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The nature of Abruzzo at high altitude

Mountains, lakes, beeches and chamois in Marsica: the Abruzzo Park

car route
7 days
Number of Stages

For about twenty years it has been officially called the Abruzzo Lazio and Molise National Park, but when it was established, over a century ago, it was simply the Abruzzo Park "built for the protection of beautiful forests and natural treasures". In an area which, since then, has expanded to over fifty thousand hectares, you can still admire the woods, the views, the wild animals and nature to be experienced with respect.

Already in 1921, the Marsican brown bear, the park's official logo, was the most symbolic species, but the Camosciara area, between Opi and Civitella Alfedena, also attracted many visitors due to the presence of chamois.

In 1976, Lake Barrea became an internationally recognised wetland and, in 2017, Unesco recognised almost one thousand hectares of beech forests near Villavallelonga, Lecce nei Marsi, Pescasseroli, Scanno, Opi and Civitella Alfedena as a World Heritage Site.

Day 1

Gioia dei Marsi

Gioia dei Marsi

Arriving from L'Aquila, Gioia dei Marsi is the gateway to the Abruzzo Park. The name of the town refers to the ancient population, the Marsi, who lived in the region in the first millennium B.C. and were later Romanised.

Along the state road, about fifteen kilometres towards Pescasseroli, the uninhabited village of Gioia Vecchiostands at an altitude of over 1400 metres: it is almost an open-air museum, with a church that preserves a wonderful 15th-century stone façade.

Starting from Gioia dei Marsi, in half an hour you can also reach the village of Villavallelonga, so called because it is picturesquely located at the foot of Monte Quaresima. This area included the first nucleus of the Alta Val di Sangro Royal Reserve established in 1872, the forerunner of the future Abruzzo Park. A new small museum, dedicated to local naturalist Loreto Grande, presents the local wildlife and traditions.

Day 2



Mountains and beech and pine forests surround the main town in the Abruzzo Park, a popular tourist destination in its basin at an altitude of more than 1,000 metres. The historic centre of the town, which is located next to the Marsica state road, hides treasures of great historical interest, such as the large parish church of Saints Peter and Paul dating back to the 12th century and the 19th century Palazzo Sipari, the birthplace of the philosopher Benedetto Croce. In the former stables of the same building, you can visit the National Park Museum and learn about its history: it is interesting to discover that, in 1933, the park was abolished in order to promote the exploitation of the forests, mainly for industrial purposes.

In contrast, the area around Pescasseroli has a history of sheep farming. Transhumance, the seasonal migration of flocks of sheep from Abruzzo to the Apulian sea and back again, was immortalised in poetry by Gabriele D'Annunzio, an Abruzzese from Pescara. Those journeys along the sheep-trails help to understand the local cuisine, influenced by trade with Puglia: lamb dishes, 'cacie e ova', pecorino cheese, and farm products.

Day 3



Perched at an altitude of 1,250 metres on a rocky ridge, the village certainly has very ancient origins, but today its inhabitants number a little over five hundred. The houses of the village are bunched together on the edge of the rock around the two churches.

From the top there are views of Mount Marsicano and Val Fondillo, the greenest in the National Park, with caves at an altitude of 1,000 metres and an amphitheatre of glacial origin surrounded by mountains. At the entrance to the valley, along the Marsicana state road between Opi and the Camosciara Nature Reserve, there is a park visitors' centre with information on the routes and services offered in the area: horse and donkey rides, mountain bike hire and archery.

The Apennine chamois that live in the Opi area can be distinguished from those in the Alps or Pyrenees by the black 'mask' around the white strip on their snout.

Day 4

Civitella Alfedena

Civitella Alfedena

After passing through Pescasseroli, Opi and the Camosciara Nature Reserve, the Marsicana state road reaches Villetta Barrea, with its stone houses, small squares, the base of a medieval tower and a museum dedicated to transhumance. The town of Civitella Alfedena, the smallest population centre in the Abruzzo Park, has an Italian Touring Club Orange Flag for its tourism and environmental qualities. Tourist accommodation, shops selling typical products, exhibition spaces and wildlife areas in the surrounding area make Civitella an excellent example of integration between the protected area and the local economy.

The town, perched on an outcrop overlooking the shores of Lake Barrea, preserves the typical characteristics of an Apennine settlement, with the houses barricaded to defend themselves not only from attacks but also against the cold and isolation. The houses open up on the inner side of the streets, which are narrow, with flights of white paved steps, forming a kind of wall on the outside.

The most important historical buildings are a fifteenth-century tower house, seventeenth and eighteenth-century buildings and the parish church of San Nicola di Bari. The Park Visitors' Centre, located on the hill opposite the village, houses an exhibition and a four-hectare wildlife area, dedicated to the Apennine wolf: Canis lupus italicus.

Day 5

Lake Barrea

Lake Barrea

The historic village of Barrea gave its name to the large mountain lake, which is particularly pleasant in the summer, when the small beach, the Gravara, encourages swimming, sunbathing and pedal boat rides. Even in other seasons, you can stroll around the water on footpaths or cycle paths with benches, rest areas and refreshment points, and then continue on a scenic walk through the surrounding mountains. However, it is good to enquire carefully before starting, since some of the walks are only suitable for experienced hikers, as it is a protected area, and dogs must be kept strictly on a leash along the paths.

In addition to Barrea, the lake basin includes Villetta Barrea, with a park service centre, and Civitella Alfedena.

Day 6


From Barrea, the Marsicana state road invites you to proceed for a dozen kilometres to Alfedena, heir to an ancient capital of the Samnites. Overlooked by the ruins of a medieval castle, the village preserves bronze collars, rings, glass paste pearls, amber necklaces, pendants, weapons and belts found in a local necropolis and exhibited in the Civic Archaeological Museum.

This area, at the foot of the Mount Greco massifs and the Meta mountains, lies on the edge of Abruzzo, practically on the borders with the province of Frosinone in Lazio and the province of Isernia in Molise. Summer excursions follow the paths from the Campitelli Plateau to Passo dei Monaci, the Rio Torto canyon and the Montagna Spaccata artificial lake, with its convenient floating platform.

Day 7



What can be considered the final stage of an itinerary through the Abruzzo Park takes us to the upper Sagitario valley. Unlike the lake in Barrea, Scanno Lake is natural, probably formed by a landslide about three millennia ago and has been awarded a Blue Flag due to its suitabity for bathing.

Like Civitella Alfedena, Scanno is an Orange Flag location, selected and certified by the Italian Touring Club for its tourism and environmental merits. It is also one of the best known holiday resorts in the Abruzzo mountains, a summer and winter resort, with a historic centre composed of landscape views, terraced houses, stairways and arches, much photographed by camera artists such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Gianni Berengo Gardin and Ferdinando Scianna.

In the main square is the church of Santa Maria della Valle, or the Assumption, with a bell tower of Romanesque forms, a sixteenth-century pinnacle and wooden interior furnishings, while a short staircase nearby leads to the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, with elegant stucco decoration. Streets that pass through historic buildings lead to Piazza San Rocco, one of the most characteristic points, where the elegant Palazzo Mosca overlooks. Another symbolic place is the Sarracco fountain, decorated with Romanesque arches, while in the district of Piazza Codacchiola there is the Wool Museum, with testimonies about local daily life. A Roman plaque testifies to the ancient origins of the village.

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