but Monica knew how to ward them off! They are horses raised for meat and spend the summer months in the lush pastures. We made our way down to Riana through woodland, seeing a non-venomous snake basking in the sun just outside the village. Here we met up with Alessandro and the middle walkers and proceeded down through pretty woods and chestnut trees. We stopped at a hut where Monica explained how the chestnuts not so long ago were harvested, dried and made into flour, which was a staple in an area where grains cannot be grown, and the wood was used for building purposes. A little further on we stopped where Alessandro told us some scenes of the film Ladyhawke were filmed. On reaching Grammatica a few of our group took the coach back and a couple of others joined from the middle walkers. On our way down to Corniglio we were treated to a visit to Monica’s very traditional house in the little village of Sivizzo. This included her proud invitation to clamber up the rudimentary ladder to the first floor. It was fascinating but I don’t think many of us would be prepared to renounce our mod cons to live there!
Hilary writes: The medium walkers walked from Grammatica to Casarola where the poet Attilio Bertolucci (father of film director Bernardo – last Tango in Paris and Giuseppe) lived for a while. We were to descend through the Chestnut Orchard and follow the Sentiero Natura before returning to Casarola.
We went on a beautiful woodland route to the village of Casarola where currently only twenty two residents lived. We had a fascinating time wandering among the ancient buildings and talking to the local people We were hoping to visit Bertolucci’s home but it was locked up.
We had lunch especially arranged for us in beautiful pastures before continuing our walk through Chestnut Orchards. This is a region famous for its chestnut flour which the local people relied on for their sustinence. There were a number of drying houses for the chestnuts which were now rented out privately. We were picked up by bus in Grammatica.

Danny writes: For our final day us short walkers, now down to nine, set off in a northerly direction from Grammatica to the village of Sivizzo and then onwards to Corniglio. Again the traffic was light, the views beautiful and the sun hot. After five miles, we reached our destination and then sat outside the hotel quite pleased with our efforts over the three days.

Monday 27-30 May- Parma extension
Susan writes: We left Corniglio in the sunshine on the coach for Parma, arriving at lunchtime. Here we said goodbye to five members who were returning to London.  The rest of us dispersed to take up residence in our various accommodations and most met up in central Piazza Garibaldi for our afternoon tour with Daniela. She gave us some background history before taking us into the Duomo and Baptistery where we learnt about the architects, painters and sculptors involved in building them. In the Duomo we particularly admired the sculptured stone panel depicting the Deposition of Christ by Benedetto Antelami (1178) and the Assumption of the Virgin fresco on the inside of the dome by Antionio da Correggio (1526-1530). The Baptistery, built in pink Verona marble, presented us with numerous sculptures attributed to Antelami, who started work on the construction in 1196, and the huge pink marble font. As we made our way towards the Pilotta Palace, built during the Farnese family’s reign and now home to a library, various museums and a theatre, Daniela spoke to us about the importance of Maria Luigia, Napoleon’s second wife. She did much for the city, including prompting the building of the opera house and other public buildings. Unfortunately, this area was bombed during WW11, so some of the buildings, including her palace, have not survived. After this informative talk we dispersed to find somewhere for dinner under a slight drizzle.
On Tuesday 22 of us caught the train to Bologna. The others had made plans to visit other nearby cities or explore the museums and galleries in Parma. On arrival we walked into the city centre and after getting maps from the tourist office in Piazza Maggiore, set off to see as much as possible. We started with the Duomo which has the largest internal sundial in the world, created in 1665, Neptune’s Fountain and the ruins of the ancient Roman city under the Salaborsa library. We managed to grab something to eat quickly before setting off again. We walked under the famous porticoes to the incredible St. Stephen’s Basilica, often called ‘seven churches’ as it is the result of the merger of several churches built in different eras. The complex is thought to be constructed on the ruins of a pagan temple. We walked through the busy streets to the leaning Garisenda and Asinelli towers, symbol of Bologna. It is not possible to climb the Asinelli tower at the moment due to ongoing restoration work. Our last stop was at a little bridge in Via Piella from which you can see the Moline Canal, in what is called ‘Little Venice’. Most of these canals were covered by asphalt and buildings in the last century. We then made our way back to the station and to return to Parma in time for our group meal at Osteria dello Zingaro near the Duomo, run by Susan’s son-in-law and for the evening assisted by other family members. We had a very enjoyable evening tasting the local delicacies (and the wine!).  A few of us ordered the horsemeat which is the signature dish.
On Wednesday a similar group caught the same train to Modena. This was a much quieter experience than the bustle of Bologna and made for a welcome relaxing day. Just as well as it was fairly hot. The city centre is quite small but has various impressive buildings, especially the Duomo and Ghirlandina Tower. It is a Unesco World Heritage Site as the construction of the Duomo in the 12th century gave birth to a new movement in figurative art in Romanesque architecture in the Po valley. Here we split into small groups depending on what we wanted to visit, including the Ferrari Museum.    Today a more leisurely lunch was on the menu, with some finally trying the famous ‘gnocco fritto’ with cold cuts. The afternoon was spent either in Modena or returning to Parma for some final shopping before leaving the next day.
On Thursday the majority of the group travelled by train to Milan in time to leave our luggage and do a little sightseeing. For those on the earlier flight, this was limited to a quick visit to the centre to see the beautifully restored Duomo (from the outside, there was an enormous queue to enter and booking is required).
It had been a very busy week, but a good a time was had by all and we were lucky with the weather!!

Susan, Hilary and Danny.  Thanks to Hilary, Susan, Nita, Ida, Joyanna and others for photos