Carro-Mattarana hiking trail: a walk in the heart of Val di Vara

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Technical data:

Difficulty: medium-easy
Trail number: 622, then 630
Recommended period: all year round as long as the weather is good and it hasn’t rained heavily recently
Duration: about 3 hours
Suggestions: you can walk the path going there and back, it will be about 15 km. Alternatively, you can get there with 2 cars, leaving one in Mattarana and the other in Travo, the starting point. The hiking trail is also very suitable for mountain biking.

A well-kept trail, away from the crowds

During the 2020 summer we all came out very stressed from the lock down, we all had an irrepressible impulse to run away from the walls that kept us confined for almost two months. Most of the people went to the sea, crowding the coasts. Personally even before the pandemic I never loved places full of people, therefore I opted to spend, when it was possible for me, my free time in the hinterland, especially in Val di Vara. I was able to discover and rediscover new hiking trails, surrounded by greenery and not well known, far from the crowds and the chaos.

I found the hiking trails in Carro area very interesting, very well kept and with impeccable signage. Recently the municipality of Carro has worked by making improvements to the hiking network, making them well-marked and clean.

What I’m going to talk about is one of my favorite hiking trails in Val di Vara: it starts from Travo, a very vary small village close by Carro and arrives to Mattarana, not far from Carrodano.
Except for a steep 15-minute climb in the first part, the hiking trail is simple and easily accessible even with children. In fact last autumn I get there with my 11 years old niece.

Tip: if you are with children you can opt for a short circular trail: starting from Travo, after Ziona, you will find yourself in Casa Luxiata.  From there just take the road indicated by the CAI (Italian alpine club), it will bring you back, gently descending into the grove, to the point where you started.

How to reach the trail

The best way to get to Carro Mattarana hiking trail trail is by car. Driving along the A12 motorway, take the Brugnato or Carrodano exit and follow the signs for Sesta Godano. You will cross a village straddling the Vara river, Ponte Santa Margherita. Right after the bridge there will be a junction. You need to turn left. Following the road to Carro, just ahead of the Antichi Sapori restaurant, you will find the road to Travo on the left.
You can leave the car in Travo on the side of the road or starting from Carro making the hiking trail 1 km longer.

Carro and Travo, mystery and nature in Niccolò Paganini’s village

Carro is a small village in Val di Vara located between Brugnato and Sesta Godano. The origins of Carro date back to the Roman era. The village was an ancient possession of the Vicariate of Framura and then ended up under the Este family and later under Malaspina family who gave it it to the Da Passano at the behest of the diocese of Brugnato. In 1229 Carro became independent and entered into an alliance with the Republic of Genoa. Carro indeed was in a strategic position for Genoa, on the road to Piacenza. Having entered the French domain of Napoleon Bonaparte, the village became part of the Kingdom of Sardinia in 1815. After the unification of Italy, Carro was part of the province of Genoa and then of that of La Spezia, established in 1923.

Curiosity: the village is the homeland of the violinist Niccolò Paganini, his parents in fact were both from Carro. Every summer, from July 14 to August 14, the town is home to the “Festival Paganiniano”, 9 evenings with musical events. One of the guests of the festival is the winner of the Paganini price of Genoa.

Read about the Paganini-inspired legend in Val di Vara.

Travo is a very small village not even 2 km from Carro. It takes its name from the stream on which it stands, in ancient times it was an agricultural land, exploited by farmers for the presence of the watercourse. Furthermore, in ancient times along the Rio Travo there were seven mills that exploited the mechanical energy of the water to grind wheat and chestnuts. But the most interesting thing in Travo is the mysterious appearance of abandoned buildings. You can see indeed abandoned houses and a church, which has recently been deconsecrated. The beginning of our hiking trail will be near the watercourse, after the fields of the La Valle Della Luna farmhouse.

First part- a climb surronded by the greenery between Travo and Ziona (622 hiking trail) 

Starting from Travo we go, following the indications of the hiking trail, towards the stream, cross a small bridge and walk along a small flat section with the stream on the left. Curiosity: this clear stream is the habitat of the river crab, while much of the area is populated by the yellow-bellied toad, an amphibian with a characteristic yellow color, similar to a salamander. It happened to me sometimes, during my excursions in Val di Vara, to come across this cute little animal.

After a few minutes we begin the climb. This is the only steep section of the path, but as you go up the village of Carro opens up before your eyes, parallel to us, on the hill in front of ours. At the end of the climb you will continue a flat stretch and then resume climbing for a small section in the driveway, up to the small village of Ziona.

Second part: a walk through woods and meadows from Ziona to Quattro strade junction (hiking trail 622)

Shortly before the Ziona sign there will be a junction, indicated by the CAI sign, taking this path (which in theory is a driveway but in practice I have never met a car) you will arrive, with a slight climb, at Casa Luxiata. There is a farmhouse with two ponies walking around their enclosure. After we stopped to stroke them, we went on. Alternatively in Luxiata farmhouse it is possible to return to Travo by closing the loop path.

We continued uphill, following the signs of the CAI and the red-green ones (symbol of the hiking network of the municipality of Carro), until we get, leaving Carro behind us  to Quattro Strade.

Third part: the beautiful view from Quattro Strade to Mattarana (hiking trail 630)

Quattro strade means Four Roads and its a junction where four paths meet. In this area, thanks to a recent and well kept signage, it is possible to change the hiking trails to your lijking, from here you can even get to Alta Via delle Cinque Terre. In our excurtion we headed towards Mattarana, following the hiking trail number 630. After a wide start the path bergin to be a bit more narrow. The landscape is very beautiful, we are on a ridge, the sun filters through the leaves and trunks of the trees giving us a pleasant ligh. You pass an artificial lake and then begin the descent towards Mattarana, once you arrive to the village the first thing you see will be the real Mattarana lake, that’s artificial too.
After a walk around the reservoir we went down to the village and stopped for lunch in a local restaurant. This is my favourite part of the excurtions in Val di Vara: an excellent lunch based on tipical products after a hike inside the nature. 

Mattarana is bikers favourite village

Located in a strategic point, this village is based on the ancient Bracco street, once very busy, which was used to connect the city of Genoa with the town of La Spezia. By playing an important role of connection, this road made sure that the coastal towns traded with those of the hinterland: in fact fish, seafood and salt were used to arrive from the sea, which were exchanged with meat, agricultural productsw and chestnuts. 

Mattarana, once an important stop along the road with its taverns and inns, lost part of the influx of passing travelers when the hightway was opened during the 1960s. However the village has become a much loved stop for bikers that venture on Monte Bracco riding their motocycles. The road that pass across Mattarana has beautiful views and it is very suitable for mopeds. 

Useful tips: 

-a flask with water

layered thermal clothing, especially in autumn and winter. The hiking trail starts from a cold-humid climate in the firts part to become drier and more pleasant as you go up

-in summer months I recommend a repellent for mosquitoes and ticks

hiking boots or sneackers

a snack, I usually carry with me a banana and a piece of chocolate or a candy 

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