All my recent holidays have included climbing a mountain, and this holiday in Sardinia was not going to be an exception. In fact, I had a whole book of walks with me. The only problem with that was once we reached our hotel I realised just how very far away even the closest of those was, because they were all based in the mountain range in the south of the island, and we were in the north. However, all was not lost because a study of the roadmap revealed the Monte Limbara range and Punta Balistreri, which, at 1359m, was not only the highest peak in the north of the island but also higher than Ben Nevis. I searched online but could not find a walking route for the mountain, but there did appear to be a sideroad going to it through a town called Vallicciola, so we decided to use the hire car to drive to that sideroad and see what we could find, and I say ‘we’ because Debbie was going to be making the climb with me.
The drive looked fairly straightforward on the roadmap. We would go from the hotel to Aggius, which was a route I had already driven this holiday, then continue on to Tempio Pausania, and follow the main road out the other side of that in the direction of Oschiri. We got to Tempio Pausania and followed the roadsign to Oschiri, heading up a hill, but when we reached a junction there was no further sign. I guessed right. Sadly, I did not guess correctly. We went back and took the left fork, heading higher up the hill, but following that all the way along got us nowhere. I came back and we turned off this main road, went round the ring road a few times, still saw no more signs for Oschiri, then headed down off the hill, away from the direction we had come in, and when we got to the bottom we finally saw another sign and were able to continue on our way, crossing a railway track to escape Tempio Pausania. We were out on an open road, and once we had passed some roadworks we very easily found the left turning off we needed to take. This was a properly made up road, and I was immediately reminded of the road to the top of Mount Ainos in Kefalonia (which you can read about here and here). I decided our best course of action was to drive up, get past Vallicciola, and then find somewhere to park so that we could walk the rest of the way. Simply walking from the start of this road would have been too far (especially in this heat) and too boring. We drove through a series of hairpin bends which took us higher up the mountain before we passed a picnic spot but no village, and then a sign for what might have been a waterfall (which turned out to be flowing drinking water, but it had run dry) but no village, and finally came to a church, at which point I thought we must have missed the village (which may not be so surprising, because I think the ‘village’ may actually just be a heliport), so we parked up to get ready to walk to the summit from there.
A sign by the church indicated that we were at 1250m at this point. The church of Madonna della neve was delightful, both inside and out, but the real revelation was through some trees to the right of the entrance to the car park, a statue of the Madonna looking out over a vast expanse of this part of the island, the plains of Tempio, and the weather conditions meant the stunning view could not have been better.
I had brought my Karrimor SF Sabre 45 bergen across with me as hand luggage so that I had something suitable for carrying kit if a mountain did present itself, and as it turned out this was put to very good use, if only for one thing – water. It had been full on sun since we had arrived in country so I was taking no chances with a climb up a mountain, carrying 12 litres of water for the two of us. I also had my mountain first aid kit, which I had brought over with me, suncream and food, which was fruit and biscuits I had taken from the breakfast buffet at the hotel, and some spare clothing, though it really did not look like we were going to need our waterproofs. I had no real idea how far we were from the summit, but I felt prepared as I got the 30lbs on to my back. I was wearing my usual trekking gear, with my 100 Peaks Challenge technical tshirt.
We had spotted a noticeboard with some walking routes on it, but there was no route to take us to the summit of Punta Balistreri, so we were left with the option of walking up the road, which again reminded me of Mount Ainos, whilst also leaving me wondering why there was not a route to the top of the highest peak away from the road. The road was very well made up and easy to walk along, with no real hairpins at this stage, just long wide curves, and very soon, after we were passed by a fleet of quad bikes going down who seemed impressed that we were going up, we reached a turn in the road next to the site of all the television relay stations.
They looked magnificent up there, and had something of a space station feel with the rocky terrain around them. I was loving it. Having come out into the open we also had another brilliant view to the north over Tempio, able to see for miles and miles and miles.
We carried on round the road, ignoring what we presumed to be a sign for the summit which would have taken us up a track alongside the radio masts, but which actually may have been a summit sign, although that would have been strange because we continued on to a higher level, eventually coming to the Italian Air Force communications centre, built right on the summit, with the road going straight in through the gates. The gates were open but I was pretty sure I was not allowed to go in.
We walked around the perimeter, just to make sure we had reached the highest point possible without going through the fence, and soon I was sure that we had. We had walked round three sides of fencing and the fourth was along a sheer cliff face, and the only point higher than us was inside the fence, presumably why none of the walking routes actually came to this ‘peak’.
We were now able to take in the views to the south on the other side of the mountain, and see some of the other peaks in the range, and if anything it was even more spectacular on this side. We may not have been able to see quite so far, but that was only because there were more mountains in the way.
We made our way off the summit to join up with one of the forest routes we had seen on the noticeboard where we had parked, and not only did this take us over some more of the excellent rocky terrain, but it also allowed us more different views off the mountain to the west.
The walking route was easy to find and very clear to follow, being very well marked, and because it was so obvious (without ever dominating the landscape, it must be said) that meant we could wander away from it for better views from the edges and still come back to it without any trouble, and especially on such a clear and sunny day as this. The route we were on was the Red B route, which runs to Bandiera, via the top of Punta Bandiera, and although we did not go to that peak, we did come back over the higher one of Sa Berritta, at 1335m.
You would not have noticed it, though, without the sign being there. We were moving steadily downhill now, coming away from the rocky terrain and towards the forest, then following the tracks and passing a few locals along the way who appeared to be heading to the summit for a picnic.
There were some very interesting cloud formations appearing above us, and as we took in the scenery it did not take very long for us to get back to the church and our hire car. The round trip to the summit had been just 3.3 miles from here.
If I was going to do this again I would not use the road. The road is the very boring way to get to the summit. If you want to use the road then you might as well drive all the way up, as we saw some people do. If I was going to do this again I would use the Red B route from Vallicciola (which would mean finding it, I know) and simply cut across somewhere between Sa Berritta and Punta Bandiera to take in Punta Balistreri as well. I would definitely recommend the climb, because the views from the top are stunning.
You can see more photographs from the Madonna della neve here.
You can see more photographs from the day here.