I still have no idea what awaits me today so I start slowly on the street, knowing only that there will be a ‘nice climb’. I cycle along the Flumendosa valley that gradually rises, skirting Monte Lora with its beautiful profile of female face. Just before a short tunnel, I am stopped by the Carabinieri who ask me put on the reflective jacket and turn on the lights.
Once I have left, I cross a bridge and continue towards Villasalto. And what I see in front of me is terrifying, a serpentine of curves that winds up on the steep side of the mountain. I surrender to the fact that I will have to work hard. I climb slowly and when I reach the top I stop to admire the view and the serpentine I have just traveled. But when I turn on the last bend, convinced to find the village just around the corner, I nearly have a heart attack: the village is far, up, with another series of hairpin bends uphill to face. I cycle ruefully, with now at least an hour delay from what I expected.
Valentino, from Teresina’s bnb, has already called me a dozen times, worried about the delay, and when I arrive in town I finally meet him in the beautiful square of the church of San Michele. The bnb is just around the corner, I leave bike and luggage and we go for a walk in the village. I officially entered the Gerrei, my legs savored its steep climbs, and now the eyes, from the edges of the village, savor its rugged landscapes. From here I see Armungia, where I will be tomorrow, up to Escalaplano, over a series of valleys. The houses are in schistose stone, the smell of the fireplaces, the low temperatures, and the clouds above my head project me from the sea and the beaches of the last days to the mountain.
We cross alleys of stone houses and old wooden portals to descend on a ridge of the mountain to see the grotto of Santa Barbara, a cavity not so big in which the statue of the patron of miners was placed. The Su Suergiu mines are located just outside the town, closed in the 80s. Because of this, the country is in a very severe depopulation phase.
Returning to the main street, we find Paolo Perella’s restaurant, the Laboratorio del Gusto. I decide to repay the effort of this morning climb by having lunch here. Paolo is kind and the place, with a retro style because of the old photographs, makes you feel at home. The cheese combined with a mandarin jam (“without added sugar”, adds Paolo) is worth the visit!
In the afternoon Valentino takes me to see the mines. Here, as in other similar sites, the director’s house is always the most impressive structure. Many buildings have been well restored, others are waiting for some work, as well as the access road that has partially collapsed!
From here we move down to the Flumendosa valley, driving down on the damn hairpin bends of this morning! At the bottom we enter a private property to admire the Corrolia nuraghe, made of limestone stones. We give up going to Mount Genis, a little far from here, and we drive back up to the village from the same winding road … I can hardly believe I have done it by bike this morning, and I secretly hope that Gerrei is not all like that (but I am wrong.)
SHORT SARDINIAN STORIES
Valentino tells me that many motorcyclists drive through Villasalto, because of the breathtaking panoramic roads, but also many cyclists, who often stay in their bnb. I discover that from here passes one of the most interesting cycling circuits of which I have heard about during this trip, the TranSardinia, 420 kilometers of trail almost all on offtrack road, that goes from Olbia to Cagliari, in seven stages, crossing 26 municipalities and with a total difference in height of 11,500 meters!
The idea was born from the Ichnusa Bike group, of Amos, Mauro and Piero, who developed the route and made sure that for each stage there is a base, a bnb, a farm, which provides accommodation and local quality food. It takes a good training to cross this eastern north-south axis, through areas sometimes desolate and inaccessible, hard terrain, in some places you are also forced to take the bike on your shoulder.
This tour attracts me, I hope to meet soon its creators, and who knows, maybe one day I will be able to cover this long route. I am consoled by the idea that from Villasalto I will have to descend towards San Vito and not vice versa, as I have done this morning with great fatigue!