Walk 3: Piano Noce-Contrada Chiaretta loop
A beautiful walk on the lower south-eastern slopes, below the Quacella, which would be very good if the clouds and mist were covering the higher peaks. The walk includes extensive mixed and pine woodland, meadows, sheep pasture and orchards – and has great views for most of the time. In May and early June, there are masses of wild flowers. Please note that the central section of the walk is in full sun with little shade – and the walk back up to Piano Noce is fairly steep.
Time: 2.75 to 3.5 hours. Degree of Difficulty: 2-3.
Total ascent/descent: 240 metres (800 feet)
Starting/finishing point: Piano Noce (P on map), off the SP119, 5 kms out of Polizzi Generosa.
Directions to starting point: drive out of Polizzi on the SP119, through the 15th century aquaduct arches at the top of the town. You will eventually pass a large, abandoned quarry and the road turns sharply to the right. Shortly afterwards look out for the timber Piano Noce sign on your left (photo 1 below). Drive slowly down the rough road, with regular concrete gullies, until you reach a large enclosure with a gate at the corner. Park on the left, off the road.
Piano Noce: This is the headquarters and extensive nursery and maintenance centre for the Corpo Forestale, who manage the Madonia Park. It operations take place within an extensive enclosure, which you walk round on the first part of the walk.
Walk left, following the fence on your right and reach some sheds on the corner. Take the right-hand fork and continue round to the right, through beautiful, well-tended, mixed woodland, with the Piano Noce enclosure on your right and views of the south flank of Monte Cervi on your left. You will also see the famous La Padella, a prominent, frying pan-shaped depression on the hillside – this is an important limestone formation, a huge collapsed section of mountainside, which was the result of underground erosion by mountain streams.
After 15 minutes or so, you reach a T-junction (photo 2 above) – turn left and after 300 metres reach a gate and a shallow weir flows over the concrete lip for most of the year. Thirty metres after the weir, you will come to a junction (photo 3, A on map) – take the path downwards to your left (the path to your right takes you on a much longer walk up above the Padella). This beautiful winding path drops steadily down the valley for about 20 minutes until you see a small house on your right. At the first sharp left-hand hairpin, turn left through the orchard, NOT right and take three more hairpin turns, before forking left at the house through extensive orchards of apples, walnut trees and other fruits (NB: in spring and early summer, the track may be covered with extensive grass and flowers).
Continue steadily downwards on the same path for another 15-20 minutes (photo 4 above) – soon you will see a small, abandoned house ahead on the hillside, which is at the end of the path, but before you reach the house, look for and take a sharp left-hand turn, in a dip on the main path, (B on map) which drops even more steeply down towards the stream in the bottom of the valley – with a largish house opposite you high on the other bank. By now you will hear the water – even in the driest of seasons. After 5 minutes descent, you cross the stream via a very shady bridge, under water-loving poplar trees, and duck under a gate, to climb up a shady path at the other side (this area may be slightly boggy up until mid-summer). When this path merges with another track, continue straight ahead past extensive hazelnut plantations on both sides – and after 6-7 minutes climb from the river, reach a road by a house.
Turn sharp left and climb steadily up a country road, surrounded by more hazelnut groves – ahead of you on the hillside, you will see the skeletal remains of dozens of pine trees burnt in a wildfire in September 2012. On a right-hand bend you pass a handsome lone walnut tree, but DON’T take the right-hand fork going downwards… just keep left. After 10 minutes climbing up this road, you reach a steep concrete section of road and soon arrive at the ridge, by a large, single oak tree, with wonderful views all around.
Hazelnuts: this entire area is famous for its hazelnuts, which for many years used to be a prime commercial crop. The crop was exported internationally and local artisans used to make, sell and export sweets and other confectionaries made with the nut. However this indigenous industry was destroyed in the post-war period by Turkey’s growing domination of the international market at much lower prices – one area of Turkey now accounts for 70% of the world’s hazelnut production. Today Sicily’s hazelnuts, like many other of its superb agricultural products, are only grown on a small-scale basis for local use.
Bend left with the road and start to descend – on your right is what looks like abandoned farm buildings, but is, in fact, the fattoria of a local ricotta maker. In the spring and early summer, he is happy for visitors to walk in and watch the delicious ricotta being made – but he doesn’t sell it there, he only distributes it through the local shops.
Walk straight ahead on an idyllic country road, with real hedgerows, past meadows and sheep pasture, with a great view of Polizzi Generosa ahead of you. After about 10 minutes, the road descends steeply to pass another abandoned quarry on your left and rises again for 5 minutes, to a wide area of road on an open bend opposite Polizzi – and below you can see the lovely Villa Chiaretta (photo 5 below), from which the Contrada gets is name (it is now owned by a charitable Catholic foundation). As you descend, immediately take a stony road upwards on your left, between grassy banks (photo 6, C on map) – and after another 30 metres turn sharp left up a steep stony track.
You are now on the climb back to Piano Noce – this steep, stony track doubles back on itself and after 3-4 minutes joins another concrete-surfaced road, by a white house set back from the road. Carry on upwards – the road soon divides but either option is OK – after another 7-8 minutes, they come together opposite a red steel barrier gate. Continue upwards for another 5 minutes until you reach a fenced section of dense woodland, with a locked wooden gate (D on map). Turn sharp right onto a narrow, partially metalled road, which runs beneath shady pines (photo 7 below), with a great view of the mountains ahead and Polizzi on your right. After 10 minutes from the last turn, you will see a path going off on your left, between two large pines (photo 8, E on map) – turn up here and climb a fairly steep, straight broad path, for about 8-10 minutes, until it flattens out and gradually bears right. Below you to the left you will see a beautiful forested bowl and a distant view to the Palermo-Catania autostrada and hills behind.
Five minutes later, you come to a wide forest track on a bend – walk to the right uphill with the track and carry on forward until the path levels out and you walk down an avenue of tall, Atlantic cedars. A few minutes later, you will reach the sheds at the corner of the Piano Noce enclosure. Turn right and arrive back at the starting point.