A Grand Calabrian Canyon [Day 7]

by Rudston Steward

wingding 500 x 30 px


e had hiked for five days straight across the Sila plateau, immersed in its ancient forests. The abrupt change of scenery that came next, on Day 6, was shocking: a showstopping descent into the arid canyons of the Valli Cupe.

I’d never heard of the Valli Cupe before. What an odd name, I thought—the Gloomy Valleys. It sounded ominous, and a bit dull. I steeled myself for disappointment—the splendor of the  five walks thus far, ensconced in our canopy of green, was bound to end sooner or later. We’d had a great run.

I fortified myself with multiple rounds of espresso, and took heart from the solid hunk of capocollo (cured pork shoulder) I’d seen our guide Francesco slip into his backpack for our lunch. Then we were off, across Sersale’s piazza, down the main street. On the outskirts of town a track branched off towards Monte Crozze, rounding its flank to a saddle. Views opened up towards the coast: a palette of colours shading from emerald velvet green—the Sila forest above and behind us—to the tuffaceous pink of rocky hillsides sloping away below, and, approaching the sea, a salt-and-pepper patchwork of ochre fields and olive greys. Lengthways, slicing diagonally across our landscape-canvas, ran a series of deep narrow gashes, geomorphic scars sunken into the earth: the gloomy valleys, in the flesh.

We scrambled over a lip and down into a dry stream-bed. It started out as a shallow valley, the upper reaches of its flanks wooded and green, holm oak interspersed with macchia  scrub. But as we dropped further the bed got narrower, the walls steeper. The vegetation morphed as we entered a distinct and self-contained biotope. Ferns now clung to the slopes, a fuzz of pale grass dangled in clumps from strata of sand and gravel.


The sides of the gorge rose almost vertically above us, so that the light reflecting down became murky and refracted. I could hear the patter of my footfall on rock echoing overhead, scurrying upwards. It felt like I was being sucked gradually down a vast megalithic chute, pulled ahead by some fatal rocky attraction.

The final, climactic stretch of canyon narrowed to just a few meters wide, the track now gritty underfoot, with sheer cliff-faces twisting up and away on either side. Sunlight insinuated itself into the gap above, reflecting off the striations of rock and sediment, taking on a mineral radiance as it bounced its way down. At the bottom we basked in its stunning geological glow.

I walked entranced, humbled by the unexpected magnificence of this Grand Calabrian Canyon.

Then we emerged, abruptly. The gorge opened up, cliffs falling away to a gentler gradient, the track widening onto a flat riverbed. We stopped under a eucalyptus tree to devour our capocollo, deftly carved up by Francesco, and continued on, uphill again, through scorching fields towards the town of Cropani.

I didn’t say much the rest of the way. The canyon trance stayed with me, all the way to Cropani and beyond. And I’ve been actively plotting my return to the Valli Cupe ever since – it is one of the most remarkable places I’ve had the good fortune of stumbling upon (or, in this case, of stumbling down, rapt in a geological trance) on my Italian Odyssey thus far.


wingding 500 x 30 px