Sardinia for the Soul - magic and memories | part 5
Updated: May 10, 2020
The Peak and The Source.
I’m not a natural fitness freak. I’m not an avid gym goer or an obsessive runner (apart from jogging back and forth in my apartment during lockdown) but I like to stay in reasonable shape by doing what I would term meaningful activities ie: going for a walk, a bike ride, dancing, swimming, even a ‘trek’. When I say ‘trek’ I mean maybe a 4 hour round trip maximum with a proper lunch break in between.
Arriving at the top of Nuoro’s local mountain: Monte Ortobene, I have always paid hommage to La Redentore himself with a quick rub of his bronze foot for good luck. The picnic lunch would absorb the stunning views across the valley to Oliena and Monte Corrasi looming up in the background. At 925 metres above sea level Ortobene was enough for me.
Compared to Ortobene, Corrasi is an evocative creature rising 1463 metres above sea level. The highest point of the Supramonte range, it forms part of the Gennargentu National Park spanning a great width of Barbagia and providing a scenic backdrop to Nuoro’s concrete mass straddling the opposite hillside. Not only an afternoon trek.
I would always look at her longingly on every accomplished walk up Ortobene and on every bus ride to Oliena or Cala Gonone.
Out of reach.
Out of my league.
Punching above my weight.
She would take my life.
I was told many times by the locals that you can only climb Corrasi with a guide.
People have died up there.
It’s too dangerous.
With these warnings, Mark was even more keen to take on the challenge. I was rather more reserved but curious.
Mark had already done a recci or two on previous visits while I was working. On one occasion he cycled from Nuoro. I had also cycled from Nuoro to Oliena during my first contract but that was far enough for me even if most of the outward journey was downhill, it certainly wasn’t coming back!
Realising that having a bike on a mountain was a bit of a handicap after much carrying and lifting, he left it somewhere off the path and picked it up on his return. On another occasion he walked to a certain point, marked by an ominous cross, having taken the bus to Oliena first. However as I found out on our expedition, he hadn’t made it right to the peak! But I soon learnt why as it was pretty treacherous up there.
At the end of my contract last June and Mark’s final 5 day visit back to Sards, it was decided.
We were going to climb her together.
This wasn’t going to be an ordinary walk in the woods.
Not that I was overly prepared either.
I had my mother’s blue sunhat, which she had left behind from a previous stay. A racer back top, a pair of 10 year old shorts and plimsolls from Primark. Hardly mountaineering gear. But it’s all I had so it would have to do.
I was more concerned and excited about the picnic to be honest. What to take for a whole day of mountain trekking. Oranges, bananas, cereal bars, chocolate, ham and cheese sandwiches, crisps, fruit juice, water.
Oh yes water…because it was June and a roasting 35-40 degrees.
We took the bus to Oliena arriving at around 10:30am. The obligatory coffee was had at a local café before purchasing more water and finding the correct alleyway leading to the switchback road that would begin our ascent.
Mark warned me about this road which has about 17 or 18 switchbacks before reaching the next stage of the climb. He wasn’t wrong. About half way up we saw a local farmer type just about to drive off. He asked what we were doing. When I said that we were going to climb up to Corrasi he looked horrified.
‘No non andare, e troppo caldo e pericoloso.’
‘eh, hai abbastanza acqua?’
‘Si, circa cinque litri.’
‘E non abbastanza, ma c’e una fonte dopo la strada.’
‘Va bene, grazie.’
'Good luck.' Yes we would need it. So with that we continued on our way. He must have thought, 'crazy English tourists. They will surely die of heatstroke or dehydration.'
He was right though, not about the heatstroke but of there being a water source at the end of the zig zag road. We stopped and stripped off. Soaking our sweaty tops and faces in the fresh acqua, whilst trying to avoid the myriad of wasps hovering around the tap as well as refilling some of our smaller bottles already.
The next stage made a refreshing change to walking on tarmac. The foliage provided a welcome break from the direct sun and the leafy path led us through a sizeable and curious hole in the side of the rock. Surrounded by trees, roots and shrubs this pathway was a very pretty section and with the gentle gradient was actually a misleading stroll in the woods until I looked up through the trees and saw the sheer unforgiving limestone face of her.
It was during this wooded and leafy section that we decided to stop for lunch. It was around 13:00 and we were both in need of squashed sandwiches and crisps. Anything would have tasted good.
At this point we weren’t even half way! I was already feeling a little tired having never in my life climbed anything like this before. However I had a determination to see it through. We couldn’t turn around. It wasn’t an option.
Presently the path became more open and we were traversing across the girth with wide open views to our right. This led to a clearing and a car park before joining the ’third’ barren looking section of a winding and rocky road (to nowhere).
If the leafy section was misleading then this next section certainly wasn’t. It was open, it was steep, it was harsh underfoot, it was hot, I mean blistering. It was unforgiving. During this section we were both struggling in various different ways but I think Mark was lagging, lacking energy at this point.
It was taking forever and there seemed no end. 1 foot in front of the other. Keep going. Water break. A old Fiat even passed us bumping along uncontrollably but going where exactly?!
Mark had explained that there was another section after this with a crossroads. Oh God. Don’t give me decisions. Especially not when I’m delirious from heat and over exercise.
After about an hour of stumbling forward we arrived at the crossroads. A shrine had been conveniently placed and so we went and took cover with the Virgin herself for a while. A wooden post with 2 signs stared us luringly in the face, one pointing left and the other right. OK which way?
Mark pointed out that to the left were the 2 high summits with their peaks shaped like a ‘bow tie’ directly facing Nuoro and to the right was the highest point of Monte Corrasi.
Although Corrasi’s high point looked like a straightforward gradual scrubby incline it was still further away to the South than the other nearer Northern ‘twin peaks’ of Carabidda and Ortu Caminu directly overlooking Oliena and Nuoro and which I had become so familiar with.
Left it was.
In theory this should have been the quicker route than going right up to Corrasi. However it certainly wasn’t straightforward. After the initial walk across the flatland in the middle we had to climb giant boulders with gaps in between, ready to swallow a leg or two. Suddenly this trek had gone from quite normal walking to scrambling at an angle. No ropes, not another soul, (apart from Mark) and Primark plimsolls…what was I thinking?
Mark started to ascend one side of the boulders and I made a start up the front, thinking that the top of this boulder heap would be our pinnacle. With the heat of the afternoon sun pounding on us, this was really the first time I had felt out of my depth. An inner ‘stay with it or bin it off’ dialogue was crowding my mind.
I thought, if I can just reach the top then that’s it, I’ll have done it!
I just couldn’t believe it. A false peak. There was yet another stretch of boulders and scrub ahead, declining, flattening then inclining again, but then directly in front I could make out the ‘backside’ of the ‘bow tie’!
Just getting down from these boulders, then across to the flatter dip and a final short climb was all I had to do.
Come on Mark. I could see he was struggling to the right but he was at least walking through the flatter mid-section to the final ascent.
We had to do it now. The final push.
Up the last steep rocky path and that was it! We couldn't give up now.
The Punta of Carabidda at 1321m (the right side of the bow tie, if facing Oliena) marked by a little stone wall. We had reached our summit.
The view was just out of this world but like being on top of THE world. It was truly spectacular. The vast valley spread out below us.
After taking the mandatory photos and videos then actually stopping to take in the panorama around us we knocked back some water, not much of that left and then prepared ourselves for the return journey.
Then the realisation hit home. It was already about 16:30 and it had taken us from 11:00 to get to this point! The last bus back from Oliena was at 20:30 so we had better step on it.
I was totally wrong to think that going down would be much easier. It was quicker, certainly but not comfortable. I could feel a blister rubbing up on one of my toes and my legs were now shaking.
Going down some big boulders from the flatter mid-section was a huge challenge as there was prickly scrub growing up everywhere between them. Trying to half jump and step down from them was taking up more energy than climbing up!
It really did seem like we’d be stuck here for the night, endless stretches of rock and scree ahead.
If it was Mark who found parts of the upward journey challenging then it was me finding the downward slopes tricky.
Once we had reached the car park area separating the rocky road from the leafy path we decided to stop for the remains of our flattened packed lunch and the little dribble of water we had left.
It was a welcome stop for various reasons but then we had to press on, just keep on going down, down unable to think straight from aches and pains but knowing we needed to catch the bus.
We eventually arrived back in Oliena after 19:00 and headed straight for the nearest bar. I had been dreaming of sweet, cold, Coca-Cola, the only thing I wanted! After refuelling we then had to find the right bus stop going back to Nuoro. I knew it was opposite a petrol station further down the road heading out of town.
We waited opposite the Petrol Station for what seemed like ages, then finally the Nuoro bus came towards us. I leapt like a mad mountain woman half in the road indicating for the driver to stop but he just wagged his finger to say no and pointed straight ahead, then kept on driving.
What the fuck??!!!
How could he do that?!
We were stranded in Oliena like two wild beasts.
I hobbled across the road to a guy filling up his car and explained our predicament in my jumbled Italian.
‘Puoi aiutarci per favore?! Perché abbiamo mancato l’autobus per Nuoro anche e l’ultima pulman sta sera! Anche abbiamo camminato la montagna in alto.’
‘Verso la cima?’
The man could see my distress so kindly offered to phone his friend who was a taxi driver but alas he was busy, maybe rescuing other tourists from their missed buses.
I waved Mark over and by now a little crowd had gathered outside their houses behind the petrol station. Saturday night excitement in Oliena!
One of these guys walked up to the low brick wall which divided his drive from the forecourt to ask what the problem was, so I explained again and that we’d been up the mountain.
He then said in pretty good English, ‘I take you back. It’s near. No problem.’
After emptying his BMW of child booster seats he then drove it round to the front of the petrol station and we gladly jumped in.
As we passed another petrol station further down the road I then realised we should have waited opposite that one for our Nuoro bus!
Right. OK. I’ll remember that for next time.
'Our Saviour' was a very friendly and chatty guy who it turned out worked at Su Gologone, hence his good English as this luxury ‘experience’ hotel about 3km from Oliena based at the foot of the mountain, is a paradise for discerning trekkers and travellers.
He delivered us virtually to our door in Via Vittorio Emanuele by 21:00. We had already offered to pay him but he refused. The Sardinians are just so helpful and generous but Mark left him 20 euro on the dashboard anyway ‘for the kids.’
I knew where ‘Our Saviour’ worked because my director had introduced me to this oasis and La Sorgente (The Source) the year before. Su Gologone is one of those places where stepping across the threshold leaves you in another dimension.
Forget life as you know it. This is another ‘Truman Show’ Cala Gonone experience – remember?
It was disorientating wandering around this complex, with a sense of being anywhere from Arizona to Mexico. Think cactus gardens and low rise whitewashed pueblo style dwellings mixed in with olive trees, terracotta pathways and the fragrance of rosemary and myrtle bushes.
Originally dreamt up by a local artist and his wife it started out as a restaurant, which has over the years grown from the creative hands of their daughter in the form of an 'experience' hotel, the traditional ‘Nido del Pane’ (Bread Nest), cultivated vegetable gardens and an artist’s laboratory 'Le Botteghe d'Arte', showcasing the cultural arts and crafts of Sardinia. These are the true ‘souvenirs’ of this island.
The ‘experience’ of this hotel then is to immerse oneself in the traditional décor, art, landscape and cuisine from Barbagia and the wider island.
Which is what my mother did on an afternoon visit 2 years ago when we lost her in the grounds!
Being an artist this was her place.
We should have stayed.
One day we will.
Leave your dreams in a bulbous green bottle in one of the colour coded lounging areas in white, orange, lilac or turquoise hues…if they aren’t picked up here for fruition then where?
Staying here is in itself a dream at many euro per night but if you’ve got it why not use it after all of the restrictions lately?
Stripped back to our beginnings…
…let’s start again…
…La Sorgente – The Source, hidden in the trees only minutes from the Su Gologone experience.
The clearest emerald natural spring water emerging from the fissure in the ‘special Dolomite’ limestone canyon of Supramonte.
This is it.
We are here.
In the true heart of Sardinia.
The beginning and the end.
Credits: Text and images - Lisette King
Su Gologone Experience Hotel Artwork - Vivien Trower