Leaving Pescasseroli behind you and taking the SS 83 Marsicana in the direction of Lake Barrea, you will find yourself immediately surrounded by a valley where in the warmest months of the summer a large number of animals graze, before reaching a junction that leads to the Forca d’Acero pass on the right, and on the left the road climbs up in a series of hairpin turns to the small town of Opi. Around here the atmosphere is a bit more authentic, less touristy than Pescasseroli, which certainly helps the visitor to envisage a time in the not so distant past when the local residents dedicated themselves almost exclusively to the care of their livestock.
The references to the past are all clearly legible, both in the shape of the landscape in this area and in the local gastronomic traditions, all of which have been more or less inspired by the kind of cucina povera, a rustic style of cooking using cheap, local ingredients, literally ‘poor cusine’ (and in some cases very poor indeed) from the times of transhumance. For thousands of years farmers have started out on long journeys to move the heards of cattle along grassy tracks south to Puglia, where they would winter during the coldest months of the year. In fact the creation of these tratturi (tracks), some of which would have originally stretched for over 300km (approx. 190 miles), has shaped the landscape which can be seen from the air if flying from Puglia to the north of Italy. The significant historical, cultural, and geographical impact of this transhumance route, known as The Royal Shepherd’s Track has meant that large areas of the tracks through the valleys and mountain side of the Appennines have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. In the region of Molise, along the shepherd’s track are the remains of the 1st century AD town of Saephinum (Sepino) complete with temples, basillicas, baths, and cemetary. The ruins of the ancient roman buildings were later used as farm buildings to shelter animals. This provides evidence that the tracks have been in continual use for at least 2,000 years. For more information or to visit the town of Sepino contact personal travels HERE.
OPI – Opi is a tiny hamlet, and the historic town centre seems to cling to the top of a hill. To get to the town you have to run a guantlet of hairpin turns, curving their way up the mountain and narrow, tangled streets, which even people who live in the neighboring towns find daunting. We met a local man called Michael, who formerly worked as a bus driver in the area and today is a hotel concierge in the town of Pescasseroli. He who told us the drive to Opi was a kind of daily nightmare that still haunts him. From the top you can enjoy a wonderful view of the mountains in the area, including Mount Marsicano and the amphitheater of Camosciara. In the town itself you can visit the Chamois Museum, this goat-antelope is just one of the many wild inhabitants of the National Park of Abruzzo. Around here in fact, walking along the paths that surround the town or going on toward the pass of Forca d’Acero through large beech woods or even to Val Fondillo and Camosciara, you will probably be lucky enough to encounter many of the small and large animals that inhabit this beautiful protected area.
FOR TOURISTS – For the tourists who usually find themselves shunted around these parts, we recommend consulting the tourist information points in the area, which will indicate footpaths and walks (remember that some areas are called “strict nature reserves”, so you can not access them) or hiring a local guide to discover these places. In winter, the Macchiarvana Fund Center is well equipped to combine the pleasure of skiing with time to admire such a picturesque and charming area.
VAL Fondillo – Driving back onto State Road 83 and heading towards Lake Barrea, after some curves in the road, watch out for the junction on the right leading to the car park of the Val Fondillo, another of the places you should not miss if you are touring around the area. Here, in the small building at the entrance of the valley, you will find all the helpfullness and expertise of Roberto and the rest of the team of CoopSort, who will guide you in discovering a beautiful and unspoilt area, rich in flora and fauna. It is important to remember, in fact, that your behavior can have a strong and sometimes devastating impact on the balance of these places. In order to help protect the rights of the animals in this wildlife preservation area, here are some basic rule to remember:
- When you are ready to go, after a day exploring or a picnic, be careful not to leave any trash lying around.
- Don’t be tempted to take home a memorable selfie with you and the local wildlife residents. The animals should not be approached by humans, and should not, in particular, be enticed towards you by offering them food.
- If you have the good fortune to meet one of the wild animals in the area, enjoy it in silence, as you would do with similar precious and magical experiences.
Don’t hesitate to ask for all the information you need, and a good sugggestion would be to start with a guide to discover the routes in the area (there are various paths, with difficulty levels running from beginners to experienced to suit all ranges of experience, some even designed specifically for day or nighttime strolls). During the warmer months you can have your fill of delicious grilled meat in the square and then take a wonderful horseback ride. One thing to keep in mind is that in this part of Italy they do tourism a little differently. Here, sometimes with a display of “muscles” and patience on the part of young people who are investing their lives in extremely commendable projects, such as the Val Fondillo example, they have created a different model, which inevitably requires the active participation and involvement of the tourist. And who knows: perhaps all this can really benefit the flora and fauna of the area, the real stars of this unique, breathtaking scenery.
For all the advice on where to stay in this part of the National Park of Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise, please contact Personal Travels!
Originally published in Italian by Francesco in February, 2015.
English translation and adaptation by Ciarán Durkan