We chose to visit the famous Fiore di Pietra (Rock Flower) when a friend from the USA came to visit; and we chose to reach Monte Generoso comfortably, using the cogwheel train. I had been meaning for a long time to take my son Stefano to the bear cave (Grotta dell’Orso), so my friend’s arrival was the perfect opportunity to go there all together. In fact the train ticket is not exactly cheap, so a family trip to Monte Generoso falls under the category “special occasions “.
Stefano spent the entire journey with his nose against the glass of the window, looking out and around, amazed to see that the ascent had led him “above the trees”. Once we reached the end station, we found dozens of cows with their bells, loud and cheerful, which were promptly photographed and filmed (in particular by our American friend), and a small playground, which the little man immediately loved.
The first thing we did, after the playground, was to walk to the summit for a better view, even if the day was a bit hazy. We could see the lake and the surrounding mountains very well, but unfortunately not the Alps. However, we were immediately distracted by the stone blocks that mark the border between Italy and Switzerland, and had fun taking photos with a foot (in Switzerland and another in Italy.
At lunchtime we decided to go to the wonderful restaurant of the Fiore di Pietra and eat at the self-service area (read: special occasion, no pic-nic today) and enjoyed the spectacular view.
The bear cave
Finally it was time to set off for the long-awaited Grotta dell’Orso (Bear Cave), a 30 minute walk from the Fiore di Pietra. The trail is a bit exposed though wide enough to hold a child by the hand, if necessary. I am a bit anxious, so I did… and this time my very independent son (named Stefano) did not complain. Dad, who is scared of heights, decided to wait for us at the bar.
At the cave we found another Stefano, our guide … a wonderful person, university collaborator, fossil preparator, sportsperson, musician and indeed a great, engaging guide. He gave us helmets (very useful!) since the cave is low and you hit your head easily if you don’t bend down. I counted 8 headbumps, and at 5.2 I am definitely no giant. The visit lasted longer than “regular” 30 minutes and was greatly appreciated by all.
Thanks to Stefano, we learned a great deal about the life of the cave bears (dating back to 35,000-65,000 years ago): how they lived, what they ate and even who and what lived in the caves next to them, mice included. The part that we liked the most was when he explained to us he explained how paleontological excavations work in general and what was found in this particular cave. Would you be surprised if I told you that over 50,000 have been unearthed? I certainly was. He then gave us some of these bones to hold in our hands (real bones and casts). Thrilling…
(Photo Monte Generoso)
When our visit was over and we had exited the cave, we lingered on to chat. Stefano surprised us once more: on rainy days, outside the cave, bear bones are washed to the surface from beneath the ground, but they hold no research value as what matters is how deep they were found. Stefano had picked them up andarranged them in a cardboard box, to show to young visitors. Will you believe it if I tell you that Stefano (the kid, not the guide) came home with two beautiful and precious gifts? Guess! A little bear bone from a paw and a young bear’s tooth! Thank you so much, Stefano (guide!) … what a great day we had on Monte Generoso, thanks to you!
This article appeared on 20 July 2018 on the Extrasette magazine of Corriere del Ticino.