MONTI AND THE GOOURG DI L'ORA.
THE Turin and Sospello road, which is still unfinished, and which passes the
perfume manufactory of the princes of Monaco, now allows of a drive as far as
Monti, about three miles from Mentone, a village, whose new church, embosomed in
mountains, is visible long before you reach it.
The old road to Monti, which followed the eastern bank of the torrent, was
called "La via della Pietra Scritta," on account of a very ancient
stone slab, fixed against the rock, and engraved with a mysterious inscription
in large characters. This has now been removed, and its present situation cannot
be discovered. On the left side of the new road, as you ascend the valley, is a
hole in the rock, where, in the memory of Theresine Paturine, the old
donkey-driver, lived a little old woman, who was deemed a witch, and who was an
object of great terror to the Mentonese children. When they were naughty, they
were told that "La Catarina" would come and carry them off to her
hole; and if any fell sick, she was supposed to have cast an evil eye upon them.
But Catarina was really a good old woman, who spent much of her time in devout
prayer in the churches, and who was entirely dependant on alms for her
The church of Monti is a gingerbread gothic building, totally unlike
everything else in the neighbourhood, and consequently it is much admired by the
natives, though utterly unsuited to the scenery. A rope, fixed to the bell in
the church tower, stretches across the road, and into the window of a house on
the other side of it. This is the priest's window, and being of an apathetic
disposition, the priest has the rope tied to him when he is in bed, that he may
not be obliged to get up in order to ring the bell. In most of these remote
villages, the priest is also the sacristan, sometimes he is likewise the
schoolmaster, and he always tills his own ground. Wild mountain lavender grows
in all the clefts of the rocks around Monti, and has leaves quite as sweet as
the flowers of our lavender in England.
A short distance beyond this village a chasm in the rugged mountains on the
right of the valley discloses a torrent rushing furiously down to join the
broader stream below. This is the ravine of the Goourg di L'Ora, and to ascend
into it, one may easily cross the stream by stepping stones, or in a rainy
season, as in our case, by a bridge, which may usually be extemporized from the
wood lying about and jerked across the stream. Hence one must scramble up the
steep bank among the myrtles and cistus, to a path in the narrow depth of the
gorge, where, behind a chaos of huge stones, the stream glides over the edge of
the mountains in a long feathery fall, and shivers down into a little emerald
green basin of still water.
Local legend long declared this tiny pool to be unfathomable, and the belief
would still have existed, but that two years ago an English gentleman, who
thought he was rendering a great service to science, had a line made many
hundreds of palms long, to test its depth. But after spending several days up to
his waist in water, trying to clear away some of the stones, which prevented his
giving his line full play, he made the mournful discovery that he had been
working all the time at the actual bottom of the hollow, which proved to be only
six palms deep. Still it is a curious spot, and the view is fine over the
desolate brown hills to the dreary looking town of Castiglione.
Above the cascade rises a mountain, which is pierced on one side of its
summit by a natural tunnel, through which daylight appears. Near this, is the
so-called "Grotta del Eremito," which has been the source of much
interest and speculation. The difficulty and danger of approaching it, had
prevented its being visited for many years; but the report among the peasantry,
that it had once been the abode of a hermit-saint, who had left curious
memorials behind him, stimulated some of the English visitors into climbing its
rock a short time ago, and successfully forcing an entrance. The recluse who
lived there, must certainly have succeeded in avoiding intercourse with all
human kind, for apart from the great difficulty of ascending to the cell, it is
situated in such a wild retreat, that before the new road to Sospello was made,
it could scarcely have been discovered from any of the neighbouring heights. The
front is whitewashed, with a door, a window, and an inscription in red letters,
as follows :—
N R O S . A . . . . .O . . . .
LA BALMA TER . . . .
LI. .HSP. . .
. .II . .
LAN. . . . . . . . . .
Of this, all that savants have been able to discover, is that in the old
patois of Castiglione, "Balma" means cell or grotto, and that L.A.N.
probably means "L'Anno." The cell is of irregular size, about twenty
feet high, and thirty feet deep; it contains some shelves cut in the solid rock,
and the words —
"CHRISTO LO FECE,
The return from the Goourg di L'Ora should be made by Castellare, which is
reached by a wild walk fringed with blue hypaticas in spring. This first runs
along a terrace, overlooking the mountain ranges, and then descends into a glen
where there is a very picturesque old mill and gateway. We lingered so long
here, that we only reached Castellare as darkness set in, and did not arrive at
the cemetery of Mentone till two-hours-and-a-half later, after perils of
darkness, on rocks, in torrent-beds, and over pathless olive terraces, which we
cannot recommend others to encounter.