Italy

Day 1 – The masked tourist

A stressful start

Monza was hot and trafficked despite some people are still afraid of Coronavirus. Masks are descending below the noses, G’s neighbour are complaining about ‘this mask thing is unbearable, it’s just too hot’. And it is too hot, too humid as well. We just realised that we cannot power the old portable fridge G’s parents offered us. Our battery is only 30Ah and our solar panel just 100W – we can just power our laptop and phones. It took a week of works, tutorials, and fights to get the van functional for a long trip. It’s hard to get practical and to deal with our own errors and inabilities.

And this is what makes our start stressed. We finally adjust our electric system, close the van, and after G’s favourite focaccia, in Monza with his parents, we are ready to leave. G’s father takes one ‘official-departure-picture’ and we switch on the van ready to road-trip.

A flat Region cut by highways

We cross the flattest area of Italy, the so-called ‘Pianura Padana’ until Sirmione. This old Roman thermal town is now very crowded and extremely touristic. We find a parking lot, leave the van and as first thing take a refreshing bath in the waters of Garda lake. When we get to the entrance of the old town a guy is checking for people wearing masks. This is when we shot the famous picture ‘The Masked Tourist’. G uses M’s swimsuit to replace his forgotten mask. It took a few tries to transform the swimming upper part. The walk in the town is pleasant but under a burning sun. We could not avoid a glass of prosecco before to dine on the lakeside. The sunset is beautiful and rather foggy.

Who said that showering is a private moment?

We shower in front of the van in the parking lot. It’s fun to realise that when you want to do it quick you can actually shower using 3 litres of water. Shower finished the couple who parked just next to our van arrives. Still wet we manage to overcome the awkward situation with a quick and polite ‘buonasera’. Refreshed and cleaned we get inside our cosy home. We need to refresh a bit our bedroom that stayed under the sun all the afternoon. This is when we start writing and reading before to enjoy a nice and deserved sleep.

Tomorrow we are heading to Verona to visit a friend, it was a pleasant Saturday.

Day 2 – A Monday of heat and prosecco

Morning delight – Still too hot for cities

Waking up has not been hard, the sun could strike our tired eyes from the open window. Rest have not been great but Verona awaits us. The road is smooth and grey.

Breakfast in the city is tasteful, especially for G that opted for a ‘brioche al gianduia’ while M chose simplicity with a plain one. The toilet was nice enough to welcome our morning needs, but hot as the whole day. Exiting the bar we enjoy the presence of the Castello degli Scaligeri, and a few metres after, stroke by the morning sun, wide but not tall: the Arena – Verona’s masterpiece.

M’s tattoo – Is it sustainable to get one?

As we said, Verona is where we were supposed to meet a friend. This friend is Silvia, a tattoo artist… you cannot avoid getting a tattoo when you have a friend that makes great ones. M decided to get a willow tree leaf on her arm, that dream came true today. The leaf looks great, the only thing we are not sure of is if it is sustainable getting tattooed. Not really, there’s a disposable plastic film protecting the machine. A thin plastic cover over the tattooing bed and Silvia’s plastic gloves.

We definitely will pay attention to tattoo only a few times and to make more than a tattoo at the time if we want more than one. However, Silvia is an attentive person and separate her wastes in order to get them recycled.

Afternoon walk

We have a nice lunch with Silvia and her colleague before to continue our tour of the city. We discover that the other tattoo artist is originally from Moggio Udinese, which -as we find out talking to him- seems to be an amazing village between the mountains and the rivers in the last region of Italy, before the border with Slovenia and Austria. He sold us so well the place that we decide to stop by on our way to Slovenia.

During the afternoon we get lost in the streets of the ancient city, picture a man standing during mass with his black mask and a traditional white clock with on the side a red cross. We end up in a beautiful cluster on the side of the duomo and realise that wherever we look around us we can find mural paintings and statues. Verona is definitely full of history. Tourists pass posing for picture, shopping global brands and enjoying local wine. Ourself too we couldn’t resist the tasty ‘prosecco’ served in a cosy patio.

Another parking lot for the night-stay

Sleeping not far from cities reveals to be complicated. We finally find a place to park our van behind a supermarket which closure allow us for some peace. A black guy seeing our French plate approaches us asking for water. He happens to be from Cameroon looking for a something better.

Eating a bowl of the risotto G made he starts telling us how he got to a parking lot lost in the countryside outside Verona. He left Cameroon once 16 y.o. for Nigeria. His mother cried when he announced he was leaving because some Nigerians are known to eat people. He worked there until they started calling him ‘brother’ and ‘gentleman’, then he left to Niger. Here he managed to work and to rent a room. With some money on the side he passed through Libya, Algeria and Morocco to then go back to Libya. Here he sailed to Sicily and tried to work in Italy for a while. And then the agonised dream-land: France. Here Fabrice went to clubs and had girlfriends and felt that life could be nice. But with no documents it cannot last long. Even if Cameroon has been exploited by French for years, he has no right to a French passport. He headed back to Italy to fight bureaucracy and receive some documents allowing him to work.

For now he asks for money in front of the hospital, waiting for a piece of paper recognising him as a person. When he’s lucky he makes 30 euros in a day. He can eat, send money to Cameroon and he sleeps in a bungalow in an abandoned campsite.

After a day in Verona sightseeing, getting tattooed and drinking ‘prosecco’, no better way to recall to ourselves that there are millions of people living with less than 2 euros per day, the so called ‘extreme poverty’.

He left us only after midnight with the bottle of water we gave him. Despite his patriarchal mindset, we cannot avoid feeling sympathy and a huge amount of esteem for Fabrice.

With love, to Fabrice.

Day 3 – Time for mountains

Asphalt and towns

The morning wakes us with its unbearable heat. After a quick yogurt with cereals we leave the suburbs of Verona towards a new Region. Our goal: Friuli’s Alps. The way is long. The asphalt broken and noisy, the heat still unbearable. We pass through a series of deserted towns. Traffic is irregular and sometimes we find ourselves stuck, with no air conditioning and our backs melting on the seats.

Many rivers: but where’s the water?

We cross fields, towns, again fields and a lot of bridges. Rivers are small and hide themselves in the trees’ shade, to avoid the late morning sun. The river beds are wide, but just for little water. We decide to stop in a village called Salettoul where we rest on the riverside. The Piave doesn’t carry a lot of water during this season. We expected to be able to bath but we are not. People here are friendly and ask us what we are doing there and suggest us to stay for the night in the parking by the river, that is quiet and beautiful. We decide to go on. At the end of the bridge we realise that on the other side there was more water and we could have bath.

The importance of water

We are running out of water, actually we did run out of water. But a beautiful fountain saves us. We are able to refill our 30 litres tank, our 10 litres secondary tank and our bottles. G takes advantage of the fresh water to wash himself quickly, he was sweating all over his seat. We do not consume much water, much less than what we would do in an apartment. We decide to monitor our water consumption in the next days to make a small report on the topic. The trip goes on.

We cross many more rivers and fields of grape: we are in the land of ‘prosecco’. We finally reach Friuli Venezia Giulia. Here we cross San Daniele del Friuli, the town of prosciutto but, as we do not eat meat, we pass-by without looking back. We finally see the mountains in front of us.

Passing by the majestic walls of Osoppo reminds us that this was a land of borders and conflicts, where Italians and Austrians fought for something we do not understand.

Moggio Udinese welcomes us with a fresh beer and the eyes of the locals pointed as us as we speak English or French.

Getting some information for the next days in the nature

Moggio Udinese is one of the villages in the territory of the Prealpi Giulie Park, and in particular it hosts the Nature Reserve of the Alba Valley. We pass by the tourist office that provides us with all we need. The lady welcoming us is mostly happy to receive someone and talk a bit – there are not many tourists passing by.

When we leave the village we realise we didn’t really gather useful information. We climb a narrow road in which we risk to break our old Ducato in a desperate search for some waterfalls on the Rio Fonderiis. We agree on the fact that we have never seen such a steep road in such bad conditions. When we park on the roadside the van cries trying to cool down. We met just one car climbing up. For the first time in weeks (we stayed in Monza for almost 14 days before to leave) it’s fresh. We decide to shower as soon as possible. Naked, on the road, with our portable shower, with a bit more than 5 litres of water, we manage to clean ourselves completely.

A fresh night?

After a day of sweating and moving we enjoy the post-shower freshness eating a sandwich and drinking a bit of wine. With sweatshirts and long pants we enjoy the evening cold air and get ready for a nice sleep in the middle of the mountains, in the quietness of nature. No one is passing by, we decide to install our table in the middle of the road for dinner – see the picture of G eating a carrot.

Tomorrow we are going to discover some -hopefully- beautiful waterfalls. We are not moving the van for more than 10km tomorrow, which means we will have time to hike and relax.

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Day 4 – A wild place

The Nature Reserve of the Alba valley

The night was indeed fresh. A good sleep and breakfast is the perfect combination to kick-off a nice excursion in the forest. The trees are tall and protect us from the sun that shows up only from time to time. It is still hot and humid, we do need some rain and a fresh and sunny day after – this light is not suitable for pictures.

The path is soft and brings us around this untouched forest that quietly guides us towards the Rio Alba and Rio Fonderiis. The first is empty, even if it’s the one after which the valley is named. The second has the clearest water we have seen until now. We spot the waterfall -see the picture- which is much smaller than what we thought. But the way here, the trees, the flowers and the clearness of the water are worth each step.

To get back to the car we cross a landslide and get lost in the wood. Following a steep animal path we finally find the road again and, after a fresh stop to a spring, we jump on the van and gain the bottom of the valley to reach Dordolla, where we want to eat something before to find a spot to sleep.

Too late to lunch in Dordolla?

We reach the village after another steep road. The bar is under renovations, it takes us a while to spot it. We climb the steps to learn that it is too late to eat. We insist a bit, and they could actually cook something for us. M check how much money we have left in cash, and there’s only 11 euros. The ladies running the bar look at each other in an annoyed way. We decide to cook something by the river side.

We find a nice parking with tables on the Aupa, the river after which the main valley of Moggio Udinese is called. We calm our hunger with a quick and vegetarian carbonara with dried tomatoes. After a bit of rest we bath in the river, clean ourselves, wash the dishes and put a bottle of ‘prosecco’ in the water to cool it down -hot ‘prosecco’ is not the best…

How to manage a rainy afternoon

Thunders start rumbling in the grey sky. G runs to retrieve the ‘prosecco’ from the river while M put everything in the van. Ours is a shameful afternoon: drinking ‘prosecco’ and watching a movie. And when the rain is over we start cooking, we run out of gas, and we finish cooking on our amazing portable wooden stove.

Dahl for dinner is warm and spicy, the perfect meal for what promises to be a fresh night. Tomorrow we are heading to the closest town in order to refill our gas bottle, buy bread, and maybe eat a pizza from the bakery, M’s favourite.

Day 5 – Was That Even a Via Ferrata?

The beauty of the Aupa pass

Morning is wet but sunny. Since we have no gas we prefer to postpone breakfast to the first village we will meet, which should be Pontebba. The ride is particularly beautiful, especially the hairpin turns that leads to the Aupa pass. The forest here is tall with pines and the forest bed is green with herbs. The view on the peaks that surround us is majestic.

Pontebba is a joyful town at the bottom of the Canale Valley. Coffee in the sun is regenerating as well as the toilet break. Since we finally have a good internet connection we decide to sit in the shadow and publish the past two days of adventures. Before to reach our daily destination we refill our solar shower and our bottles.

Camporosso – another rainy afternoon?

We manage to reach Camporosso on time to buy bread for lunch. We eat two sandwiches with the vegetables we cooked yesterday night and a bit of cheese. Refurbished, we park our van by the river Bartolo where a countryside road leads to Austria, and walk towards our destination, the climbing spot named ‘Palestra Val Bartolo’. The pitches are easy but require attention and technique. Unfortunately, we only have the time to climb two pitches each. Black clouds and rains are coming our way. Along the path back to the van we get wet and, annoyed by the rain, we try to organise our small space in order to pass the time.

Fortunately it doesn’t last long. A shy sun and lighter clouds allow us to open the van and look around. M spots the depart of a sort of via ferrata. There are no signs, G doesn’t find on his maps neither on the internet. We decide to go for it.

Is this a via ferrata?

All along the ‘via’ we wonder if this is actually a via ferrata, if it’s still open, if it’s safe… At the end of the climb we agree that it could have been a ferrata. However, it wasn’t really safe neither open. In any case, it was easy and fun. The view from above spaces on the Bartolo and Canale Valley. The ground is wet and the forest looks lively; the greens of the trees and of the grasses are vivid. From the top we find a small path bringing us back to the van. Our daily physical activity is accomplished.

Do you remember that we told you we refilled our shower? Well the water was very cold at the fountain, and the day was fresh. The result is that we start showering with cold water. When G is done and M has just started washing herself, it starts raining. M finishes showering under the rain. We manage to get in the van before it gets to wet. Once this second round of rain is over we are finally able to open all the doors to dry our cloths and our backpacks.

Being organised is important

G starts writing the road-trip diary of the day while M organises the van. It is vital to arrange everything in a way that our 4.5 squared metres are liveable. M manages to find a place for everything and to create a hanger to dry all our cloths and towels. Then she starts working on our website.

Tonight we are going to eat the Dahl M cooked yesterday. Tomorrow we are heading to Austria, because apparently is the only place where we can refill our gas bottle. This will add some kilometres to our trip -just a few, actually- and prevent us from seeing the lakes of Fusine, which was supposed to be our destination. Too bad, we are going to enjoy even more Slovenia.

Heading to Slovenia...

Ancona and the Regional Nature Park of Conero – Wednesday

Ancona city centre is nice and the morning is not too hot. We enjoy walking a couple of hours around the town after a sleepless night. What we liked the most of the old town was the “Fontana del Calamo”, also known as fountain of the thirteen “cannelle”. You can guess why looking at the picture.

The objective of today is to understand how to deal with the latest act approved by the Italian government and entered into force last Thursday and to visit the Regional Nature Park of Conero. The first, is a law stating that people entering Italy from Croatia are obliged to make a Covid test in the 48h following their arrival on the national territory. We try to figure out where we are supposed to get tested, where we can spend the self-isolation until the test day and which health institution we are supposed to contact -in Italy each Region has a wide independence in managing their own health system.

Conero coast is beautiful. The Mediterranean brushwood managed to install in this limestone rocks that deepens abruptly into the sea. From the parking of Badia di San Pietro -an ancient monastery with a view on the Adriatic coast- we follow a trail towards “Belvedere Sud”, then we reach the “Passo del Lupo” and descend vertically towards the sea until the beach of the two sisters -Spiaggia delle due Sorelle. The two sisters are the two rocks dipping in the sea at the edge of this famous beach.

Even if it’s still very hot, along all the trail we can enjoy the shade of pines, Juniperus oxycedrus and Arbutus unedo… We end up doing some 500m of vertical distance, which counts as double in this heat. The beach itself is spectacular from above, however, getting closer, the screams of the people, the boats coming back and forth announcing their destinations and the canoes make it hard to enjoy the beautiful location. We discover that almost everyone has come by boat to the beach -the path is supposed to be closed and any access is forbidden.

Completely exhausted, we spend the night in a beautiful parking with other vans. With a bit of privacy and a nice view on the “Macchia mediterranea” we can finally enjoy a proper shower. We installed a mosquito net that allows us to sleep fresh and long.

To Covid or not to Covid: on our way to confinement in Gran Sasso National Park – Thursday

We spend most of our day trying to figure how to comply with the Covid act. The procedure consists in the following: contacting the regional health authority, file an online questionnaire, waiting to be contacted back, present ourselves to the test laboratory, get tested, wait for the results. If the results are positive -therefore, the test is negative- we are free to move. All along the procedure we are supposed to be in self isolation, not moving from our van and at the address we communicate to the health authority. Doesn’t seem to be complicated: we decide where to spend these days -it’s supposed to last no more than 4 working day the procedure- in Campo Imperatore, where, if we are lucky, we can also walk in the nature not entering in contact with anybody -this spot has free drinkable water, public toilets, and it’s the departure point of the most spectacular itineraries in Gran Sasso National Park.

After a first successful call with the ‘Covid call centre’ we are told that we need an Italian phone number because they cannot reach foreign numbers and they are supposed to call us day-by-day to have update on our health conditions. Well… we decide to drive towards Campo Imperatore and stop on the way to buy an Italian Sim card and do the grocery for the next days on confinement to avoid any further stop in crowded places. We find a shopping mall -the only place where we could find a phone company- subscribe a phone contract, do a bit of grocery -we were trying to avoid big supermarkets but today it’s like this.

Trying to call back the ‘Covid call centre’ reveals to be impossible. No one answers any more -and this will go on for the next days. We keep driving towards our destination and calling the health authority.

We decide to stop a few kilometres before Campo Imperatore in a deserted picnic area just outside the forest of Vado di Sole. We are officially inside the “Parco Nazionale del Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga” and it’s wild, majestic, windy and finally cold. The sun setting on the rock wall leaves us speechless.

A National Park of large prairies and few harsh peaks – Friday

Divided in 12 districts, Gran Sasso National Park is the third largest protected area of Italy. We approach it from North-East, the ‘Marche’ side, where rich and fresh beech forests cover the steep road. Vado di sole marks the passage between green forests to yellow prairies. The landscape transforms suddenly, here is the wind that dictates its harsh rules. Indeed, the only vegetation capable to survive with this constant and strong wind stays low on the ground, no trees or bushes. The area of Campo Imperatore is part of the project LIFE praterie, protecting high grasslands through the sustainable management of pastures and tourists flows: never leave the trails in the park! Here the grass cover the large plateaus and the mountains until the limestone rocks dominating the lunar landscape. Rocks are home to the endemic Abruzzo Edelweiss, a rare specie of flower that can survive in these extreme conditions.

In this period of the year everything is dry, the blades of grass moving in the wind like waves in a yellow ocean. Sheeps, cows and horses are taken here grazing during the warm season. We can see some herds and the cheese and meet vendors on the side of the road. Street food in the park is the trend, and ‘arrosticini’ is the meal not to miss -if you aren’t vegetarian like us-, sheep meat skewer, normally sold 1 euro the piece.

Around 5pm we finally park in Campo Imperatore -2000m- after having prepared tomorrow’s climb. We decided to combine two via ferrata in order to reach the top of “Corno Piccolo” 2655m, from here we are supposed to have the most scenic view of Corno Grande, 2912m, the highest mountain of Italian Apennines. It is also one of the most exposed itinerary, traversing harsh rock and not requiring trad-climbing equipment. It will also reveal to be the best choice for a crowded summertime Saturday, the Corno Grande will be full of people on a huge queue to reach the summit.

Two Via Ferrata at Gran Sasso: Brizio and Danesi. 15km between the rocks and the grasslands – Saturday

Time for climbing adventures in Gran Sasso National Park. Check out the report of our itinerary combining two Via ferrata: Brizio and Danesi.

We wanted to go climbing but it’s too windy – Sunday

During the night the van has been shaken by the wind. In the morning the situation doesn’t seem to be better.

After breakfast we decide to face the strong wind and see if we can climb. There is a wonderful climbing spot called ‘Pilastro di Monte Aquila’, some 40min from Piazzale Campo Imperatore. They call it a ‘magia di calcare’: a limestone magic. Not many people are climbing here, this is why the rock has a perfect grip.

When we arrive to the spot, we realize it’s way to windy to even try climbing. Too bad we brought our climbing material to have a walk and get some air. We then decide to reach Duca degli Abruzzi Mountain hut -2388m. Some strong gusts of wind make it hard to stand. We look at the hut from outside and descend to the parking without stopping.

Back in the van we eat pasta and decide to drive towards a safer place where we can sleep without having the impression someone is shaking our van -in breach of the Covid act, by the way. The road descends through the grasslands, the herds and the wind. After about 20min on the road to Fonte Cerreto, we spot a small parking on the left side of the road. Here there are trees growing and green forests conquering the steep and windproof mountainsides. We deduce that it must be less windy, and we are right.

The moment we step out of the van, a white dog comes to meet us. It’s a ‘Maremmano’ shepherd and it’s a she-dog. She looks hungry: we give her biscuits, bread and water. Scared she takes the food from the ground and, as she starts trusting us, from our hands. She drinks two bowls of water and leaves. To us she goes under the name of Bella.

We are starting to develop a strategy to shower inside. It’s almost viable, not comfortable, not enjoyable, but does the job.

Tagliatelle with pesto, a movie and a bit of reading end our day.

 

Fonte Cerreto under the rain – Monday

Yesterday it has been raining since 6pm. At around 8pm the rainstorm reached its peak and water started dripping through the lateral and back doors of the van. We realized that both the doors weren’t well closed… This fixed the night was calm and quiet.

After breakfast we leave the place and head to Fonte Cerreto. Rain will be falling all day.

On Mondays in Italy, especially in small villages, shops and cafes are closed. We decide to drink a coffee in the bar of a deserted hotel. We can sit outside, covered by a roof, watching the rain hitting the road and the trees. We spend the rest of the time working on our computers, reading, calling our families and waiting for the rain to stop. Two people spending the whole day in 4.5 squared metres -standing space 1.2 squared metres, and G cannot even stand because he is too tall- does not sound nice and it isn’t, we can guarantee. During the morning we receive a call from Abruzzo’s health authority. They have received the online form we have filed on Friday. They ask for our temperatures -they are going to monitor our health condition everyday until the test gives its result- and assure us that we will soon receive an appointment for getting tested in l’Aquila.

Finally, around 6pm the rain stops and the clouds open. Quickly we are in the forest for a walk. The air smells clean and chilly, the yellows and the greens of the wood are shiny and everything looks like it has just reborn. G also spots a roe deer while running down the path. Our view can finally space all around, we can see the villages all along the valley, the high peaks around us and the cable-car running towards Campo Imperatore. We are starting to really like Abruzzo.

Climbing and reaching L’Aquila to be tested for Covid-19 – Tuesday

We received an e-mail fixing our test-day on Wednesday, the 2nd of September 2020. We decide to head to L’Aquila where we can sleep in a parking for motorhomes put in place by the city council. However, before to reach the city, we stop by Madonna d’Appari where about 20 pitches have been equipped right on the road, just next to an old church that is also a tunnel. Well you can see what we mean in the picture below.

The rock is a bit consumed by the time and the passage of many climbers. However, the pitches are fun and varied. After a while a group of kids arrive and start climbing some very hard routes that we didn’t even consider… Eventually, after enjoying it for a few hours, we decide to leave to l’Aquila.

Once parked the van, in 15min we reach the city centre to realize that in more than 10 years the city has not been rebuilt yet. You have to know that this area was severely hit by an earthquake which destroyed almost all the old town and some villages in the surroundings. This was back in 2009, that year a lot of people died, and many more lost their homes: around 80.000 people. Since then, funds were created and invested in order to rebuild the old town, monuments as well as public buildings and mostly houses for those who lost theirs. On the one hand the slowness of the public intervention, on the other, the misuse of a lot of money, left a lot of people without a real home for years, living first in military tents, then in temporary buildings, that still exist and are partially inhabited. Well, today the situation it’s still critical: only 60% of the city centre has been rebuilt. The buildings that didn’t fall are secured with scaffolds, the ones that felt are surrounded by red tape -except those that were rebuilt-, many roads are still closed and inaccessible… It seems to be in a post-war city.

Despite this, l’Aquila is a lively city with a historically rich old town. More than 100 churches, a castle, ancient buildings, squares and fountains all on a beautiful hill surrounded by the Apennines. Two are the symbols of this town: the ‘basilica di Collemaggio’ and the fountain of ‘novantanove cannelle’. Yes they have 86 ‘cannelle’ more than in Ancona. The fountain was quickly rebuilt thanks to private offers. The main characteristic of the ‘basilica’ is that it’s squared and it’s the only other church -apart Basilica di San Pietro in Rome- in which a pope was made, Celestino V.

 

Wednesday-Test-Day – Wednesday

The test facility has been set up in the old hospital of Collemaggio, a stone throw from the ‘basilica’. We enter the partially-abandoned hospital with our masks and plastic gloves -they are mandatory-, and follow the signs “TAMPONE COVID”. We end up in front of a white tent with two spacemen inside. All dressed in white, with their masks and visor, changing gloves for every tested person. There are just two people before us, when they are done, the two nurses ask us our names and then insert two sticks in our mouths and noses. They close the sticks in the test tubes, close them and tell us that we can go. The results will be available in a couple of days. It took less then 10 minutes in total. We leave the half-abandoned hospital walk back to the parking lot where we slept and leave for another national park where we are planning to spend the next days in partial isolation.

The National Park of Majella hosts 2.100 species of plants, which represents almost a third of the whole Italian flora. Which is impressive, knowing that the park is not so large. The park’s logo depicts a wolf with behind a high peak that might represent ‘Monte Amaro’, the highest peak, 2.793m. Wolves and bears are often seen in the park and are monitored by the rangers. More than 150 animal species have been catalogued in the park, despite the large carnivorous, a relevant position is occupied by the Piviere Tortolino. This small bird nests only in a few places in Italy, always above 2.000m, one of this is the Majella.

Our destination is a hermitage a few kilometres after the village of Roccamorice: ‘Eremo di Santo Spirito a Majella’. When we reach it it’s closing and there is almost nobody. We ask the site keeper if it’s okay sleeping in the parking in order to visit the chapel the next day. She answers us that there is no problem as long as we do not leave any trash or light any fire. The sky it’s full of stars and the night cold.

Eremo di Santo Spirito a Majella – Thursday

This place has a rich and varied history: it’s a work of art carved in the rock. It is thought that it all started back in the XI century when a few monks of the company of San Benedetto di Montecassino built a chapel. The first evidence of the existence of the place dates 1055, when the monk Desiderio -future Pope Vittore III- had this chapel built. Later, in 1246 was the time of Pietro da Morrone -elected pope in 1294 under the name of Celestino V- the real protagonist of this place. In 1263 he asked the pope to recognise the monks that followed him in the hermitage under the order of San Benedetto. In this time, the Benedettini renewed the chapel, built a praying space and a few rooms where they used to sleep on the bare stone. They also built a system of small channels collecting rain water for all their needs, including irrigation for the vegetable gardens on which their lives depended. Indeed, one of the principles of hermitages was to be separated by the external world and completely self-sufficient. These monks managed to exploit the natural curves of the limestone in order to build everything they needed, even green houses and refrigerators.

However, the hermitage reached its golden age later, in 1586. This was the year in which it was recognised as Abbey. The most impressive staircase was built in the rock, the rooms were extended and about 50 monks started living there. A vegetable garden in Roccamorice was managed by other monks to sustain the life in the hermitage. Even a prince decided to move in. Principe Caracciolo had a three floor house built on site where he used to live in summer. This was also the period in which frescos were drown all over the internal walls of the main buildings. In 1807, due to Napoleon’s invasion and the suppression of the monks’ orders, the monastery was completely abandoned.

In the 70s the whole site was renewed, and most of the frescos were unfortunately covered. We learnt all this during a guided visit that is definitely worth it. The guide was prepared, attentive and clear; the place breathtaking.

We then spend the afternoon climbing. A huge climbing spot -more than 200 routes- dominates the road bringing to the hermitage. After a few ascents we shower and sleep in the parking on the road, next to a fountain.

 

Friday-results-day and M gets her shoes stolen – Friday

The phone didn’t get any signal during the past two days. Today we are supposed to receive the results of our Covid test. Therefore, we descend to Roccamorice where finally our phones start working and we can call the green number of the Abruzzo health authority. I’s only at 12am that we finally reach the office and speak with a bored girl that tells us that we are both negative. It’s official, we didn’t get COVID-19. In the end, since the moment we managed to file our online form, excluding the weekend -apparently in this office they do not work on weekends-, it only took three days to get tested and know the results. Everything was covered by Abruzzo health system, we didn’t have to spend a cent.

Relieved we decide to spend the afternoon climbing, we speak with some other climbers -there are not many-, we stop only when we are too hot to go on. We move to another parking owned by Roccamorice city hall. It’s spacious, shady, and there is only another van. We can shower nicely and enjoy the evening in the van. Outside it’s cold and the sky full of stars.

Suddenly, we hear a noise outside the van. M takes a front lamp and we open the sliding door lighting the outside. M’s shoes have disappeared. We start looking around when we spot a young fox, sitting in the grass some five metres from us, looking towards the van and at the two of us. We start looking for the shoes, the fox runs away, then come back. We spot a second fox, behind the van, looking interested at us. We decide to get some dry biscuits to feed the foxes. It seems like they were only waiting for this. They start getting closer and searching all around. After a few of biscuits we decide to stop feeding them and keep looking for the shoes. Nothing. We understand that the foxes stole the shoes, however, we cannot find them back… After a good hour playing with the foxes and looking for the shoes we decide to go to bed. We feel bad to have lost a pair of shoes in a national park.

 

Eremo di San Giovanni all’Orfento: The real hermitage – Saturday

The alarm rings early. At 8 we start walking towards San Giovanni hermitage. It’s supposed to be a three hours hike through Santo Spirito and Orfento valleys. These two valleys are covered by a stunning beech forest. On the ground a bed of beech leaves makes the hiking soft and comfortable. The canopy is thick, the trees tall, it’s cold and shady. The path first descends to the bottom of Santo Spirito valley, then goes up, overtake the saddle and descends in Orfento valley. It then goes up again and finally descends abruptly towards the ‘eremo’ with an exposed passage on the cliff. After half an hour of walk M hears some roars. She accelerates to reach G who’s a bit further. Another roar, she calls G and reach him. We realize that the animal traces we have seen close by the stream were bear footprints, and the roar was definitely a bear. We go on, another roar, closer, no doubt a bear. We keep talking and walking calmly, looking all around us. However, there are no visual signs of bears, only the roars. We finally overcome the saddle and descends towards the Orfento stream. The forest here is magnificent, the beech tall and distanced, our view can space all around. Two roe deers run away from us as we pass by, we can see them for a good minute, grazing and looking around. Finally, when the trail gets closer to them, they run away towards the bottom of the valley.

The ‘eremo’ is just amazing. All carved in the limestone, there is first a staircase excavated in the rock, then a few meters on a narrow path and then the “entrance” is hidden by a leaning rock. The passage? Some 50cm of space in between the leaning rock and a narrow catwalk. It is quiet impressive but we decide to go for it. We crawl for a few meters and we can feel the smooth rock, where thousands have already crawled to access this extraordinary place. Once back on our feet we discover the small hermitage with two cells hand-carved in the rock. We are only 10 meters above the ground but it is impressive. It was at first a small cave that has been extended and made “habitable”. Historically Pietro da Morrone, future Pope Celestino V, who was living in the ‘eremo’ di San Bartolomeo, had the desire to withdraw himself from the numerous followers that would come visit him in San Bartolomeo… He wanted a more peaceful and isolated place to spend time closer to god. Well, in this perspective this is the perfect place!

After a brief immersion in what could have been a life of isolation we are heading back. The walk is nice and we stop at some point to eat our lunch and then reach back the car without hearing any roar. It is still quite early so we decide to try climbing a bit before going away. However, it is so hot that we only do one pitch each and decide to stop for the day. G showers quickly on the side of the road, and after organising the van we are ready to leave.

We decide to drive until Chieti to visit the town and later go towards Pescara. Chieti is pretty even though it is a bit weird to be back in a city with noises and people around. It is one of the oldest city of Italy. Mythology has it, that the city was founded in 1181 BC by the Homeric Greek hero Achilles and was named in honour of his mother –Thetis.

After a traditional ‘aperitivo’ to relax and enjoy the advantages of cities, we decide to head towards Montesilvano to meet G’s aunt, tomorrow for lunch. We end up going to bed in a parking lot on the crowded seaside road. The night will be noisy and hot.

 

Long time no see – Sunday

Montesilvano is pretty big (almost 55.000 inhabitants), and it’s located right next to Pescara, the largest city in Abruzzo and capital of the homonymous province. Here lives the sister of G’s father, he didn’t see her for about 10 years. Two days before, he managed to reach her to ask if she wanted to meet and she invited us for lunch this Sunday. And here we are.

Once awaken, we enjoy a coffee and muffin in a bar. We reach our host place around 12 o’clock (not far from where we slept actually).

We are welcomed in the Italian way. G’s aunt is already making lunch, she has wine with an appetizer and everything is abundant, tastes good and is accompanied by a lot of talking. The conversation goes easy, M is getting better in Italian. We eat lunch also with her companion that lives here as well. We thought that we were invited just for lunch but we quickly realize that she already planned dinner and a day at the beach for tomorrow… the bed is already set, she doesn’t want us to sleep in the van. Her place, her rules. We will stay until Tuesday morning.

In the afternoon we go for a quick bath just the two of us, the beach is only 50m away! The water is clear and the beach almost empty. Back to G’s aunt place, we try to negotiate to sleep in our van instead of bothering her, but she doesn’t want to hear anything, the room is ready anyway. We end up sleeping in a very comfortable double bed, not bad!

To be continued...

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