Claut lies further up the Cellina valley (Valcellina) from Barcis, and the rugged mountainsides, together with the almost total absence of buildings along the way, announce what is to come: a much wilder environment altogether. But before that, just off the main road, Claut is actually the main township in the area.
As with other villages in this region, it has retained an old part with ancient houses, but the town being of a slightly bigger scale, perhaps the overall impression does not quite convey the strong character and sense of identity that one gets from a visit to Andreis or Sàuris.
Having said that, along the high street there is an interesting parade of old vernacular houses (the best thing, though, is to look down the side alleyways – and also walk into them, as far as possible), built according to the traditional Pre-Alpine model that has infinite variations, with a stone frame and wooden cladding.
In the main square there is an interesting church, with old wooden altars in the interior, and not far from there a small Ethnographic Museum, whose main aim is to document the role of women in the local traditional society. This means a lot more than one would think; in many ways, one could speak of a matriarchal society, in which the role of women was that of being the real pillar of the household – behind the façade of manly authority. Women would not only look after the house and raise the children, but would also work in the fields, in the woods, in the stable; make clothes and shoes, and even go on long journeys to sell the wooden utensils that the men carved in the house during the long winter months, when the rigid climate would bring to an almost complete halt any other activity outside.
Looking at the village now, long gone seem the days in which this was the prevailing lifestyle – but in fact, the transformation has been relatively quick, and one could well say that this is how life has been for centuries – pretty much unchanged until well after WW2.
Another stark reminder of that – and the real highlight of a visit to Claut – is the Smoke House (“Cjàsa del Fùm”, in the language of Friuli), the blackened walls inside again telling the story of a lifestyle seemingly far away, while in fact the house is showing how people still lived at the beginning of the 20th century: with no electric light, water had to be carried from the fountain in the main square, and all life revolved around the fire – the little hole above the door being the only escape route for the smoke. Therefore, while in the house, people had to live bent or seated, in order to keep their heads out of the dark fumes! Even so, ask the volunteer historians who look after the house, or at the local museum in the village, and everybody will tell you that this was dignified living, when compared to the much harder life conditions of the isolated farmhouses: after all, these people had a house made of stone (which was a sign of wealth), and could enjoy all the facilities that came with a central position (water from the nearby fountain, indirect heat from the neighboring homes, and relative safety).
The Val Cimoliana and the “Campanile di Val Montanaia”
Once you’ve visited the centre of Claut (which, by the way, has given its name to the surrounding mountains, the “Prealpi Clautane”), you’re literally two steps away from several interesting sites of natural beauty in the surroundings.
The Val Settimana starts just off Claut, and it is a long and winding corridor that will lead you straight into solitary, pure wilderness; the possibilities for hiking, trekking, and the ascent of mountains are numberless there – as they are from the neighboring Val Cimoliana.
To access this valley, you’ll have to first reach the village of Cimolàis; just before entering the village, take a look at the bridge on the Cimoliana stream itself: it is nearly 1 km in length, but the riverbed is mostly occupied by gravel rather than water.
You may have already noticed that this is a characteristic shared by many streams and rivers here, as they carry an enormous amount of detritus from the surrounding mountains; at the same time, despite looking generally quite small and harmless, they can become ferocious and scary after prolonged rainfall or at snowmelt, so they do need an extensive riverbed (we should bear in mind that the Dolomiti Friulane are one of the rainiest corners of Italy, with annual precipitation in excess of 2,000 mm, the absolute maximum – about 3,000 mm – being reached on Monte Musi, in the neighbouring Alpi Giulie; Julian Alps).
From the village of Cimolàis, the Val Cimoliana then develops with twists and turns for about 18 km in an almost totally uninhabited landscape, among steep slopes shaped by glacial erosion, while the valley floor is covered by the alluvial deposits transported by the stream.
Peaks and pinnacles stand out against the sky, eroded by atmospheric agents, and your only company there will be that of water, trees and rocks (and fellow walkers, of course!). The “Stretta di Gote” (Gote canyon) affords an awe-inspiring passage amongst high vertical walls, very close to each other and carved out by the water erosion.
But this valley is perhaps most famous because of the Val Montanaia Bell Tower (Campanile di Val Montanaia), which is situated in the Upper Val Cimoliana. This spectacular pinnacle – 300 meters in height, with a base of 60 meters – is a real miracle of nature: it stands out, isolated, in the middle of a high valley, in a unique position at the centre of a glacial basin.
Its formation is the result of Alpine erosion carried out by the wide glaciers which covered the main valleys during the Quaternary glaciations, and gave them their current 'U' shape. Any expert alpinist or mountaineer will know of this outstanding natural monument, whose peak was first reached only in 1902 by two Austrian climbers, after a very strenuous and hazardous hike. The climb is now safer thanks to the availability of more suitable equipment, but specific and appropriate techniques and training are still needed, as all these improvements, of course, do not diminish the risk of the ascent, which should only be attempted by experienced rock climbers.
Fortunately, at the head of the Val Cimoliana, there is an easy trail if you want to approach and admire the “Bell Tower” from a safe distance; three different viewing platforms will allow for slightly changing perspectives on this celebrated peak.
The Dinosaurs’ Footprints
Going back to the territory belonging to the municipality of Claut, now, here is an interesting story to finish with: on the morning of 30th September 1994, a group of students visiting the Park discovered by chance strange holes in the rocks. Further investigations were to reveal that these were the first fossil dinosaurs’ footprints to be discovered in the area.
They were imprinted on a Dolomite boulder dating back to the Triassic period – that is, more than 200 million years ago. The dinosaurs’ footprints were found on Main Dolomite rocks, which opened a very interesting issue, since their dating demonstrated without the shadow of a doubt that the presence of these Prehistoric creatures in the Italian peninsula was not as occasional as it had previously been thought. In fact, this first discovery led to further research in the territory of the park, which only confirmed this hypothesis.
The footprints which have been found in locality Casera Casavento (from the name of a former dairy building that can still be observed on a boulder situated nearby) are still one of the most visited and appreciated features of the Dolomiti Friulane Regional Park, and you will be led along the itinerary by signs and panels.