The Vara Valley

foto di una mulattiera in val di vara

The Valley of Vara is known as “the Valley of the Round Villages”, inhabited areas where the roads, the squares and the houses unwind around a church or a castle according to the original wrapping system typical in the Middle Ages. A mosaic of small villages, situated on mountain tops, reflects in the clear waters of rivers and streams that cross the luxuriant valley, a green oasis rich of historical and artistic evidences such as churches and castles.
Here, since ancient times, man has been accomplice to nature with his agricultural and breeding occupations. The rural activities are still today a link joining the inhabitants with their land which is famous for its typical and organic products.
Nature is not only to taste but also to experience through all types of excursions, from horse trekking to mountain-bike rides, from bird watching to canoeing.
The Valley of Vara is today known as the Organic Valley thanks to its natural products, going from vegetables to meats and from fruit to cheeses, all obtained with traditional working methods without the use of polluting substances. The presuppositions on which the Organic Valley is based, are made of many different characteristics that together form a healthy and genuine agriculture, that is also a philosophy of living in harmony with nature. Thick woods, green pastures and cultivated fields, alternated to a luxuriant wild vegetation, are the scenery in which the organic culture grows and develops in the Valley of Vara. In the middle, the river flows with its clear and clean waters, that in a few stretches is turbulent, ideal for lovers of rafting and canoeing; in others calm and tranquil, ideal for trout fishing. To immerse in this extraordinary natural environment means being happy to discover, once again, ancient traditions and forgotten eating habits. For example, the harvest of the products of the earth, especially of mushrooms, that here are wanted as if treasures, or of chestnuts, at the basis of delicious typical cakes, or still of soft fruits among which small strawberries, red-currants, bilberries and mulberries. Making the most of the vocation of the land and of a few legislative opportunities, a whole agricultural and zootechnical area composed of over 50 farms on 900 hectares of fields and pastures, has chosen to produce with the “organic” method, according to nature’s rhythms and cycles. In this way a D.O.C (of controlled origin) Valley, where production and trade is carried out in respect of the EEC standards and under the supervision of appropriate organisations of the Ministry of Agricultural Resources, was created. Practically speaking, the basic rules of this agriculture consists in giving up the use of herbicides and other noxious substances and in using components with zero toxicity, such as calcium carbonate, propolis and others. In this way, the product obtained complies with the rules of genuineness and quality and reintroduces the real flavour of food or, as often said “the eating of the past”. The fruits of the Organic Valley should all be tasted: the vegetables, grown in kitchen gardens, the sausages and the salami and cold pork meats, “hand” made, the meats savoury and healthy of the organic breeding, the cheeses and the fresh dairy products, processed by hand in the local dairies. Many companies producing organic products have become active farm-restaurants (agriurismi) that, by using small areas dedicated to fruit growing, have planted many varieties of fruit trees. In this way, it has been possible to protect a local genetic patrimony, very resistant, that has permitted the development of a low environmental impact and high nutritional value fruit growing. Instead, the production of cheeses and dairy products and activities related to breeding and to butchering refer to important cooperative societies of farmers and breeders, that have at their disposal vast lands for pastures and hundreds of head of cattle, sheep and goats. Another rural practice very common in the Valley is apiculture from which a very good honey, having the most varied flavours, is obtained. The bees represent, moreover, a fundamental ring for the environmental balance by carrying out pollination of the cultivation and increasing their productivity. The Organic Valley puts on the table a cuisine having a flavour which is pure and free of uncertainties and that discovers once again the genuine flavours of the past. This thanks to methods used by the old farmers who knew no other way than the natural one, of producing and cooking the fruits of the earth and of their hard work. Village festivals, feasts, restaurants, ‘trattorie’ and, mainly, the many farm-restaurants are the places where it is possible to task the typical dishes of this part of Liguria. Immersed in the green or at the borders of grassy fields, in country cottages made of stone o encircled by ancient restored mills, it is possible to start off with a plate of ravioli with meat sauce or mushrooms, followed by beef, lamb or rabbit or with rice and vegetable quiches together with salami and cold port meats and cheeses. In the end, the traditional cakes are a must; among these, the buccellato, the pandolce and, when in season, the castagnaccio which is prepares with chestnut flour, pine-nuts and raisins.

THE VARA RIVER

The Vara river has its source on Mount Zatta (1406 m.) and crosses the entire valley for approximately 60 kilometres before flowing into the Magra river which is fifteen kilometres from the mouth. It flows between the Liguria-Emilia Romagna Apennine and the hills that rise above the province of La Spezia and the Cinque Terre. Most probably, in the tertiary era, it had a different course flowing directly in the present Gulf of La Spezia. Then later, the raising of the coast range obstructed the way to the river forcing it to divert to the present Padivarma and to flow, in this way, into the Magra.
The course of the river flows in its first stretch up to Montale, in a more or less tortuous, here still torrential way. In the area of Varese Ligure, it meets a few tributaries; the first one, rather important, is the Caruana stream that by collecting the waters of the vast Valley of the Cento Croci, (Hundred Crosses), increases its flow rate; afterwards, there is a stretch less bumpy that crosses an area characterised by sandstone. In this area, up to Brugnato, its course flows first sinuously and then progressively more gentle up to the confluence with the Magra river.
The only regional river park today takes interest in the lower course of the river, below Ponte S. Margherita, next to Sesta Godano. The regional river park was created not only to protect the waters and the surroundings but also to restore the environment of the Valley of Magra, that was ravaged for decades.
The river morphology offers charming views: immediately above the dam of Nasceto, there are gorges very much appreciated by those who practise canoeing and, further down, slightly above Brugnato, the river forms wide and beautiful meanders.
The Vara runs in a territory which is mainly wooded and appears still well kept. This river, together with the Magra, represents a fluvial environment which is unique in all Liguria and houses a considerable faunal patrimony. In fact, one of the most important migratory ways for most of the avifauna tied to the aquatic environments, can be found here.
The Vara has become one of the most loved rivers for the lovers of canoeing and rafting of all Europe and this is not strange: it is possible to paddle from October to June, in a mild climate and in an unspoilt nature.
In the last years, many schools and river guides were born. These teach the different specialities and allow experts and beginners to live not only moments of breathtaking sports but also offer the possibility of experiencing nature directly.