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Where to harvest chestnuts in Lombardy
Considered for centuries the food of the poor and threatened for a long time by the depopulation of the highlands and the spread of an insect that destroyed their leaves and plants, chestnuts seem to have found new life in our territory as well as on our tables.
As part of this revival, which has transcended the traditional methods of consumption (mondine, ballotte and caldarroste), top chefs have incorporated chestnuts, or their flour, into highly acclaimed gourmet recipes.
But when and where exactly can chestnuts be harvested?
Scientifically not a dried fruit but an achene contained inside a husk, chestnuts come from the chestnut tree, a plant of Mediterranean origin with a large trunk and branched foliage that can reach 30 metres in height. Found in forests between hilly altitudes and 1,200 metres, they can be harvested between September and November when those that are already ripe tend to fall off the tree, usually with their shells.
As for how to collect them, it is advisable to wear appropriate clothing (long anti-tick trousers, hiking boots, protective gloves), to store them in a wicker basket or jute sack to ensure proper transpiration, and to pay attention to local regulations limiting the maximum quantity allowed (usually 2kg per day).
The ‘hunt’ for chestnuts can be very satisfying in our region: during autumn, the valleys of Lombardy are filled with large, sweet, and tasty chestnuts ready to be boiled in a pot or roasted over a flame, and to become the shining star of many imaginative recipes, from appetisers to desserts.
Linking them to the different panoramic points of each territory, let's find out which are the best places to find and collect chestnuts in Lombardy.
CAMPO DEI FIORI REGIONAL PARK (VA)
One of the most frequented destinations in the province of Varese, the woods of the Campo dei Fiori Regional Park, accessible from the village of Cerro, are an ideal place to gather chestnuts thanks to the presence of easy paths that lead gently into the woods. Here, the only warning to remember is to pay attention to the signs: in places where chestnut cultivation is practised, harvesting is rightly forbidden. Another location that should not be overlooked is the Appiano Gentile and Tradate Pinewood Park, which covers a vast area between the provinces of Varese and Como and also provides an interesting area for wildlife.
Here, after the harvest, visitors to the area should not miss out on a detour to the Pizzoni di Laveno, the 3 rocky peaks that open onto Lake Maggiore, and the surrounding mountains. The route begins in the Vararo carpark (hamlet of Cittiglio). After about an hour of hiking, and an elevation difference of 300 metres, experienced hikers can reach the rocky ridge, having crossed an initial wooded area. Your efforts will be amply rewarded with a sensational view!
THE FORESTS OF THE INTELVI VALLEY (CO)
Another unmissable destination when it comes to harvesting chestnuts in Lombardy is the Valle d'Intelvi forests, nestled between Lake Como and the Swiss border, between the municipalities of Casasco Intelvi and San Fedele Intelvi. Here, the colours of the trees and the autumn earth are more intense than ever, and the silence is only interrupted by cowbells. This is a quiet and relaxing place that allows you to combine a 'hunting trip' with pleasant walks in nature.
Among these, one of the most exciting routes is the one leading to Monte Crocione, a stunning panoramic balcony in the province of Como. Instead of the better-known route that climbs to Alpe di Colonno from the Croce locality, you may prefer a longer and more demanding – but less busy and very attractive – hike. The prize awaiting you at the summit is a sweeping aerial view that overlooks Lake Como from north to south, enclosing all the surrounding peaks in an embrace.
MARONE AND THE PYRAMIDS OF ZONE (BS)
A pretty locality rich in chestnut groves and mushrooms, just a few kilometres from Brescia and Lake Iseo, Marone is located near Zone (with which it shares a railway station). This area is worthy of a visit just to admire the colours that tinge the landscape in autumn.
A destination for enthusiastic hikers in search of the fruits of the season, this portion of Lombardy's land is, however, most famous for the overpowering beauty of its earth pyramids, rocky spires as high as 30 metres and still in the process of evolution, which testify to the presence of an ancient glacier and the erosive action of water. Vaguely resembling American canyons, the Pyramids of Zone can be reached via an easy one-hour path: immersed in greenery, it passes around the pyramid area to the opposite side of the valley. From the valley of Zone there is a splendid panoramic viewpoint, which includes a view of Lake Iseo and the entire surrounding area.
THE WOODS OF ALBENZA (BG)
Dotted with chestnut trees, the Albenza woods in the Almenno San Bartolomeo area represent the best harvesting point in the province of Bergamo, although there is certainly no lack of woods or chestnut groves in the entire area. Other spots that are renowned for their generous harvests include the Maresana hill, the Pratolina lodge in the municipality of Pradalunga, which often holds events dedicated to the chestnut, as well as the Castagneta forest a short distance from Bergamo - an ideal destination for those who do not want to stray too far from the city.
However, what makes the Albenza Woods a place of special interest, apart from its chestnuts, is the opportunity to combine it with a visit to the Rotonda di San Tomé, a little gem of Romanesque architecture, and one of the very rare circular churches in existence. This is an incredibly evocative building whose walls hold a secret – the result of astronomical correspondences, cosmic symbolism and surprising plays of light. We hope you enjoy discovering its secrets!