Saints and brigands. Five evocative treks in Central-Southern Italy
Taking a gentle stroll in the uncontaminated landscapes of Central and Southern Italy is the best way to restore yourself, immersed in a triumph of nature and beauty
1. St. Francis’s Way: in the footsteps of the Saint from Assisi
The places St. Francis walked through mark off this trek that largely unwinds in Umbria. Two itineraries both lead to Assisi: one to the north starting from La Verna where St. Francis received the stigmata, the other to the south starting from Rome. They are immersed in mainly hilly nature scenarios pervaded by silence and dotted with Mediaeval towns absolutely worth a visit, such as Città di Castello, Gubbio, Trevi, Spoleto and Piediluco. A slow, peaceful route accessible to everyone - including dogs thanks to the many dog-friendly hospitality facilities set up precisely in the name St. Francis's special affection for animals.
Total distance: 500 kilometres
Trek duration: 22 daily stages
Travel period: always accessible
Find out more: viadifrancesco.it
2. St. Benedict's Way: in the mountains with the Saint from Norcia
Hiking through mountains, valleys, forests streams to retrace the most significant places in the life of St. Benedict over a route largely in mountain areas made up of paths and cart tracks, in almost sacred silence. The itinerary sets off from Norcia, the birthplace of St. Benedict, in the striking scenery of the Sibillini Mountains National Park and then enters the valley of the River Aniene - an ideal destination for lovers of kayaking and canoeing. Here, near Subiaco, there are two sites associated with the Saint: the Monastery of San Benedetto and the Monastery of Santa Scolastica, the oldest monastery in Italy together with the Abbey of Montecassino, and the place where Benedict died and where this journey also ends.
There are also many small and characteristic villages surrounded by nature along the way, such as Cascia, Leonessa, Trevi and Castel di Tora.
Total distance: 300 kilometres
Trek duration: 16 daily stages
Travel period: always accessible but subject to post-earthquake monitoring; some sections are not recommended in winter because of heavy snow.
Find out more: camminodibenedetto.it
3. A journey into the history of Abruzzo amidst exceptional scenery
This trek is divided into five itineraries taking in forty localities. It embraces all the most evocative places in the entire region: the first is a circuit taking in the Peligna Valley and the valleys of the Aterno and Tirino rivers; the others pass by L'Aquila, the Gran Sasso mountains, Sulmona in the Peligna Valley and the Sagittario Valley as far as the town of Scanno. The treks are set in marvellous natural scenery largely in the territories of the Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park, as well as the Majella National Park. The route takes in spectacular places such as the Gorges of San Venanzio, the Stiffe Caves, the Navelli Plateau and the plain of Campo Imperatore. There are also many ancient archaeological sites along the way, such as necropolis, catacombs and hermitages, as well as churches, castles and Mediaeval villages.
Total distance: 330 kilometres
Trek duration: 5 daily stages (one for each itinerary)
Travel period: recommended from April to October
Find out more: unviaggionellastoriadabruzzo.it
4. The Matera Way: trulli, cliff churches and UNESCO sites
Matera - UNESCO World Heritage site and European Capital of Culture 2019 - and its Cathedral of Madonna della Bruna is the final destination of this journey over out-of-the-way ancient Roman and Mediaeval roads and the trails and paths of brigands. It takes in six different routes; however, only two are equipped with signs and services for hiking on your own: the Via Peuceta and the Via Hellenica. The first route starts off from the Basilica of San Nicola in Bari and moves into the Murgia area and its olive groves, steppes, oak and conifer woods and karst landscapes, with cliff churches and Greek-Roman remains, typical "trulli" homes and farmsteads. The other begins in Brindisi and passes through splendid villages of the Itria Valley, such as Locorotondo, Cisternino, Ostuni and Alberobello- one of the four UNESCO World Heritage sites in Apulia - as well as the Parco delle Gravine, an open-air museum of cliff civilization.
Total distance: Via Peuceta: 170 kilometres - Via Ellenica: 380 kilometres
Trek duration: Via Peuceta: 7 daily stages - Via Ellenica: 16 daily stages
Travel period: always open
Find out more: camminomaterano.it
5. The Brigand's Way: in the footsteps of escaping brigands
A trail at an altitude of one thousand metres over the impenetrable ridges of the Aspromonte mountains. Once crossed on horseback by brigands to escape capture, it is set in a territory still characterized by remote traditions that keep the local identity firmly alive. The route starts from Gambarie, in Aspromonte, and ends at Serre. It branches in the final stretch either towards Serra San Bruno or Stilo, famous for its evocative Byzantine church, and winds along a mountainous course between forests and waterfalls, mountain torrents and streams, rural settlements and abandoned villages. It is also possible to follow small stretches at a time and is not particularly difficult - although it is good idea to have some experience of walking in the mountains. There are hospitality facilities at the end of each stage but overnight stays are not always possible. It is therefore advisable to plan your itinerary in advance.
Total distance: 120 kilometres
Trek duration: 9 daily stages
Travel period: the lower altitudes are always accessible, and the higher ones from spring to autumn.
Find out more: sentierodelbrigante.it