BY DYLAN BARMMER
Pasta. We all know it. Love it. Crave it. If the Italians gave us anything worth celebrating — and certainly they’ve given us much — it’s their cuisine that would almost certainly carry the day.
Located near Sorrento, Valle dei Mulini (Valley of the Mills) is lush, rugged, majestic and, well, awesome. The deep crack in the rock that houses the now-crumbling stone buildings from which this place earns its name, carries the deepest history of all: more than 35,000 years ago a massive volcanic eruption near Naples devastated much of the Mediterranean. The eruption of the Campi Flegrei unleashed powerful waters into a limestone plain, carving out what would one day become home to some serious pasta production.
The reason this place is called the Valley of the Mills appears obvious. Not as obvious as when these powerful flour mills were fully functional and hard at work as early as the 13th century, however. Talk about a rich history.
Where these abandoned stone mills now collect dust, moss and visitor after visitor, they once took advantage of all those free- and fast-flowing streams at the valley’s floor to grind every type of wheat the Sorrentine people could think to grind. Long before solar power was even an idea, Italian pasta production relied on water power.
Once the flour mills were established and “fruitful,” various other industrial Italian enterprises set up shop to reap the benefits of those lush waters in the valley. Here, a sawmill furnished chaff utilized by local cabinet masters. Over there, a wash-house invited local women to both bathe and launder clothes. All told, around 25 mills at one point called Valle Dei Mulini home.
Today, you can explore their regal relics. Maybe even close your eyes and say the name of this magical place again…and imagine all the sights, sounds and smells of the Old World hub of industry that thrived here.
Amazingly enough, it wasn’t until the 1940s, once the nearby pasta mills had taken over the flour milling duties, that the last brick building in Valle Dei Mulini was fully shuttered and abandoned. Almost as soon as they closed up shop, the fast-growing foliage that thrives so freely down in the warm crevasse gladly moved in. The result is stunning to see. It’s not hard to look around and imagine you’ve just landed on a lush foreign planet whose inhabitants appear to be long gone.
Valle dei Mulini is equally popular with hardcore hikers, curious history buffs and casual tourists. In addition to the remarkable look back into Italy’s past that’s afforded here, travelers can soak in sweeping views of the world-renowned Amalfi Coast and the Sorrento Peninsula. It’s also not far from Piazza Tasso — the central hub of charming Sorrento — named after a poet.
Whatever you imagine or feel in Valle Dei Mulini, you’re sure to be moved and impressed. You just might find yourself craving a big bowl of pasta after your hike; and, maybe even a glass of red wine or two to complete your meal.
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