There are many legends surrounding Lake Santo Modenese. One says that there was a young shepherd and a young shepherdess who were head over heels in love and who ran into each others’ arms from opposite sides on the lake, not realising that there was a vast expanse of water separating them. They met in the middle of the lake and ended up in an eternal embrace. Ever since then it has been said that whoever goes near the lake can hear a voice whispering: ‘keep away from these waters which have been made sacred by our dream’.
We set off today from the youth hostel and follow the mule track that goes through the woods before joining CAI footpath number 102. After an initial climb, the path flattens out and becomes a dirt road which follows the small river Sestaione. We are walking alongside the Campolino Nature Reserve. Today’s walk also follows a route steeped in history. In the seventeenth century, tree trunks were transported down this route to the shipbuilding yards in Livorno. We eventually leave footpath 102 and head up on path number 104 all the way to Lake Nero, which has Ice Age origins.
Despite the clear sky, this lake has mysteriously dark water, probably due to the muddy base. Local legend has it that the waters darkened when two sheep robbers killed a local shepherd and threw his body into the water. We head around the edge of the lake and go up the rocky path to get to Passo della Vacchia. From here we get a great view of the Val di Luce and several ski lifts ready for the coming Winter snow. Heading northwards, the view is more unspoilt. As we walk down, we head for Foce a Giovo which has an interesting votive chapel. The mountain pass here connects the Emilian Tagliole valleys and the Tuscan Fegana valley.
We make the decision not to take the difficult ridge-top walk to Mount Rondinaio and instead continue on the G.E.A. footpath to Lake Santo Modinese. This used to be one of the wildest areas of the Apennines and coal was extracted from the surrounding woodland. The area was fought over as there wasn’t a clear boundary between the land of the Duchy of Ferrara and the territory of Modena and this area sits right in the middle. Today, however, the area isn’t so wild and in fact when we arrive at the lake we find many cars and tourists. As evening falls the tourists gradually leave and we put up our tent in the reflective silence of the lake.