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Essential guidebook for walking in the Abruzzo, a wild region of Italy incorporating the Abruzzo, Maiella, and Gran Sasso national parks and the Sirente-Velino regional park. 30-day walks are described including an ascent of Como Grande, the highest point in Italy outside the Alps. The area is easily reached from the airport at Pescara.
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Abruzzo is wonderful walking country. It is one of the wildest and least populated regions of Italy, with 26 peaks over 2000m, and home to three national parks. There are fine routes throughout this largely protected area, between charming hilltop villages through forests and gorges and along high mountain ridges.
This beautiful natural environment is maintained to a remarkable extent in the region’s three national parks - Abruzzo, Maiella, and Gran Sasso, the Sirente-Velino regional park and many smaller reserves.
The 30-day walks in the guidebook are for people who want to experience the beauties, and perhaps challenges, of a quiet and remote part of Italy.
The routes, which all have a grade for difficulty, vary from gentle strolls to serious expeditions in the mountains. About a third are easy going – a half day generally. Most however are long walks and mountain treks for those who enjoy a full day out. They visit ten of the region’s 16 highest summits, including the three highest points of the Apennines.
The walking season begins in late spring and goes into early autumn – late April to early October.
Walk 17 The Val di Rose
On 7 September 2012, the Abruzzo National Park authority had still not re-opened the Val di Rose to unrestricted access, and rangers were turning people without a permit back.
The route has been closed in July and August for years to help protect the newborn calves in the large chamois family that live at the head of the valley. There has been no advertised change to this policy and it is assumed that this year, following an unusually hard winter, the breeding season began late. Therefore the rangers had kept the path closed longer than normal. There was, apparently, notice of the closure at the beginning of the path but in Italian only.
The author walked the route in the first half of September 2011 without any problems, so the continued closure into September this year is assumed to be a one-off. The Park website continues to notify the closure for July and August only. See http://www.parcoabruzzo.it/iti_dettaglio.php?id_iti=1824.
And, of course, the rangers will sometimes do things at short notice because they need to.
Walk 25 A Tour of the Valle del Gizio
At the point between Vallelarga and Pettorano sul Gizio where you reach the house on the corner and set off to follow the path across the field to the electricity pylon, you will find that the field has been fenced and an almond grove has been planted. You can’t walk across the field anymore. So, at the house, turn right and head up the rising tarmacked road heading into the Val Lavozza. After about 500m, turn left at a junction with another tarmacked lane and follow it, south east, to re-join the route description at the bridge over the canal. (This alternative is described in the book only now it isn’t an alternative.)
Secondly, and better news, is that the path along the river back from Pettorano to the road near the railway bridge has been recently upgraded to a cycle path. It’s as quiet as ever but is now a more pleasant stroll.
Walk 30 The Navelli Plain
The tratturo, the old drover’s track, across the Navelli Plain has been tarmacked for at least the stretch running north west from Caporciano. So, for unsealed lane now read tarmacked track.
It’s also reported that the lane leading down from Caporciano to the start of the traturro has become overgrown. This can happen over the years but is often seasonal. The comune sometimes clear vegetation and trim back trees in the autumn and winter. The alternative is to follow the road down to the start of the tratturo.
One other tip for Walk 30 is that when passing through Tussio, on the way to Bominaco, cross the piazza on the south east side of the church to the far (south west) end of the church. Follow the road ahead (Via Lauretana), south west past houses, until it soon bends leftwards and leads down to a junction with the road coming up from the Navelli plain. Turn right and walk on up towards the cemetery as per the book.
Walk 1 Fara San Martino Gorge and Val Serviera
It is highly recommended to make an early start to this route.
Walk 16 Villetta Barrea and Civitella Alfedena (pp106–107)
From Civitella Alfedena, to find the beginning of path I3 down through the woods to the lake, you need to walk left along the road from the wolf museum for about 50 metres. Then the start of the path appears on the right – just past the last building.
You can still visit the wolf compound but just go back to the museum and road after having looked into it. (In September 2011 there was a juvenile wolf being kept apart from the others in a smaller pen at the far end of the compound – a lot easier to spot!)
Walk 13 Pietracamela and Prati di Tivo
There has been a significant landslide at Pietracamela. Reader Marla Williams reports the following:
“The Pietracamela walk is currently blocked! In May, the overhanging rock just above the village fell away in an enormous landslide. The rock is the size of a block of flats! Apparently at the time they thought they were having another earthquake!
We did find a way up by walking along the road to Prati di Tivo for about 200m and taking a path up to the right (which I believe was nearly opposite the Carabinieri) and following it up the hill. We crossed the water conduit and continued uphill to a small chapel. Past the chapel, the path went slightly right and joined the main route again by the river.
On the way back down, our way into the town was blocked by the landslide. After a failed attempt to climb above it, we were lucky enough to come across a local guy who explained what had happened. The water supply was cut off by the landslide, so they have set up a temporary pipe across the ‘crater’. Our new friend guided us across the landslide, following the route of the pipe and into the square at the top of the village. Back through the garden by Piazza degli Ero, the paths have been blocked off by the commune as the top of the village is effectively a danger area. The park trails 100, 102 and 148 are all affected where they lead into the village.”
In addition, James Stobart says:
"In May 2011 the paths were closed. We also found a local (climber) who showed us a route to the top of the town (through the no entry barriers) where we could pick up the path to Prato. We don’t normally disobey warning notices, but he assured us that it was safe and that no one would be angry with us! This proved to be the case."
Stuart also posts updates on his website at www.casalarocca.it/wordpress/?page_id=336.
|Food and drink|
|Walking in Abruzzo|
|When to go|
|Places to base yourself|
|Using this guide|
|Advice for the trail|
|The Maiella National Park|
|1 Fara San Martino Gorge and Val Serviera|
|2 The Hermitage of San Bartolomeo di Legio|
|3 Monte Morrone from Passo San Leonardo|
|4 The Orfento Valley|
|5 Caramanico and the Orfento Gorge|
|6 Monte Amaro from Lama Bianca|
|7 Monte Amaro from La Maielletta|
|8 Monte Porrara Ridge|
|The Gran Sasso National Park|
|9 Monte Prena and Monte Camicia|
|10 Santo Stefano and Rocca Calascio|
|11 The West Peak of Corno Grande|
|12 Monte Bolza Ridge|
|13 Pietracamela and Prati di Tivo|
|14 Monte Corvo and the Val Chiarino|
|15 Monte di Mezzo Circuit from Campotosto|
|The Abruzzo National Park|
|16 Villetta Barrea and Civitella Alfedena|
|17 The Val di Rose|
|18 Anversa degli Abruzzi and Castrovalva|
|19 La Terrata|
|20 The Scanno Town and Lake Loop|
|21 Monte Marsicano|
|22 Pescasseroli and Opi Circuit|
|23 Monte Mattone from Pettorano sul Gizio|
|24 Monte Genzana|
|25 A Tour of the Valle del Gizio|
|THE SIRENTE-VELINO REGIONAL PARK|
|26 Monte Sirente|
|27 The Celano Gorge via Fonte degli Innamorati|
|28 Monte Velino|
|29 Fontecchio and Pagliare di Tione|
|30 The Navelli Plain|
|Appendix A Route summary table|
|Appendix B Further access information|
|Appendix C Italian–English glossary|
|Appendix D Useful contacts and further information|
You are standing on the tower of the isolated medieval castle Rocca Calascio, set dramatically at 1500m on a narrow ridge in the heart of Abruzzo. It’s 7.30 in the evening; fading light is softening the seemingly endless ridges, peaks and valleys that lie in every direction.
You and your friend are alone, the silence underlined by occasional barking from the hamlet below the ridge. The only other nearby building is the beautiful octagonal church of Madonna della Pietà, standing on mountain grassland and isolated against the dramatic south-east face of Corno Grande, the apex of the Apennines, 16km to the north and 1500m higher still.
It’s early June. The day has been hot and sunny, although the hours on the trail were eased by a gentle breeze from the Adriatic. The air is warm, but it’s time for a light sweater.
This is the centre of the Gran Sasso National Park. The peak and west flank of Corno Grande blaze in the sinking sun, while the steep, stark east wall has fallen into shadow. You think about yesterday, when you stood on that summit and fed sweetcorn kernels to the bravest choughs. You felt that you could see from one side of Italy to the other, while all the mountains of Abruzzo were ranged around.
Slanting rays light up the ancient village of Carapelle Calvisio, lying on a lower ridge to the south. The forest behind has darkened, providing a fine background to the glowing tones of the beautiful old buildings.
The peace is extraordinary and the view immense. It is easy to understand why 10th-century barons chose this place to raise their fortress – the highest and surely most picturesque in Italy.
The soft clatter of an old tractor draws your gaze to the valley floor. It is moving slowly along a white lane through strips of lentil and potato fields, along the route of the famous Sentiero Italia, a footpath that runs from the Dolomites to the tip of Sicily. Not that you can imagine such a walk, when there is so much to be done in just the country you can see!
Imperceptibly the far ridges turn to abstract layers of green, blue and purple capped by the reddening sky. The peaks of the Maiella and the Abruzzo national parks, way south, grow a little larger as they become silhouettes on the horizon. Wispy cloud has gathered on the shoulders of Monte Amaro, the crown of the Maiella massif and, at 2800m, the region’s second highest point. You look away and it has gone as quickly as it formed.
The Peligna basin, separating the three national parks, lies below the steep west slopes of the Maiella. It’s too dark now to make out Sulmona, the main town of central Abruzzo, but tomorrow you will walk towards it. In two days’ time you will arrive, tired and a little regretful, to spend your last night before catching the train back to Rome.
A church bell tolls in Castel del Monte, a few kilometres to the north-east. It’s one of the highest villages in the Apennines and gateway to the magnificent mountain plain Campo Imperatore that you spent most of the day crossing. It has been a memorable day – the countryside was carpeted in wild flowers and populated by herds of semi-wild horses, flocks of sheep and creamy coated, ever watchful Abruzzo sheep dogs. The four shepherds you greeted were the only people you met – more like a little corner of Tibet than Italy. It seemed a barren, wild place from the heights of Corno Grande. But as you wandered across the pasture, the early summer flora, recently emerged from beneath spring snow, was a rich surprise.
Thoughts of food and cold beer intrude upon your reverie. Settling your pack for the last time, you watch the towers catch the last of the sun. In the west the long, darkening ridge of Monte Sirente, in the Sirente-Velino Regional Park, forms the final wall closing in this secluded world of peaks, plains, hilltop villages, forests and ancient towns.
You stroll down to the cluster of stone houses and cobbled passages below. The once-abandoned hamlet is being brought quietly back to life by a few dedicated families who, with national park and regional support, are renovating the tumbledown buildings. One of the first to re-open was the Rifugio Rocca Calascio, where your meal, bath and bed await. Earlier you passed through the medieval village of Santo Stefano di Sessanio, now almost fully restored to its Medici heyday. The region’s conservation and renewal policies are really bearing fruit now.
The smell of pasta sauce and the laughing children are the only directions you need. This is a special place – an astounding protected landscape, criss-crossed with tracks and trails, waiting for adventurous spirits to discover it for themselves.