A journey in the Land of Parks - The Abruzzo
I have just finished one of the best trips through the Abruzzo, accompanying a group of English friends for twelve days in the three stunning National Parks of the Abruzzo.
It is mid-September and finally it’s the day of their arrival! Patricia in the UK, and I in the Abruzzo, have worked to plan the trip for months, organizing the itinerary, the bookings, and everything necessary to make this a smooth running adventure.
At Fiumicino Airport in Rome, Pat, Chris, Angela and Louise arrive! The first three were here last year and were so excited by the Abruzzo region that they decided to return. For Louise it is the first time. We leave the airport, with my legendary yellow minibus, heading to Sulmona. Later in the evening, Veronica and Steve will arrive by train from France. I’m going to pick them up at the Sulmona station at 9.00pm. They left Nice in the morning, and have had a long two-day journey to get here!
Sulmona was carefully chosen as a landing place for the first three nights. It gives us the opportunity to do beautiful hikes in the surrounding area but also to instantly immerse ourselves in Abruzzo’s culture. This first evening we’re already sampling the Abruzzese cuisine and mixing with the locals, setting the ambience for the days to come.
The next morning we leave for our first hike to Lake Pantaniello, the only natural lake at an altitude of 1800 meters in Abruzzo, and with its unique features awaiting our discovery. We leave the van after crossing the Piano delle Cinque Miglia and immediately a fox awaits us at the start! Is this a good sign ?? He watches us curiously as we set off on the path.
The hike is easy but long: we start in the beech forest and, after an hour, we emerge from the forest into an extraordinary landscape – the immensity of the grasslands and the glacial structures elicit exclamations in wonderment “Uaooo” !!!! The dreamy, shallow lake gives us an eerie feeling that we have stepped back in time. And then we spot the Red Kites, Buzzards, and Choughs as we make our way up to the sheepfold where the beautiful, courageous, white Abruzzese sheep dogs guard the sheep, keeping them safe from wolves.
Heavy rain catches us out on the way back, but as we know, determined English walkers don’t mind it. I got soaked !!!
And in the evening, in Sulmona, we sampled, once again, the typical dishes of Abruzzo cuisine in one of the many renowned restaurants in the city!
On the next day, the trip promises to be just as long but with an “interesting” uphill. The summit of Monte Rotella awaits us with its 900 meters in altitude gain. Today the hike will be with Louise, Angela, Steve and me. The other half of the group have chosen to stay and explore the magnificent Sulmona.
We begin the climb from the Bosco di S. Antonio up through the beech forest. Steve takes notes continuously because he is writing a book on the relationship between man - bear, shepherds and sheep. He is stunned when we find drops and prints of a bear … but we are in the Abruzzo … The ridge has other surprises in store for us: first of all, a wonderful 360° panorama with one of those beautiful views that the group have only seen in dreams, and then we find a giant puffball mushroom. I’d never seen one so big before! Then another surprise: another hiker (not many on our mountains)! But the biggest surprise is yet to come, when we come out on top of the mountain: three beautiful specimens of wolf! They quietly cross between the two sides of the mountain, look at us, pause, take a few steps, pose … In England, as you know, there are no wolves, and for the group this is the first time to see them in the wild… What else is there to say???
Ah yes, I almost forgot, throughout the whole hike we hear the deer rutting, and we see them in the distance… The intense call of the roaring stag and the deep throated bark of the rutting buck, through the forest and across the valleys, is one of the rawest wildlife sounds you’ll hear on an autumn hike in the Abruzzo.
We return tired and happy to Sulmona. Another excellent restaurant awaits us. Tonight Stephanie and David also arrive by train so the group is complete. With the eight of them and me, the yellow van is fully loaded.
The Abruzzo National Park
On the morning of the third day we leave Sulmona heading to the Abruzzo National Park. It is not an ordinary journey. What could be an easy transfer in the Abruzzo is a thrill!
Anversa degli Abruzzi, the Sagittario Gorges, Scanno (with a stop to visit the town and purchase jewellery), Passo Godi, and Villetta Barrea… I think this is one of the most beautiful roads in the Abruzzo-Italy-Universe…
My friend in Pescasseroli is waiting for us, ready to go in the heart of the Park to try to spot the Marsican bear. We are supposed to be there at three, we are late, we transfer by car to the Passo del Diavolo. We hike for an hour, but since it is too late we do not reach the pass where we would have the chance to spot both sides of the mountain. But we stop instead almost at the top of a wide valley and we settle down. I am a little discouraged and sorry: we should have got there earlier. I was too enthusiastic about so many things to see and stop for on the way to Pescasseroli, but it was good to share the beauty of this region with my friends.
Oh well, we are lurking, it’s almost dark. We watch the mountainside opposite to the backdrop of the sound of rutting red deer who, from time to time, emerge with great stature, outlined on the horizon, throwing back their antlered heads, roaring and barking their reckless, defiant bid to mate which echoes across the valley. This in itself is a primal thrill.
I look around with my binoculars, nothing doing … and then suddenly, HE comes out of the wood before my very eyes. I want to scream. I scream in silence. I point him out to everyone, whispering hoarsely the exciting words: It’s Him! THE BEAR!!! Beautiful, big, black, he eats berries, sits down, moves stones, he’s found something there… a nest of golden ants maybe… It is the most exciting moment for everyone, me too. We stay there to observe him until it’s completely dark and he disappears from view in darkness. We go back down the misty mountainside in the dark, flashing our torches to watch out for wolves. But we know, as we descend, that our bear is still there.
The next morning it rains, it rains, it rains. No one is discouraged and, as planned, we set off for the Pesco di Iorio Valley towards the Iorio Refuge. It rains, stops, rains again, grows calm, and we encounter, once again, the tracks of the bear. Scratched trees, footprints, chewed shrubs… Somebody told me that there is a mother with a cub in this area. But we are not as lucky as the night before. On the other hand, we still have the wild backdrop of the roar of the deer, which we meet on the ridge. Once at the mountain hut it is pouring with rain.
As if nothing had happen, we eat our sandwiches, fruit, biscuits, and carrots (the English think of everything) and we decide (I decide: otherwise some of the group would continue the hike) to not continue along the ridge, and go back. It was still a wonderful trip and as some told me up there it seemed that we were “On top of the World”. At this point I start to hear the conversations about coming back next year to be on top of the world without the rain and I know that the Abruzzo has captured their hearts.
The Majella National Park
Since we arrived at the airport we are actually on the sixth day. But how many emotions we’ve already experienced! Today we leave the Abruzzo National Park heading to the Majella National Park.
Ten minutes after the start of our trip we stop at Camosciara for an easy morning walk to the waterfall. Second stop Civitella Alfedena to look at the wolves (there are some wolves here next to the Museum of the Wolf of the Appenines: they are kept in a semi-wild state – it is usually possible to see them, but not today). Then we go to the lake at Barrea to stop for lunch: no lunch for Stephanie who goes to swim in the lake - she does not want to miss anything! We get going again: Pescocostanzo, the Quarti, Campo di Giove, Passo San Leonardo, Caramanico and finally we arrive at Decontra di Caramanico.
Marisa welcomes us with her joviality and cheer. She is a character, a “prodotto tipico”as I call her: she is known abroad, above all, for the warm welcome she gives as she throws open the doors of her Agriturismo. Obviously, before dinner, we take a “jump” to the hermitage of San Bartolomeo, we cannot miss the opportunity for that! And at dinner all Marisa’s wonderful home grown produce is there, deliciously presented on a big table which we sit around together, including Dutch guests, like a real family.
Today is the day of the Mother Mountain Majella! We leave early to Maielletta together with my friend Camillo who will give me support as a driver and for the hike. He was born on the Maiella, is a mountaineer; and he is in the Alpine Rescue and knows this mountain in its most remote corners. We all start walking together from the Majelletta - Blockhaus towards Monte Focalone at more than 2600m. I want to show everyone the immensity of this stunning mountain. We can see far and wide across into the mountain ranges of central Italy, the views are second to none. On the other side we can see the Trabocchi Coast and the Adriatic Sea. This is beautiful country. At one point we stop to admire the views and find the Tavola dei Brigante where the scratched graffiti of local shepherds dates back centuries and interesting comments about the 1860 reunification are carved into the rock. There are water fountains along the path which enable us to refresh our supplies.
When we reach the top we head to the Fusco Bivouac to stop for lunch as it strategically overlooks the Murelle Amphitheatre which, carved over the Millenia by vast glaciers here in the last Ice Age, completely takes your breath away. Also at the top, a herd of chamois are waiting for us, everyone is happy!
After lunch Camillo goes back with some of the group and I continue to the summit of Mount Amaro… another intense emotion. And then begins a long, long descent to the Pescofalcone, Rapina, up to San Nicolao of Caramanico. While I am walking at Monte Rapina I am suddenly attacked by a .. weasel! And yes, just a tiny weasel that scares me from my passage and screams at me. It takes a moment before it disappears into the grass. I’ve never had such an encounter before! Let’s go back to Decontra where another of Marisa’s delicious dinners is waiting for us.
The eighth day. Some rest to start with, but no less interesting for that! It is the moment for some culture. I drive down to the Abbey of San Clemente a Casauria. Astonished is the word to describe the group’s comments. Interested, curious, attentive, my group of Brits is very satisfying to be with. Then they ask me about Bominaco because some had seen it last year and would like to go back there again. This stimulates the curiosity of the others. The Abbey first and then the Oratory of San Pellegrino which is truly spectacular. We talk about the mediaeval depictions of the astrological calendar, the inferno, good and evil; and the more erudite make comparisons with the work of Giotto. There is a palable sense of excitement and wonder at this special place. Once out they start to talk about coming back next year .. eeehhh??
On the way back, a stop at the Gelateria di San Valentino for ice cream has to be done – this is the best in the Abruzzo. Back to Decontra, will the day be over? No, now a walk in the beautiful Orfento Valley. We walk fast to try to go as far as we can, but it is time to go back. Another wonderful day ends with more of Marisa’s wonderful food, and her hospitable presence which makes us feel we are home. Abruzzo guys!
The Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park
Today we are on the move again. From the Majella National Park to the Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park. The two Parks are very close but this journey will take us a full day. The first stop is Chieti where we leave Louise who takes the bus to Fiumicino. For her, the holiday is over. She is not happy to leave us and miss the last part of the journey, but she has to. Then we continue with a stop in Penne: with the excuse of buying a sandwich for lunch, we take a nice tour of the city, but unfortunately the Duomo is closed and we don’t see the beautiful crypt. “We will come back” they tell me.
Then on to Farindola and Castelli. In Castelli, Antonio is waiting for us, one of the last true majolica craftsmen. With an infinite passion he involves us in a visit to his artisan workshop and explains his crafsmanship. Beautiful ceramics, lovingly created…
Then we are on our way again! But don’t you walk today? Sure! We take a few turns and then stop and start walking in the woods. After an hour the surprise appears in front of us: the majestic North face of Monte Camicia! We are at the Fondo della Salsa one of the most evocative places of all the mountains of Abruzzo. The cliff, which has been surrounded by clouds suddenly appears and is revealed in all its majesty. We are over-awed at the impressive beauty of this mountain, which at the same time, one feels must be respected. I tell the group stories of those who have scaled its heights before we head back down to the yellow bus.
We continue the journey to Vado di Sole and finally here it is: Campo Imperatore in all its vastness at 2,167 metres.This glorious, high, wild plateau evokes a remote world with its immense pastures surrounded by the rocky crests of imposing peaks. We are disrupting the peace that has settled here in the fading light, we leave this haunting place to rest. We arrive at our destination Rocca Calascio where it is already turning dark.
Waking up at Rocca Calascio is simply wonderful: you wander up to the fortress at sunrise and the skyline in every direction stretches out to mountain ranges lit up by the early morning sun: to the north you look towards the Corno Grande and to the south, the stunning Maiella massif. Today some decide to stay here all day to enjoy this magnificent place.
With half of the group I go back to Fonte Vetica and start to climb to the ridge of the Tremoggia and up to look out over the balconies of M. Camicia. Yesterday we were down there at the bottom, at the bottom of this vertical cliff. The view from here down is always scary. Then we descend and I drive back to Rocca Calascio for a wonderful sunset.
Today is the last day but not any the less intense. We start earlier than usual to reach Giulio’s sheep farm. He is waiting for us to tell us all about his company: he tells us about the cheese (he lets us taste it), and the sheep. In the morning, the milk is processed and we then witness the whole process of making the famous “Pecorino Canestrato of Castel del Monte”. Steve takes notes and asks questions.
After the visit I drive us up to the top of the Campo Imperatore. Today may be the last day, but you’ll never forget it! A short hike to Sella di Monte Aquila and Sella di Corno Grande overlooking the Valle dell’Inferno. This has the appearance of one vast fiery cauldron. We cautiously sit on the edge eating our lunch, gazing up in awe at the Corno Grande (2,912 metres) immediately beside us, and down into the vast drop of the ‘inferno’. What else to say? They all remain open-mouthed. Now the group begins to know the mountains of Abruzzo!
In the afternoon, on the way back, a stop in Santo Stefano di Sessanio, a mediaeval hill town right next to the Campo Imperatore, is a must … and some time for shopping :) :) Local lentils, wool, soap, oil, borlotti beans, and even angels for Christmas are purchased!
It was the most wonderful journey through all the National Parks of Abruzzo. A journey of emotions that left everyone wanting to come back because there is still so much to see. So many mountains and so much culture.
The fox on the first day really was a good omen!
Thanks to all: Veronica, Louise, Stephanie, Angela, David, Steve, Chris and above all, Pat, who knew how to interest her friends and bring them into a healthy, genuine and unique territory. Abruzzo.
Altri contenuti da vedere
Per ripetere questa esperienza o viverne una simile, dai un’occhiata alle attività in programma e contatta la nostra segreteria.
- Trekking con gli Asinelli
- Racconto di una Notturna al Corno Grande
- Notturna al Corno Grande
- Racconto di una Notturna al Monte Siella
- Notturna a Monte Coppe
- Catalogo Esperienze Estive
Per viaggiare con Mountain Evolution
Se invece vuoi dedicare più giorni alla montagna, dai un’occhiata al catalogo Mountain Evolution. Se sei interessato puoi trovare tutte le informazioni al link sotto.