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CASTIGLIONE AND GHIANDOLA.

Feb. 24.

WE have had a second rainy season for the last three weeks, that is to say, we have not been able to calculate upon fine weather and to fix days for expeditions as we used to do, though after all, as Monsieur Trenca reminds us, it has been only "un jour de pluie, un jour de soleil; çà rècompense." Indeed the bad weather we have had seems to have been universally expected. A shopman told us the other day that "March is always a bad month, because that is the time when men did kill God." The consequence is, that according to the Mentonese proverb, "cora ra fouant ex secca se conosce or pres d r'aija," (When the fountain is dry, then one knows the value of water), we have begun to regret that we did not do more while the sun shone and the sky was cloudless.

However, on the 23rd, the artist visitors were induced to snatch at a rainless morning which took them by surprise, and we all set off for Castiglione at half-past Bight, having annexed three donkeys to our party. Our path turned off to the left from the Monti road before it reached the hill, and ascended by a steep narrow cleft between banks now covered with violets and fly orchis, into an old pine wood, on the mountain ridge, which rises up between the Monti and Cabruare valleys, and through this wood it continued to wind for the greater part of the way. The myrtles here are quite magnificent, some of them as large as the largest laurestinus bushes in England, and there are four different varieties. Many other curious shrubs grow between the red stems of the pine trees; but chiefly cistuses, heaths, and capparis spinosa — the flowering caper plant. The view towards St. Agnese is magnificent, the town and the campanile of the church appearing on the other side of its castellated rock, which descends in immense precipices to the plain.

We had just gone through every degree of rapturous exclamation over the views, the flowers, and the windings of the wood itself, when the path opened upon a scene which was the more startling from its contrast with what we had left. Behind, all was a radiant Eden; before us spread for miles a wilderness of bleak, arid, desolate precipices, without a tree, or a patch of verdure to cheer the eye, which wanders on to the bleak distant snows, over billow upon billow of stony aclivity, on which not a human habitation is to be seen, except where Castiglione rises grey and ghost-like from the mountain side. Even the town itself is as unlike a town as possible, no doors, no windows, no gates, apparently no inhabitants, and no visible approach to it up the precipitous rocks on which it is seated, so that we should scarcely have believed it to be a town at all, save for the pointed campanile of its church, which overtops the other buildings. Happily the morning was grey and cloudy, or we should have been completely scorched, whilst toiling on along the arid, barren, shadowless slopes of rock, which are exposed to the full beams of the burning sun throughout the summer, while all the winter long, the icy frost-laden wind beats furiously upon them and upon the unprotected town which looks over a Siberian desert of snow. My pleasure all along had been a good deal marred by the conduct of my donkey "La Bianca," who after making all possible contortions, kicking, and trying to run down the sides of every embankment we came to, finally succeeded in pitching me off on the road. However, soon after we reached the stone which marks the entrance into the Sardinian territory, it was no longer a question whether it was worth while any more to struggle with the unruly steed, for the road which had gradually become narrower, (though till lately the only road from Mentone to Sospello and Turin), now ceased altogether, having been carried away far down the mountain in an eboulement, and the people of Castiglione, if any able bodied inhabitants exist there, having been much too lazy to repair it. So here we left our donkeys and took all our possessions with us, as we had not much expectation of ever seeing the animals again, for of our two intelligent companions Constantine and Theresine (la jeune), the former could never understand us in the least, whether we spoke in French, Italian or Patois, and the latter only understood us to act exactly contrary to all we desired. When we reached the foot of the Castiglione rock, tiny windows began to show themselves on the outside of the town, made almost like loopholes for the better fortification of the place, while all the larger windows look inwards to the street. Some of these are mediaeval gothic, with a central pillar and sculptured capital dividing them. At length a rock-hewn staircase revealed itself, which winding round the steep, brought us to the narrow gateway of the town, where, when you stand upon the rocky platform in front, you discover a little world of mountain vallies beneath, each with a torrent curling and twisting through its windings.

Most quaint of all the quaint towns in this wonderful neighbourhood is Castiglione; its steep streets twist so much that you never see more than three doors before you; the approaches to its houses are mere footings cut in the bare rocks; and its quaint storm-beaten campanile rises among yellow and orange-coloured houses, each with a painted image, or ornamented roof-coping. And then the inhabitants, who make one think that all the old women in the whole Riviera must have been collected and sent into exile here, such multitudes of old crones do you see, while not another living creature is visible, except the cocks and hens which make the street look like one great poultry yard, and which seem to be the sole nutriment of the crones, for what else, animal, vegetable, or mineral is there for them to eat.

At Mentone, the morning had been hot and sultry, and when we got home people were complaining of the heat, but here as we sat down before the south gate to draw, the wind was shrill and piercing, our fingers were so benumbed that we could hardly hold our pencils, and we were truly glad when at three o'clock the donkeys arrived in safety, and we were able to attend to the warning of the rain clouds that it was time for departure. We returned by the new road to Sospello, which winds above the hills beyond Monti, and which is now near completion. Long before we reached Monti the rain began to fall, so we hurried home and arrived at Mentone at half-past six, wet and tired, but quite sure that we should be delighted again to go through the same fatigue, in order to spend another day at weird out of the world Castiglione.


For those who wish to extend their expedition beyond Castiglione, a quick descent of a little more than six hours leads from the tunnel near the town to Sospello, (four hours' walk from Mentone), where there is a clean though simple inn, at which a tolerable meal may be obtained. Sospello is a long straggling town on the banks of a river, with an ancient, but modernized cathedral, and many quaint houses resting on open arcades of very early Italian architecture. The town possesses two bridges, one of which is very picturesque. A carriage may be obtained here to go to Ghiandola, which is a beautiful drive of about three or four hours. The lower parts of these valleys are devoted to pasturage, olives and mulberry trees; the higher sides of the hills are grass-grown, and run up into woods of stone pine, above which they become arid and bare. The descent upon Ghiandola from a "Col." which is crossed midway, is very beautiful. Olives abound as you approach the town, around which are scattered several handsome villas belonging to wealthy Piedmontese families.

It takes about three hours to walk from Sospello to Ghiandola, where there is a charming mountain inn, (Hotel des Etrangers); the hostess, a widow, being very attentive and a capital cook. The inn itself is situated at the bottom of a valley, but, by ascending in any direction, the most beautiful views are immediately obtained. For the artist, the botanist, and the geologist, Ghiandola would afford endless amusement, and should be visited in the spring for the sake of its green woods and mountain breezes.

Breglio, only one mile from Ghiandola, affords magnificent subjects for sketching. There the Roya, a rocky-bedded mountain torrent, rushes beneath a bridge, which is very lofty and wide in its span, and whose piers rest upon rooks projecting boldly into the stream. Here the road takes a turn, where a remarkable chapel stands on the edge of the rock. Beyond the bridge, the torrent is seen rushing from the town, which has a wonderful collection of campaniles, turrets, and a square tower, with mountains rising beyond.

An interesting excursion may be made in seven hours from Ghiandola to Ventimiglia; two mule paths leading thither down the valley of the Roya, on its right bank. For this purpose mules may be obtained at Ghiandola. Another point for an excursion is Saorgio, about two hours' walk from Ghiandola, a town curiously perched on a rock, and approached by a road winding in continuous zig-zags. By the carriage road Saorgio is five or six miles distant. The scenery of the mule path from Saorgio to Dolceacqua is said to be very fine.