Recreating the Country blog
Jumping in at the deep end.
A conversation, an opportunity and a coincidence provided the fragile thread that pulled together an unforgettable adventure in a mountainous region of Italy called Abruzzo.
I have to admit that the prospect of flying to Rome and joining a group of seasoned hikers on daily mountain treks of 12 to 20 km had me quaking in my brand new hiking boots. I’m reasonably fit but I'm ashamed to admit that I’ve rarely walked 12 km in one day let alone 20 km in mountains above 1500 meters.
My wife Lina and I even invested in trekking poles because we thought they might help get us through. At least we would look the part and in Italy that really matters. The Italians speak of “la bella figura” which literally means ‘the beautiful figure’. In Australia we would interpret this phrase as ‘looking good’ or in our case 'looking half competent'.
Abruzzo is located about two hours drive east of Rome. It is mountainous, spectacular and dotted with small hilltop medieval villages. It is an area that most tourists don’t visit because it has had an undeserved reputation of being backward and undeveloped.
Key descriptions stood out as I did some background reading. The literature said there was a large network of parks which are protected and managed to encourage regeneration of the fauna and flora. The Gran Sasso, Majella and Abruzzo are three major National Parks that are home to a diversity of wildflowers and wildlife like the iconic Marsican Brown Bear, the Apennine Wolf and the Abruzzo Chamois.
The spectacular mountain ranges of Abruzzo occur on one of the most seismically active regions of Europe. These abrupt ranges are the result of two tectonic plates colliding and pushing up what has been described as the geological ‘backbone’ of Italy. Movement along this fault-line in 2009 did severe damage in the town of L'Aquila causing loss of life and making 60,000 of the population of 80,000 people homeless. Other towns in this part of Abruzzo were also damaged by this 6.3 magnitude earthquake.
The mountains are made of hard wearing sedimentary rocks, ancient and economically important limestone, dolomite and the highly prized travertine. These rocks have been ground into steep, deep valleys and tall peaks by a long history of glaciation.
We thankfully managed to shake off our jet lag with four special days with family in London. On the 21st of May we flew into Leonardo da Vinci international airport to meet our guides, the amazing Jackie and Iole from Hedonistic Hiking>, and a dozen companion trekkers. We drove east in two comfortable people movers making a stop for lunch in Tivoli and eventually arriving at the remote medieval village, Santo Stefano di Sessanio which was to be our rustic home for the next three nights.
Stephen Murphy is an author, an ecologist and a nurseryman. He has been a designer of natural landscapes for over 30 years. He loves the bush, supports Landcare and is a volunteer helping to conserve local reserves.