The Via dei Cavalleggeri was one of our winter excursions, ideal for trekking along the cliffs between sky, sea and earth! We chose this suggestive itinerary in the land that was once the land of the Etruscans, among cliffs overlooking the sea, Mediterranean scrub and ancient tombs of the Tusci.
The Horse Riders’ Path
The itinerary starts from Salivoli and more precisely from the Cala Moresca car park, where there is one of the entrances to the network of paths in the area. You start walking along the n°302, also called Via dei Cavalleggeri (initially on a wide dirt road and then on a path in the middle of the Mediterranean scrub): the name comes from the “financiers” of the Middle Ages who controlled this stretch of coast under concession from the Papal State to the Pisan Republic.
Why the Horsemen’s Way
The cavalrymen also had, at the time, an important health control function to prevent infectious diseases of that time, such as cholera and typhus, brought by seafarers, from spreading on land. The path is almost always halfway up the coast, immersed in the Mediterranean maquis; from time to time the panorama opens up and offers a magical view of the cliffs and islands of the Tuscan Archipelago, first and foremost the Island of Elba.
In some stretches the route descends right on the seashore, inside fascinating coves: on the day of our trek a very strong Libeccio wind blew and the waves breaking on the cliff offered us a suggestive spectacle of the force of nature! This is how, after a series of ups and downs and returning inland, we arrived in about two hours of walking to the cove called Buca delle Fate.Buca delle Fate.
Fairy Hole on the Via dei Cavalleggeri
The small bay takes its name from the Etruscan tombs, called holes as we will see, which welcomed the dead of the Tusci civilization. There is also, unfailingly, a legend that tells of a young fisherman, Valerio, who ventured into these places to look for the sirens, from which he was later captured and imprisoned in a cave. His fiancée returned every day to these rocks to cry and look for him in vain. One day a dolphin turned one of her tears into a pearl and gave it to the mermaid in exchange for the young man who was finally freed.
Here the rocks are characterised by the so-called “tafoni”, cavities of various sizes that form in granular rocks such as sandstones. In fact, salt water, coming from the sea, settles on the rocks and evaporates with the heat of the sun: the salt crystals move the sandstone granules, which are then removed by the wind. With this chemical and mechanical system the small cavities widen and melt, while the more resistant parts of the rock form thin walls so that a fantastic petrified latticework develops that covers the surface of the rocks.
Fairy Hole and Tusci’s Tombs
After a short stop (and a strictly vegan sandwich) we start climbing with path 301 and we cross the area of the Buche delle Fate, the Etruscan underground tombs that are easily visible along the initial part of the path. The name was given to them by the woodcutters who, in the last century, lived and worked in the area: they thought that these cavities were the nocturnal home of benign supernatural beings. Continuing the ascent we arrive on the crest of the hill where, keeping to the right, we jump on the ridge path n. 300, on an easy white road. We pass what remains of the little church of San Quirico and, with a short diversion to the right, we come to the ruins of the Benedictine monastery of San Quirico.
The monastery of San Quirico Populonia
Already mentioned in a series of documents dated between 1029 and 1131, the Monastery is situated on the slopes of Poggio Tondo, not far from the area where the ancient city of Populonia rose. From here the monastery could dominate the coastal stretch of the promontory above the cove of the same name of San Quirico and, at the same time, it was located along the land route that still connects Populonia to Piombino.
Today the triapsidal area of the church and the cloister walls are partially visible. Back on the 300 we now head towards Piombino crossing the area of Campo alla Sughera and then starting to descend, following the long and easy dirt road, towards Cala Moresca.
About two more hours have passed since the Buca delle Fate when, at the approach of sunset, we rejoin the starting point of the trek.
How to get there
It is necessary to reach Piombino and, once in town, follow the signs for Salivoli and then for the Cala Moresca car park.
Useful information: The route is about 16 km long with a total elevation gain of 600 m. There are no particular difficulties but, even if you walk in the shade for the most part, this trek is not recommended in summer because of the great heat.