Walking in Abruzzo

Abruzzo is wonderful walking country. It is one of the wildest and least populated regions of Italy with 169 peaks over 2000m, long mountain ridges, high plains and deep gorges, huge forests of native beech, oak and pine and gentle fertile valleys. The highest points in peninsular Italy and the southernmost glacier in Europe are all here.

This beautiful natural environment is maintained to a remarkable extent in no less than three National Parks, one Regional Park and many smaller reserves. In fact almost a third of the entire region is afforded protected status of one form or other. The parks cover the four main mountain massifs. They correspond also to the main walking areas though there are many fine routes throughout the region.

The Gran Sasso e Monte della Laga National Park covers an area of over 150,000 hectares in the north of the region, one of the largest in Italy. Its spectacular high point is Corno Grande, at 2912m the highest point in the Apennines. In a wild corrie sheltered by the three peaks of Corno Grande lies the small and fast disappearing Calderone glacier, the most southerly in Europe. From the foot of the mountain, the magnificent high plain of Campo Imperatore stetches away for 25km. With an average altitude of 1400 metres the plain covers an empty 80km2.

The Maiella National Park lies in the south east and covers the area of the high and wild Amaro massif, the nearby Morrone massif and the ridges and plains that run up to them. Monte Amaro, at 2793m, is a barren and exhilarating place – the second highest point in the Apennines. The park is just 30km from the Adriatic and the south east slopes are incised by a series of spectacular gorges. Ancient monasteries and hermits’ retreats are hidden away, blended into the remote cliff faces.

The long established Abruzzo, Lazio e Molise National Park lies in the south west of the region. It’s a relatively small area but its high peaks and ridges and remote forested valleys harbour an internationally famous wildlife. Its biodiversity is as remarkable as its beauty. In the ancient forests and bare crags of the Upper Sangro and its side valleys live bears, wolves, chamois, boar, lynx and eagles.

The Sirente-Velino massif in the west of Abruzzo is (merely) a Regional Park but you would be pushed to tell the difference. The management of its contrasting natural habitats – gentle meadows, deep gorges, high mountain walls and spectacular sub-alpine summits – has been equally effective in creating a rewarding walking area.

All the parks are covered by a network of established paths. In addition lovely routes lie along the thousands of country lanes, tracks and droves and across open hillside and meadow, especially in the areas beyond the park boundaries.

Waymarks are usually paint splashes (red or red and white) but can be cairns, signposts or plastic strands tied to branches. On a route indicated as waymarked it is usually good or adequate (given the recommended map and route description) but, occasionally, poor. Marking can be inconsistent especially where more than one authority is involved – perhaps the National Park and the Club Alpino Italiano (CAI) and the Corpo Forestale dello Stato (CFS) vying with different colour schemes! Be careful but don’t be put off.

Rifugios are spread across the upland area but most are locked or spartan bivouacs. Many are shepherd’s huts or, if operated by the CAI or park authority, have no guardian and the key (often available only to members) must be collected beforehand. There are some notable exceptions – talk to Stuart!