The month of May is usually warm and sunny in Italy, but this year, it turned unseasonably cold the week we arrived in the Abruzzo Region. We decided to be flexible and were fortunate to fit in a few nice day hikes. One day we hiked in the National Forest of Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise near Pescasseroli, the other day, we hiked a trail in the National Forest of the Majella.
For our first excursion, we drove through the beautiful Sagittarius Gorge that winds through the forests past rivers and lakes to the towns of Scanno, Villa Barea, Opi and Pescasseroli. Each town has its own special characteristics and history.
We first stopped in the charming town of Scanno in the morning, a perfect time to enjoy an espresso and wander around when a few shops are open and the locals are out. At last, we found an active TI with a friendly gentleman that gave us lots of helpful information about the area. Scanno is (deservingly) in the beautiful borghi club. In fact, it is one of the most photographed medieval villages, thanks to Henri Cartier Bresson and Mario Giacomelli. On a weekday in May, the streets don’t look too different than the famous photographs from the 1950s. We even spotted one of the local women in the traditional dark dress, complete with the headscarf.
We saved our lunch stop for Opi, another quiet hill town on the way to Pescasseroli. When we arrived at lunch time, the streets were deserted and silent. We walked up to the highest piazza to enjoy the views and get a sense of the town. Since we didn’t find anything open, we strolled back down the quiet lanes and noticed more than a few houses with keys left in the half open doors—the advantages to living in a small village. At the bottom of the hill, we found a small restaurant open and had the best sandwiches yet.
Pescaseroli is a bit livelier town with a visitor center and small museum for the park. We skipped the museum and took advantage of the sunny afternoon to take a short hike up behind the town. The trail leads to the ruins of Castel Mancino, and overlooks the town and valley. This is part of a longer hike that continues up into the forest for several miles. It could have been a nice day-long hike if we weren’t having the rain showers. But, for this day, we chose the short and easy trek uphill to the ruins and back. With the capricious weather we were having, it was a good choice. By the time we came down the trail, it started sprinkling again.
On another day we drove to Campo di Giove, in the Majella (Maiella) National Park, which is about a thirty minute drive from Sulmona. We read about the Freedom Trail, a path that was used by prisoners of war during WWII.
During the war, Sulmona was the site of a fairly large prisoner of war camp. It was reported to be quite a humane camp, with good food while the Italians were in charge. But, when the Germans were coming to take charge of the camps, the Italian authorities abandoned the camp. This made it possible for the prisoners to escape, and with the help of the Partisans, they hiked over the hills and west, where the Allies had control in Italy. Not everyone succeeded, and the Germans captured many of the prisoners. But, they managed to escape again and some made it to freedom using the trail. Over time, this trail became known as Il Sentiero di Libertà, a trail that leads to Casoli. Each year, on April 25, Italian Liberation Day, a large group gathers to hike the 20K trail again in memory of the brave souls who made their way to freedom.
We found the start of the trail just past the cemetery on the way out of town. There isn’t a lot of signage before the trail begins, but we had directions from the Lonely Planet Hiking in Italy book. However, always check the internet for more updated information. According to the book, we could do the hike and return by train. However, the train stopped service a few years ago.
We decided to do a part of the hike and circle back down. As it turned out, a spring snow would have made the entire hike a bit challenging anyway. As we climbed higher, we began to find a lot more snow on the trail. But, with the companionship of two of the town’s canine ambassadors, we had a nice, two hour hike. We could appreciate how hard it must have been to carve out this trail for the first time.
The trail is a slow climb up over Mount Marrone. It has gentle and long switchbacks, so the climb is not very steep—at least for the first few hours. The trail is clearly marked, once you are actually on it. As you hike up away from the town, you have nice views of the beautiful valley below. As you gain altitude, the trail winds through a beautiful forest with plenty of shade. But if you plan to do the entire trail, allow for 8 hours.
After our hike, we drove another one of Abruzzo’s scenic and windy roads to the small town of Palena for lunch. Although it seemed like a sleepy burg, with all of the shops closed, we found a place open on the Piazza Municipio. Great aromas were coming from the kitchen, so we stopped for lunch. I had fresh ravioli stuffed with spinach and ricotta cheese and, of course, an excellent house wine. Bob’s tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms was also very good. You’re never far away from a great meal when you hike in Italy.