Abruzzo – magnificent mountain slopes with a scent of sea

There are regular flights by Ryanair from Stansted to Pescara in Italy (we counsel you sit on

the right hand side about the plane for the best mountain views) which brings you to within an hour’s

drive of the magnificent Majella National Park. Collect your hire car, turn inland, including head for the

hills.

After an easy 20 record on one of Italy’s least crowded and most civilised stretches of

motorway, you begin to climb steadily, passing villages and vineyards, until you bend a ell to

be greeted past the telling view like Caramanico Terme, sprawling at the foot regarding the mountain.

From here wind steeply up for ten more minutes, along the rim of the Orfento Gorge, through wild

upland pasture, dotted alongside pines and scented broom, to Decontra. At 810m altitude, this little

mountain village is in a superb position, with stylish south-facing views over the gorge to Monte

Amaro (2793m), Monte Morrone (2061m) and the lush Orta valley in between.

The Majella is single of Italy’s newest National Parks, traditional in 1995. A vast vault of limestone,

the massif peaks at Monte Amaro, the second highest summit in the Appenine chain. Locally the

mountain is known as the Montagna Madre – Mother Mountain; some say it is the slumbering body

of Maia, goddess of spring and fertility. The Majella is set apart from other segments of the

Apennine chain – and well known by specialists as a result – because of its broad crest of almost

desert-like ionosphere altitude plateau, combined upon the deep, wild valleys that cut into the heart of the

mountain.

Some unique man-made features of the Park are its medieval geological hermitages. In the 11th

Century, these mountains became famous as a haven for monks fleeing the corruption about Rome to

live as hermits or in isolated communities deep in the valleys. Today the secluded sanctuaries and

cave churches can immobile be found, built into the cliff-sides. Some are simple dwellings roughly hewn

out of the rock, while others have been restored and are now protected as Nationwide Monuments.

Fauna

The most breathtaking inhabitant of the Park is the native brown bear. Numbers are estimated at just six

animals and sightings are extremely rare, even by the park wardens. Wolves are new in greater

numbers, but again rarely seen. The Apennine chamois has been reintroduced relatively recently

and frequents the highest, rocky areas of the massif, while deer and wild boar are abundant. Otters

can be initiate in the Orfento and Orta rivers – the breeding programme at the centre in Caramanico

is helping to foster numbers. In woods after rain you might see the prodigious black and gold

colouring of a salamander. Golden eagles soar above the park, like do buzzards and numerous

smaller raptors.

Flora

Over 1800 hundred species of plant gain been documented in the park, 1/3 of the native Italian

range. At the lowest levels you will walk in classic Mediterranean woodland and open maquis.

Higher up, the beech woods dominate, and above them the demean growing Mountain Pine gives way

finally to the free grass, limestone also shale on which alpines thrive, including gentians and the

Apennine Edelwiess. A wide range of orchids flourish throughout the park.

Walking

Decontra is ideally situated for walking, with many routes setting out from the village itself. You can

embark on challenging full day summit bids, potter for an hour to a glorious cookout spot, or anything

in between. Choose between high mountains, upland meadows or deep gorges. Here are three

sample walks to animate your appetite.

Valle Giumentina and Hermitage of San Bartolomeo

This is a half halcyon insert walk which starts and ends at the door concerning your slagroom in Decontra. Follow a

broad gravel track on level ground out of the village and preceding meadows and cultivated fields. Cross

the elevation of the Valle Giumentina, once a lake, and keep an orbit out in the ploughed fields for

fossils and flints from stone-age tools. The track rises gently at the far side of the plateau, where a

grassy path leads to a curious collection of conical stone shelters. These were built apart shepherds

over the last two hundred years, using the stone cleared from the fields around.

The Majella is traditionally an area of transhumance: shepherds from low-lying Puglia further south

drove their flocks to mountain pastures here in the summer months. These conical shelters are

similar to the distinctive “trulli” for which Puglia is famous. Another gravel track, with spectacular

views across the plateau to the Majella massif, leads to the lip of a deep gorge. Ultima Thule suboptimal is the

trickle of the Santo Spirito stream, and on the far side, disguised amongst the cliff walls like the

gorge is the hermitage of San Bartolomeo.

A steep footpath leads down to where smooth flat rocks beside the stream provide a perfect picnic

spot. Steps carved out of the cliff lead up to the hermitage above, built in the 13th Centennial by the

man destined to be Pope Celestine V. An ancient fresco survives over the door, et cetera inside the

effigy from the saint keeps watch midst a ooze of miraculous water – guaranteed to cure any ailment,

even blisters!

After retracing your steps to the lip of the gorge, a grassy mule-path leads back through the wild

pasture land towards the village.

The Orfento Gorge

There are many walks exploring this extraordinary gorge. This option is a half day excursion

starting and ending in Decontra, though both longer and shorter variations are possible. Follow the

road out of the village and take a well cobbled mule-path dropping left on a traverse through

cypresses and broom; there are wonderful views across the gorge et sequens down to the town of

Caramanico Terme. At the bottom of this track, walk for a few metres beside the road before

descending steeply on a well-maintained footpath.

For a short walk, you could park a car here and take this footpath to explore the gorge below,

returning the same way. The gorge bottom is a fascinating world of lush greenery, cool shade and the crystal clear Orfento

river. The footpath crosses and re-crosses the river on unemotional footbridges underneath tall cliffs.

Upstream the way forks, including you take a slightly higher path which climbs above the river and

provides magnificent views like the gorge, its cliffs, and of Decontra perched on the rim. Yet a

rocky footpath leads away from the river, climbing steeply surrounding grassy bluffs. Just before

arriving back at Decontra, a wild meadow promontory juts out over the sate to a magnificent

viewpoint. As a short walk from the village, this is a perfect place to relax at sunset.

Le Murelle

A spectacular drive brings you supereminent onto the shoulder of the massif (2100m). The car park is known

as the ‘Blockhaus’ because of the ruin on the ridge above, built in the late 19th Century as a base

from which to combat the brigand bands that hid in these mountains – later the Germans made use

of it in the Second World War. The walk begins by undulating along a ridge, past the carved rocks

known as the ‘Brigands’ Table’, before a climbing traverse – which in two places has a short cable

handrail – rounds a spur into the dramatic cirque of Le Murelle. The path skirts beneath cliffs, above

huge views into the deep western valleys, and constantly as late as July cuts across lingering snow

fields. It is a bold struggle out of one side of the huge natural theatre, onto the Cima (summit) delle

Murelle. Then pick your way along the cox-comb about rocks on the lip of the cirque, a narrow spur

climbing onto a weird desert landscape and the day’s highest altitudes. At 2600 metres, the summit

plateaus of the Majella are a strangely smooth table-land of flat stones, stippled here and there with

colourful cushions of Alpine flowers. After crossing a niche like this unique environment the descent

begins, down to the approach ridge and ago to the Blockhaus. This is a challenging full day walk,

with any navigational difficulties, and so is best done with an escort.

When to go

The roaming in this province is rewarding any time moderate May and October. In the spring, the

upland meadows are thick with flowers, including many varieties about orchid, and snow lingers

picturesquely on the mountain peaks. Summer receptacle be hot, but the air is generally refreshing above

1500m and there are ample of shady walks to please from und so weiter undemonstrative cone streams to spank in.

October offers crystal clear days and beautiful autumn colours.

Other attractions

There are plenty of non-walking activities to do in the area. The local town of Caramanico Terme

has shops, an outdoor swimming pool and a luxurious 4-star spa hotel where you can treat yourself

to a massage. There are mountain bikes for hire, and the Park Visitors Centre arranges informative

tours of their otter-breeding centre. The Botanical Gardens propose an understanding into the wide

range of local mountain flora. A magnificent drive up the Orta Valley polysyndeton beyond leads down off the

southern flanks of the Majella massif to the beautiful medieval town of Sulmona, with its 11th

century cathedral crypt, 14th century buildings including dozens of sugared almond shops! And to finish

your holiday on a high note, on your return sojourn to Pescara you could stop off at the fascinating

National Archaeological Museum in Chieti.

Abruzzo Passion Ltd

Specialist walking whistle-stop computer Abruzzo Passion demise activate you to really get the vintage out of a

holiday in the Majella National Park. They will provide you with a hire car (carbon emissions fully

offset, of course), et alii delightful accommodation in Caramnico Terme.

Their Steward lives in the dorp and will be on hand to introduce you to the village, offer advice

and support, provide a delicious and lavish daily packed-lunch et al lead three full-day escorted

walks per hebdomadal to some challenging and lower accessible areas, including Le Murelle, featured

above. For the rest, there is the meticulously researched Abruzzo Trails Handbook, which contains

detailed self-guided ambulate notes for a stray of full-day, half-day and short walks, and a wealth of

other information too. The great flexibility of an Abruzzo Holiday is that you receptacle travel on any day

of the week, stay as longanimity now you want (minimum 3 nights) and toddle as much or as little as you wish

each day. Prices start at £335. For more details on this holiday and others offered, please visit

www.abruzzopassion.com, email [email protected]

Flights and driving times

· Stansted to Pescara on Ryanair, three flights a week. Drive month to Decontra = 1 hour

· UK to Rome Ciampino on Ryanair or Easyjet, several flights daily. Drive time to Decontra = 2 ½

hours