Although it is difficult to get away from sea and beaches in Liguria, but one must do so, at least for Grotte de Toirano. The caves of Toirano are like any other popular cave systems having an art gallery of stalactite and stalagmite sculptures. But they differ in one respect that these caves were also visited by prehistoric man and prehistoric bears.These caves have footprints and handprints of men dating back 12000 years ago and bones of bear, dating back some 22000 years ago.
Toirano is a small village in Savonna province, somewhat inland. It is therefore not directly on train route and if you do not have a car, there is only one public transport option available. A bus departs daily between the hours of 2 and 2:30pm, from the bus stops on via Aurelia from the towns of Pietra Ligure, Loano and Borghetto Santo Spirito. When you are coming from train, you have to get down at Loano and take the bus from any of these stations.
We reached Loano in morning and roamed around the town which was very quiet on Sunday. The town of Loano had a concreted but spacious promenade, which fared poorly as compared to the lovely promenade of Nervi. However the medieval look of town was a saver.
Around two pm we stationed ourselves at the town centre where the bus was supposed to arrive. A bus arrived and all of us rushed to inquire if it was going to Toirano. The driver denied and sped away. Two more buses and none were going to Toirano and it was already 2:45. Driver of last bus informed that the bus going to Toirano will have a board displaying Toirano on it. All of us again sat down and waited for the next bus. A bus did arrive but Toirano was not written over it. Me and our friends did not move, firmly believing it was not for Toirano. Manish shows a variety of peculiarities and philosophies during travel. One and many a times annoying(to me!) of these is his penchant for ‘asking’. Without meaning any disregard for written guide books or spoken advice, he keeps on asking about the place/timings/directions etc to every next person(well! not exactly every but I like to write dramatically) and at every next turn(I am OK with this as I am poorer in direction sense).
So where were we? Ok! We were waiting for the bus! So we all( Five adults) kept sitting unaffected by the arrival of yet another bus because Toirano was not written on it. Manish got up, dusted his bums and ran to ask if it was going to toirano. It indeed was going to Toirano! He shouted and we all ran to catch that first and the last bus to toirano. Now my face glowed in the glory of having Manish as my husband cum travel partner and with some dust which he dusted. But I still disliked his dusting habit and let him know it, puncturing his ballooned pride of catching the right bus!
We were still teasing and laughing when the bus dropped us at Toirano. No! I never stretch things for long! The distance we covered was some 5-10 KMs, not enough for two couples, one bachelor to pull each other’s leg. The ranting continued till we bought tickets to go inside with a guide but ceased immediately when we entered the caves.
Caves always have that effect on people. One does ‘cave in’ among the natural, wild, art deco, fragile pieces of stalactites and stalagmites. Wonder struck, we moved along the pools of water and island of rocks, sometimes descending down further into the earth and at other times climbing up precariously perched ladders. My four-year old refused to walk and wrapped his arms tightly around me. We took him up and he felt relaxed and enjoy as much as any of us can do when fearful.
This cave complex is connected to another smaller complex which I found very beautiful. Its walls had very delicate, filigree looking concretions resembling flowers, technically called aragonite crystals. The floor had an enormous number of stalagmites resembling coral reefs.
When I first visited such a cave system in France, I was confused between stalactites and stalagmites which are the common mineral formations in any cave system. The simplest explanation that can be ‘observed’ as well is that stalactites hang from the ceiling of caves while stalagmites rise from the floor of the caves. In both cases water drips from the ceiling. When mineral laden water drips from the ceiling a small( very small) amount of mineral gets deposited in a ring shape at the ceiling from where the water drips. Subsequent drops add layers to the ring making it a hollow icicle shaped stalactite. Now the drops that were falling on floor deposit mineral and make solid, rounded stalagmite formations. Sometimes stalactites and stalagmites meet and make a column.
The guided tour, which is a one way only tour, ends after this cave and puts you out on the other side of the mountain. Once outside, we checked for the only bus which would take us back to Loano. It was to arrive after some 30-40 minutes. This small window of time permitted us to have a look at massive grey limestone Dolomite. These have many valleys among them. River Varatella flows through these and many such caves are being explored and researched.
Besides the images of beautiful stalactites and stalagmites, one more image is the signpost of Grotte de Toirano. This other image is of two tall cypresses, standing as sentinels, guarding the upper St. Lucia’s cave.
I know that I have not added enough images of Toirano. But dear readers, recall my pain and anguish, expressed in my first post on Liguria. Yes, I accidentally deleted all the photographs of our three month long stay there and I now have only a few photographs with me.
With this, I end my excursions on Riviera di Ponente in Ligurian Italy. Next, we will explore the gems on Riviera di levante.