Italian land and nature: Monti Sibillini National Park
- WTI Magazine #122 Dec 14, 2019
The municipalities of Monti Sibillini Park represent a unique occasion to live the wonders of the past in full, and to discover the treasures that have been curated by man throughout the centuries – in part so that they could adapt to their natural environment, wild – and often hostile - as it was. A travel experience in these parts can be akin to roughing it, because realistic, but it is one that is also marked by culture, that is intensely engaging, and that leaves the visitor with unforgettable emotions.
The Parco Nazionale dei Monti Sibillini comprises the most elevated mountainous group in the Umbro-Marchigiano Apennines. Its highest peak, Monte Vettore, reaches 8,132 ft above sea level, while its several comune are diffused over the Regions of Umbria and the Marche.
The towns most worth a visit include Visso, the National Park's actual seat. Legend has it that this Umbrian communitiy – characterized by a quaint, picturesque historic center – was founded 907 years before Rome, and that, once it was recognized as a free comune, it was divided into five districts called Guaite (made up of neighboring towns Castelsantangelo and Ussita), up until the Napoleonic invasion.
Not far away, cars and individuals alike can take a tour of the Gole della Valnerina, gullies that were dug by erosion from the River Nera, and of the massif Monte Bove (resembling more a Dolomite summit than an Apennine one).
And given the particularities of its location, Arquata del Tronto is the only municipality in all of Europe whose territory is composed by parts of two different National Parks: Monti Sibillini in the north and Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga in its south (the beginning of the Region of Abruzzo).
Norcia, the heart of an important section of the Monti Sibillini Park, is the land of Europe’s Patron Saint, Saint Benedict, as well as a zone famous for its cured meats production and its lovely historic center.
Finally, Preci, center of spirituality, hosts the beautiful Sant’Eutizio Abbey, founded in 470 A.D.
Trekking is a favorite activity throughout the Monti Sibillini area, and is made relatively easy with marked trails and guided tours (provided by the Case del Parco). Particularly interesting are some of the themed tours, like that known as dello Zafferano, because it was the ancient route traveled by those that brought saffron from Abruzzo.
Rock-climbing structures are also abundant within the Park, mostly on the northern slopes of Monte Bove. Given its morphology and unique environmental conditions as shaped by the atmospheric currents, the Park is also a haven for hang-gliding and paragliding.
Beyond skiing in the winter season, the rivers of the Forca Canapine area are great for rafting and canyoneering.
Not only, but mountain bikers can explore the numerous and diverse dimensions of the park, by way of marked bike paths.
In the Eden-like Visso lies the Sanctuary of Macereto, at a height of 3,281 ft a.s.l. The Macereto religious complex, where the Castle of the Counts of Fiastra once stood, is an exemplar of the highest expression of the 1500s-Renaissance architecture of The Marches.
Moving inland along the River Nera, one arrives before the spectacular Lake Fiastra. Although Fiastra is an artificial lake, its waters are of a blue, crystalline hue - that reflects the surrounding mountaintops - in every season. From here you can get to the evocative Valle dell’Acquasanta to see its gorgeous waterfalls, and to the Grotto dell’Orso (Bear Cave or Grotto).
Of the numerous myths that regard the Sibillini zone (Europe-wide, the Sibillines were actually known since Medieval times as a land of demons, necromancers and fairies), the most famous are those linked to the Prophetess Sibyl, who is said to have lived in a grotto on the homonymous Mt. Sibilla, and to Pilate, the Roman solicitor whose body was dragged through the waters of the “demonic” lake by buffaloes; the lake sits in one of the highest valleys of Monte Vettore. Here, the quasi-moonlike landscape is accessible via an exciting, four-hour itinerary to Frontignano.
The Lentil of Castelluccio di Norcia, marked IGP for Protected Geographical Indication, is typical of the Castelluccio plains. Be sure to try them stuffed with water, celery, garlic, salt and pepper.