The Majella - a land of a dozen fairytales

Abruzzo is still a land “that could provide settings for a dozen fairy tales”.*  Geographically considered a part of Southern Italy, Abruzzo is, in reality, Central Italy.  The heartland of the Apennines, and the most completely mountainous region of the country it may be, but its territory stretches gloriously from mountain to sea.  Indeed, from here one can be resting on the tops whilst simultaneously enjoying dramatic views to the Adriatic Sea.  

Croce D'Alpini, Serramonacesca, Majella National Park

Understandably due to not many wanting to breach its natural defences, Abruzzo was for centuries one of the most isolated parts of the country.  Not for no reason did the German military tacticians, seeking to slow the allied advance from north to south, place the Gustav front within the lower realms of the Majella Massif.

Feudi D'Ugni, Majella National Park

And here we have, in my mind, the most exciting wilderness of Italy, The Majella National Park, “The Mother of Mountains”; just the mere name, and the legend behind it, conjures pictures of a quiet magic.  It is said that Maya, the Goddess of the Earth, came to its peaks seeking a special herb to heal her sick son, but she failed to reach the top before he died.  Dying in deep sorrow, her heart broken for her loss, Maya reappeared in the unique form of the rounded Majella, the sleeping beauty of Abruzzo, that rises up quickly from lowland to mountain top.

Monte Amaro, 2793m asl.  Majella National Park

Still an intensely spiritual place, this sacred mountain has long been one of the most revered mountains in Italy, but to call it a mountain oversimplifies it.  The Majella is a fantastically complex clustering of 61 peaks of over 2000m, and 75 lower lying hills**.  Its shape is not easily understood from afar - her peaks remain largely hidden and her aspect constantly changes.  

Variously and simultaneously considered imposing, unpredictable and uninhabitable, the Majella ultimately retains an aura of phenomenal beauty, space and peace, capable of making your heart swell and soar over and over again.

Space, peace and big, big skies

Its interior is a spectacular display of dramatic canyons and ravines, dense beech forests and bare mountain tops; whilst underground there is a labyrinth of limestone caves of often bizarre rock formations.  This unique wilderness provides a home to the Apennine wolf, red deer, roe deer, the brown bear, wild boar and wild cats, not forgetting the undisputed King of the Peaks, the Apennine Chamois***.  

A relatively new National Park, many of the Majella’s 700km of trails are fairly undiscovered.  This makes it all the more exciting, leaving one feeling like an explorer seeking the ancient paths.  

The rewards for those that do are huge, there is anything here from 10km day hikes to backpacking trails with overnighting options of one of the many refuges.  

Rifugio Ugni, not a bad place to watch the sun come up.

It is possible to walk for hours, even days, on end and not meet a soul.  There are spring flowers to rival any on the Alps heralding the sweet transition to warmer days, butterflies too, in abundance.  You’re as likely to stubble across tumbling, turquoise waters as you are hidden caves and hermitages.  There are crags to climb, pools and lakes to swim in, and pilgrims’ tracks to run on.

But that is not all.  This is Italy, remember, where food and wine are nurtured, harvested, prepared and enjoyed with the love and dedication you would expect from any restaurant worthy of its coveted stars.  Restaurants are numerous and the food is cheap.  The seasons, saints and food of Abruzzo are celebrated in equal measure, as are their many festivals; and traditional crafts are jealously guarded and practiced for their own use rather than as a show for the tourist, of which there are few.  

Goat herd, Majella National Park

Many of the villages of Abruzzo are a fascinating tumble of old stone and narrow streets, all clinging precariously to the hillside.  Most have cellars for wine making, balconies for drying the washing, and tiny shops for hams, cheese and gossip.  The people themselves are warm, welcoming and proud of their land and traditions.  “Forte e gentile” is what they say of the Abruzzese people, “strong and gentle”, and this perfectly captures not only the people, but also the region.

Garifoli, Serramonacesca.  The home of Kokopelli.

*Tim Jepson, Wild Italy, 1994 Sheldrake Publishing

**Patrick Barron, University of Massachusetts, 2006
The Majella Massif in Abruzzo: “The Mother of Mountains”

***Pan Parks:

A few of the many trails:  


Maps of Abruzzo are not quite Ordnance Survey in coverage and quality, but the following websites have the best selection and will give you a good feel for the area:

Edizione il Lupo, a selection of 1:25,000 maps and hiking guides:
Majella, Parco Nazionale Della Majella hiking maps, 1:50,000:

More pictures of the Abruzzo interior:

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