sunrise on the summit of Mount Amaro, the only sound is the wind. The craggy
mountains and gorges of the Majella National Park
are spread out at your feet, and the waters of the Adriatic Sea glitter in the
far distance. Standing in the heart of this spectacular mountain wilderness, you
can easily forget you are just a couple of hours drive from Rome.
Majella, in the region of Abruzzo, is
one of Italy’s newest national parks. Founded in 1995, it stretches more than 740sqkm and feels
unexpectedly isolated and remote considering its proximity to popular
destinations such as Tuscany, Lazio and Umbria. A couple of days spent hiking
through its trails and forests or over the rugged mountain tops, is a
refreshing escape from the many tourist-packed areas of the country. During low
season, in the early spring, you can walk for hours without meeting any other
Amaro, which rises 2,793m above sea level is the park’s highest peak and the
second highest in the Apennine mountain range, which runs along the length of
the Italian peninsula. Climb to the top via the stunning Valle di Femmina
Morta, (Dead Woman Valley) a wide, generous plateau more than 2,500m high. To
experience dawn on the summit of Mount Amaro, you can spend the night in the
Mario Pelino bivouac hut, a circular red metal structure easily found at the
top of the mountain. It offers basic shelter and a handful of bunk beds but no
blankets, heating or water. The unmanned Rifugio Manzini hut, a couple of
hundred metres down the mountainside and built out of the rough and beautiful
local stone, is slightly more sheltered but conditions are almost
time to time, as you hike across the Majella’s mountains, you may see the rare
Abbruzi chamois bounding over the rocky crags. Hunted almost to extinction at
the beginning of the 20th Century, the species of goat-antelope was
reintroduced to the Majella in the 1990s and now successfully breeds there.
park teems with wildlife. At lower elevations, the leafy beech woods trees
are home to deer, packs of Apennine wolves and a handful of brown bears. Catching
sight of a wolf or a bear requires luck and patience, as they are nocturnal,
elusive animals, but you may come across their tracks in the snow or the mud.
park is dotted with ancient monastic cells, chapels and prehistoric caves. In
the Middle Ages the area was a magnet for hermits, who came there to devote
themselves to penance and prayer. One local hermit, Pietro del Morrone, was even
elected as the head of the Catholic Church in 1294. But he was so miserable as
Pope Celestine V that he abdicated after five months, returned to the Majella region
and was later arrested by his successor, Boniface VIII (presumably to get rid
of him) and died in prison less than a year later.
you can hike some or all of the 66k of trails known as the “Spirit Path”, which
pass monasteries and cells associated with Celestine V and other holy men. The
park’s visitor and information centres provide maps and advice.
hermitages such as the Eremo di S Spirito near the village of Roccamorice are
intact chapels with frescos and carvings, others, like the Eremo di S Giovanni,
are found in rough grottoes cut into the rock of the Majella’s canyons. To
reach the San Giovanni hermitage, which is on a clearly marked trail in the
Orfento valley, you have to climb along a rocky walkway with a sheer drop into
the valley below and then crawl into the cave. It is perhaps not recommended
for the inexperienced or anyone who suffers from vertigo.
its wildness, the park is not without its creature comforts. It contains
several small villages such as Decontra, which offer bed and breakfast and
restaurants. Some villages are also crowned with towers and ruined castles. The
village of Caramanico Terme has thermal baths, a great way to relax after a
long hike in central Italy’s mountain retreat.