Monday 21 February 2022

Lucca Ramparts Running Route

Click here for route map

Length 4.2 km (2.6 mi), terrain: flat, gain 11 meters.

I like Lucca. It's my favorite Tuscan town to visit. Of course, it lacks the spectacular sights of Florence, with that city's Michelangelo statues, amazing palaces, world-class Uffizi art museum, imposing squares, and the Ponte Vecchio bridge lined by old houses. And, of course, Lucca doesn't have Pisa's awesome leaning tower. And, of course again, Lucca is definitely topped by Sienna's impressive Piazza del Campo square, with its Palio horse races twice a year.  

Piazza del Amfiteatro
Lucca's Piazza del Amphiteatro: a great place to eat!

But those towns are also totally overrun by tourists. A typical visit nowadays means shoving your way through packed crowds, being jostled by pick-pockets and being overcharged for everything you consume.

Lucca has its tourists too, but they haven't reach tsunami levels yet.

The Lucca Duomo (cathedral)

Lucca hits that sweet spot: it's great, but not quite spectacular. Its churches and squares are beautiful and full of Italian craftmanship, but nothing is leaning precariously, and Michelangelo never got any big public commissions there. It's just an ancient town full of winding lanes lined by medieval buildings, beautifully crafted churches and palaces, and an oval square (Piazza del Amfiteatro) built inside an old Roman amphitheater. And to top it off, it's all surrounded by an intact defensive wall around the whole old town. 

The ramparts are Lucca's most popular running route

The wall -- more a thick earthen rampart -- is Lucca's unique selling point among Italy's myriad amazing towns. And up there, on top of the ramparts, it so happens that you'll find all the city's runners, following the best running route in town.

The rampart paths are lined by trees, providing lots of shade in hot weather. And the quiet, green surroundings, the constant views into the old town's maze of alleys and out into the surrounding parkland outside the ramparts, make it a scenic and pleasant place to be out and about.

Occasional highlights -- Lucca's palaces, gardens and churches -- keep it interesting. And the total lack of traffic and intersections make it a pleasure to follow.

Another positive result of the loop is, of course, it's impossible to get lost up there. Just slip into cruise-mode, follow the wide path, and do one, two or as many 4.2-km laps as you feel.

You can also get on or off at any number of access points. There are city gates with ramps to get down to street-level at each of the four compass coordinates: north, south, east and west, plus a few more ways down along the way.

So, if you're ready to take my advice -- to slip on your running shoes and head out for one memorable run -- just find one of those four gates in the walls. This route officially starts at Porta Santa Maria, the northern gate, but you could start anywhere. 

Start here at Porta Santa Maria

Just run through the gate into the old town, and immediately take one of the two ramps leading upwards to either side. Once you're up there among the people strolling the path and hanging out on the benches,(the path is called Via delle Mura Urbane), off you go. I've written up this route to follow the walls going clockwise, with the old town to your right, but that doesn't really matter, either. But most runners up there seem to be heading that way around. 

Along the shady ramparts

You'll quickly pass the first of many bulwarks built outwards from the walls, protecting them with ways to shoot sideways at anyone trying to breach the walls. They provide interesting views and are often adorned with statues, monuments, old cannon emplacements, playgrounds and even cafés.

At the second bulwark, the wall turns right and you start running along the eastern side. Just after the 1-kilometer mark, you come to (and run above) the eastern gate, Porta Elisa.

One of my favorite views comes at about the 1.5-km mark, when you pass the botanical garden (Orto Botanico) on the inside of the walls. Very lush and peaceful looking, full of huge cedar trees! You are now running westwards, along the south side. 

View of Orto Botanico

There are a couple of inviting cafés along this south wall. At the 2-km mark, you'll also run by the back side of the cathedral, the Duomo di San Martino, with its square tower. All in all, this south side a great hangout to come back to later. 

Statue along the west side

The walls gradually turn northwards as you run along the west side. The western gate, Porta Santa Anna, comes up at the 3-km mark. There are a couple of museums in old buildings right along the walls here, one in the old mint (Museo della Zecca) displays old Luccan coins and minting machinery, and the other in the old cavalry stables (Cavallerizza) hosts a lively variety of art exhibits, forums, workshops and festivals.  

Palazzo Pfanner gardens

Once you are back on the northern wall, at the 4-km mark, you'll pass the last highlight: the view into the formal gardens of Lucca's most famous palace, Palazzo Pfanner, now a posh hotel.

You'll soon be back at the starting point at Porta Santa Maria, where you can head home or start lap number two, as you please. Just make sure you don't over-do it: save enough time and energy for exploring and enjoying Lucca's many other delights within the old walls!

Wednesday 10 November 2021

Garmisch Partnachklamm Running Route

Click here for route map

Length 9 km (5.6 mi), terrain: slightly uphill but easy (gain 150 meters).

If you go to Germany, you'll probably stop in at Garmisch-Partenkirchen. This scenic town is located at the foot of Germany's tallest peak, the Zugspitze (almost 3,000 meters high) and is the starting point for lots of memorable alpine hiking- and climbing trips.

Garmisch fountain
The fountain in the town center

One of the best sights in Garmish is the nearby Partnachklamm, a narrow gorge carved out of the alpine rock by a wild little river, the Partnach. The gorge has 90-meter-high cliffs on either side, and the walkway (mainly carved out of the cliffs) takes you right along the foaming water. I've hiked along a lot of amazing canyons in the American West, and I'd rate the Partnachklamm as being as scenic as just about any of them.

So here's an interesting idea for a running route from the town center out to the beginning of the klamm (gorge). Whether you turn around there, or you buy an entrance ticket and walk along the klamm trail and turn around at the end, or you could keep going out the far end (south) of the klamm to then follow a return trail above the gorge back to the beginning, that's your choice. The route map only shows the 9-kilometer way to the entrance. Add another couple of kilometers to hike the 700-meter-long gorge and run back on the return trail that takes you to back to the gorge entrance ticket house.

NOTE: Since this running route will take you to the gorge entrance anyway, I would recommend buying a ticket and seeing this really impressive natural wonder. You'll be glad you did! The gorge trail is open till 8 p.m. every day (it closes at 6 p.m. in the dark months) and entrance costs 6 Euros (you save a Euro if you are staying at a local hotel and have a guest card).

Along the gorge

This route will basically take you from the main street in Garmisch and then head south to the little farm roads out in the surrounding fields. At the Olympic winter stadium, the route connects into the klamm road and heads lightly uphill to the klamm entrance, going up and over a few small rises.

So, if you're ready to head out, lets meet at the starting point in the heart of town: Mohrenplatz, with its old fountain and biergarten. Looking at the fountain and biergarten, turn right and run northeast past the shops as the street curves to the right into Klammstraße. You now run south, past the St. Antonius Apoteke.

Garmisch Mohrenplatz
Mohrenplatz: head thataway!

You run past the stores, restaurants and hotels for the next few blocks, and cross the bigger street, St.-Martin-Straße. Keep running south along Klammstraße, but now it's quieter and greener. You can see the peaks of the Alps ahead in the distance.

You'll pass parking lots for the winter-sports arena, swimming pool and the cog-train to the top of Zugspitze (really worth visiting!) at the 1-kilometer-mark. Then Klammstraße ends after the parking lots and it continues as a paved pedestrian- and bike trail, heading between fields and small barns. You are already out in the exhilarating alpine vistas.

Into the fields
Heading into the fields

After you cross the train tracks for the Zugspitzbahn, turn left onto the paved trail called Hausberg. (NOTE: If you turned right, it would take you to other interesting spots, like Rießersee lake, some lifts to nearby peaks, and Eibsee, a big lake with a loop trail along its shores.) 

Hausberg trail
Hausberg trail

Heading east along the Hausberg trail, it follows the train tracks south of town. At about the 2.7-kilometer mark, the trail splits at a little barn. Follow the green arrow to the right, taking you towards the Partnachklamm.

Fork in trail
Fork in the trail: turn right!

At the 3-km-mark, the trail crosses the Partnach stream and ends at a little road, Wildenauerstraße. We're now right next to the Olympic ski jump straight ahead.

Olympic ski jump
Olympic ski jump straight ahead

Now turn right and head out Wildenauerstraße all the way to the gorge ticket house. There will be a lot of hikers who are walking to or from the klamm, and a few cars and horse carriages.



There are a few short rises that the road ascends, but no problem. Enjoy the scenery, listen to the whitewater cascading over the rocks, it's a great place to be.

Alpine view
Alpine view near the gorge entrance

There are a couple of small parking lots just outside the gorge entrance. The road crosses the Partnach just after the Klammhaus restaurant, and you'll find yourself at the ticket house.

This is the spot to either turn around and run the same way back home or to buy a ticket and walk (it's too narrow and slippery to run!) up the gorge. At the far end of the gorge, there is a gate. There you can exit the gorge and follow the dirt trail as it goes up and along the gorge back to the beginning, viewing it from above. Or you could just turn around and walk back along the gorge trail again.

I hope you enjoyed getting out into the fields and hills!

Monday 3 May 2021

Best Canary Islands Running Routes

8 Island Discovery Runs

If you're heading to the Canary Islands, then you'll want to strap on your running shoes and discover the nearby towns, beaches and national parks. Here are eight great running routes on four of the most interesting Canary Islands: La Palma, Tenerifa, Gran Canaria and Fuerteventura.

Cumbrecita trail on La Palma

La Palma is my favorite Canary Island: no big hotels, lots of green hillsides, and a variety of scenery on one compact island. So I wrote up three routes to discover its amazing natural sites.

The Best Canary Runs

Barranco de las Angustias, La Palma: a route up into La Palma's huge volcanic caldera, following a river valley along rugged trails. Watch your step!
La Cumbrecita, La Palma: This scenic route follows a fairly flat trail along the side of the caldera, with gorgeous views at every turn.
Ruta de los Volcanes, La Palma: A run along a few of the newer volcanic cones along the south side of the island. A fascinating moonscape!
Agua Liques Trail, Fuerteventura: This flat, deserty trail crosses the sands of Jandia from Costa Calma to Playa del Agua Liques and the amazing cliffs along the west coast.
El Teide National Park, Tenerifa: This short but very scenic trail explores some of the impressive rock formations below El Teide Peak. Don't miss it!
Playa de las Americas, Tenerifa: Most folks stay in the sunny, beachy area of Playa de las Americas to the Costa Adeje. This waterside run lets you explore the area from its best side.
San Augustin, Gran Canaria: This beach run takes you north from the main tourist town of Playa del Ingles to nearby San Augustin, with its amazing cliffs.
Maspalomas, Gran Canaria: Maspalomas has its wide sand dunes and its lighthouse, and a nice stretch of beach. Explore it with this great route.