“Michelino! Sibilla! Antonio!”, Milko Morichetti called out into the woods. After a few seconds of silence, a small herd of roe deer came galloping towards us. All of them arrived to this sanctuary in the Fiastra Abbey Nature Reserve, Le Marche, with injuries and Milko, with assistance of his dog Otto, helped them to recover. “Otto licked their wounds as if they were his puppies!”, said Milko. Now all deer have names and follow their saviors around the fenced sanctuary. Otto takes his duty seriously and growls at other dogs that approach the enclosure.
The deer sanctuary is only a small part of the Fiastra Abbey Nature Reserve that spreads over 1800 hectares in the Le Marche region. It is managed by the Giustiniani-Bandini Foundation, a private organization, that focuses on safeguarding the lands, scientific research and environmental education. In the centre of the reserve are 100 hectares of ancient woodland, “La Selva”, the last remaining forest of the kind that used to cover the gentle hills of Le Marche. Some of the plane trees and holm oaks here are over two hundred years old and reach almost 20 metres in height.
With many cycling and walking trails, bird hides, a Cistercian Abbey, farm and wine museums, a site for camper vans and a small archaeological collection the reserve is a popular weekend destination that attracts 40,000 visitors a year. Some of the farms in the Fiastra Abbey offer accommodation and there is also a small cosy hotel. Despite the large number of people that come here, there are many quiet corners. I spotted at least three badger dens along the path and many birds chirping on tree branches.
The heart and soul of this area is the Abbey of Chiaravalle di Fiastra built in the 12th century by Cistercian monks. It was destroyed in the 15th century by Braccio da Montone, a soldier of fortune, who was on his way to take L’Aquila in the neighbouring region of Abruzzo. He slaughtered nearly 200 monks who lived here. After that, the monastery hit hard times and was eventually abandoned. In 1985, after 360 years, the Cistercians returned. There are seven of them at the moment, aged from 65 and older, living the humble life of “ora et labora” (“pray an labour”). They rise at 4am, pray for eight hours every day, work and live in harmony with nature, tend the land and garden, look after the farm animals and make delicious honey liquor.
…Early in the morning, before the first wave of visitors arrived, I went for a walk towards the deer sanctuary. I spotted a few of them grazing between the trees. At the farm nearby a rooster crowed and two peacocks on a fenced meadow quietly muttered something to each other. As I walked past the church I heard beautiful sounds of Gregorian chanting coming from inside muffled by the ancient stone walls. I stopped for a moment admiring the harmony that people and nature can create.
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I visited Abbadia di Fiastra during a blog tour along the Marche Spiritual Route organised by the Marche Tourism Board. All opinions expressed in the article are my own.