Jacqui Dixon of Kokopelli Camping tells us about hiking in Italy she did between the hermitages of the Majella National Park in Abruzzo. 85km in four days, from 400m to 2000m above sea level, along the Spiritual Trail, in the steps of pilgrims and shepherds.
An intensely spiritual place, the Majella (pronounced, and often spelled, Maiella) is located within the south-central Italian region of Abruzzo. The region, isolated for centuries because of its formidable natural defenses, is the heartland of the Apennines Mountains, with fierce winters and unforgiving terrain.
To call the Majella a mountain oversimplifies it. It is rather a fantastically complex clustering of 61 peaks of over 2000m, and 75 lower lying hills. Its whale-like shape is not easily understood from afar as her peaks remain largely hidden and her aspect constantly changes with the light and the seasons.
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. Is it simply her beauty, high peaks, spectacular gorges and fascinating labyrinth of limestone caves that has drawn hermits, pilgrims and travellers for centuries? Or is there something else, something more? A magnetic force, an energy, a ley line, that pulled them all in?
The so-called Spiritual Trail crosses the wilderness of the Majella and the Majella Morrone for 85km from the small village of Serramonacesca (“the land of the monks”) on the north-eastern slopes to the historical town of Sulmona on the mid-western side. It is an ancient trail linking the key Celestine hermitages (eremi) of the Majella, some are still nothing more than simple caves with a bed and altar chipped out of the stone, others, like the 12th century eremo Santo Spirito are elaborate structures merged with the rock of the deep gorges. We went through beech woods, open plains and stunning gorges, stopping at Abbazia di San Liberatore, hermitages of San Onofrio, San Bartolomeo, Santo Spirito, San Giovanni, San Pietro and San Onofrio.
The trail starts and finishes at an elevation of around 400m above sea level, but throughout its 85km length we scaled three major peaks, the highest at just over 2000m, and steeply descended into the gorges of two spectacular valleys. We followed the tumbling waters of mountain rivers, admiring breathtaking views and we barely saw another soul.
We slept in our tent and in a rifugio sharing space with the wildlife of the Majella. With so many nocturnal animals, nights were quite noisy, with howls, woofs and growls all around us! I don’t mind admitting that we did get a little spooked. We knew there were wolves but the came very close, far closer than I ever expected they would. The noises they made were incredible and no mistaking it. This recording is pretty close to what we heard not more than 100m from our tent A bear also came grumbling by a couple of times, but did no more than sniff and grunt around before ambling off down, towards the river. Should you wish a bit of luxury, there are a few B&Bs along the trail.
We started in Serramonacesca and headed west, to Sulmona doing on average 20km a day. The best time for taking the trail is either May to early July, and September-October, as August can be blistering hot and winters are harsh in the Majella.
For a detailed description of the hike go to the Kokopelli Camping blog.