Monday, August 20, 2012

Mountain Cows in the Valley of the Sphinx

   Northern Italy has a vast system of intertwining hiking trails. However, unless you know exactly where you are going, finding a specific trail is not without it's challenges. Many of the individual communities publish little brochures about the hiking trails and natural phenomonon in the area, but the directions on how to find different places are sparse, if they exist at all. I found one such brochure featuring "Valle delle Sfingi," which translates to "Valley of the Sphinx."  After 4 years and 3 unfruitful attempts, we FINALLY found our way to the Valley of the Sphinx!

   High in the hills north of Verona, happy cows graze in rolling pastures dotted with solitary trees.  Fences made from red marble slabs weave their way across the horizon adding a unique element to the landscape. Just North of Camposilvano, in the Parco Naturale Regionale della Lessinia, an unmarked gravel road veers off to the east. 

Red Marble Fence
    The Sunday we found the Valley of the Sphinx, cars lined the main road, hikers could be seen traveling down the gravel road, and in the shade of the trees were people enjoying picnics.  The gravel road leads to a farm house with a locked gate.  This is where we stopped a couple of years ago, sure we were in the wrong place. However, this time scores of summer travelers had made a clear and distinctive path that circumvents the farm house and leads to the pastures that lay just beyond the locked gates.  Within a few minutes of hiking the large limestone monoliths, for which the Valley of the Spinx is named, come into view.  Visitors can wander through the maze created by these enormous stones and see the bovine inhabitants while listening to the charming "tink" "tink" "tink" of their cow bells. 

Valle delle Sfingi - Valley of the Sphinx
Mountain Cow with her Cow Bell 
Other hiking trails lead out of the Valley of the Sphinx; a day could easily be spent exploring and enjoying this beautiful and unique area.  On the ridge to the south, beyond the rolling hills, you can see the expansive valley that houses the city of Vicenza far in the distance.  We took a trail marked 253 and headed north up a hill, that as it crests reveals a spectacular view of the Dolomites.  The trail is partially flanked by the unique stone slab fences.  Cows and hikers share the trail.  We visited in August when the wildflowers were well past their peak.  About the only things blooming were different types of thistle and the distinctive, prickly, Carlina acaulis.

View of the Dolomites 
Carlina acaulis and bee
A Walk Along the Fence
A View into the Valley
Ribbons of Rock Fence
Rock and Barbed Wire
Pretty Mountain Cow Posing for a Picture
Long afternoon shadows
The entire Lessinia area is absolutely beautiful and well worth the hour and a half drive from Vicenza.  We visited during the August heat and found a 10 degree difference in the temperature between Camposilvano and Vicenza...that's 10 degrees Celsius!  We will be back!  


  1. Looks like heaven to me.American cows just do not have that happy cow look to them. Somehow they always look worried or is it just me?