Parks of the
Central Apennines
About the Apennines
The Appennini, or Apennines, are the mountains that run for about 1200 km from the north to south of Italy, extending right down into Sicily. They are a series of impressive mountain chains, separated geographically into sections known as the Northern, Central and Southern Apennines. There are 21 peaks over 1900m, the highest being Monte Corne at 2912m in the Central section. Much of the varied and spectacular landscape and habitat is protected within some of Italy's most important national parks. There are also a large number of natural and regional parks.

Within each section there are more specific classifications, as in the north where the Ligurian, Tuscan-Emilian and Umbrian Apennines are separately identified.

The central section spreads over the regions of Abruzzo, le Marche and south east Umbria and contains the highest peaks. Sibilini, Gran Sasso, Maiella and Abruzzo national parks are found in this section.

The whole length of the Appennini is seismically wobbly but the southern section is the most geologically unstable. There is frequent activity, most readily seen when Mts Vesuvius and Etna erupt.
South to Sulmona via Gran Sasso
Leaving Norcia, Casteluccio and the Sibilini National Park we headed south to explore the other three parks, Gran Sasso, Maiella and Abruzzo.

Wet and cloudy conditions cancelled out plans to travel on scenic mountain roads so the best alternative was the bigger and faster "red" roads. But even they were scenically impressive, sometimes built high up on bridges and viaducts and sometimes plunging into tunnels under the mountains. The longest of these on our route was 4.4km but nearby was the very long tunnel on the autostrata that links Rome to the Adriatic. That tunnel passes right under the Gran Sasso and is10 km in length. Gran Sasso itself was shrouded in clouds and remained invisible to us.

We emerged eventually out of the mountains at Sulmona which was to be our base in the area. You don't hear much about Sulmona which is pity as it is a really delightful place. A medium sized town, it has two major claims to fame. Firstly, the Roman poet Ovid was born here in 43BC. His statue, looking very thoughtful, stands in the Piazza XX Septembre in the centre of town. The main strada is called the Corso Ovidio and the name Ovidio is repeated in business and place names throughout the town.
Sulmona and confetti
The other phenomenon that puts Sulmona on the map is its important role as the confetti capital of Italy. In Italy, confetti is not the stuff we throw at weddings but the brightly coloured sugared almonds that are a feature of important family celebrations. Tradition requires that there are different colours for different festivities - white for weddings, green for engagements, pale blue or pink for christenings, red for graduations, silver for 25th wedding anniversaries and gold for 50th anniversaries.

In Sulmona they take the traditions much further. The Corso Ovidio and the narrow streets leading into it are lined with negozios displaying gorgeous assemblies of colourful flowers of different shapes and sizes, sometimes with little insects, beetles and snails hiding among the petals and leaves. Find some good pictures of confetti here.
The town is in a splendid location, circled by mountains which remain snow capped for much of the year. Its tight little mediaeval streets are enclosed within ancient walls still entered through narrow gateways. An aqueduct, constructed in the 13th century, is the focal point of the vast Piazza Garibaldi where a colourful market is held twice a week. Market stalls spread out over the whole piazza and under the arches of the aqueduct.

There have been earthquakes here, the most significant in 1706 when much of the town was destroyed. (We are very close here to L'Aquila which experienced such a devastating earthquake in 2009). The town also suffered from bombing during the second world war.

We spent three nights in Sulmona and enjoyed eating in three excellent restaurants. But best of all was the passeggiata along the Corso Ovidio each evening. Young and old paraded up and down the street in their best clothes. The old folk walked arm in arm, pausing to chat to friends while keeping an eye on the activities of the raggazzi who preened themselves in the shop windows and kept an eye on each other. By dinner time everyone was gone, as if a bell had rung calling them home.
Exploring the parks
We decided not to backtrack into the Gran Sasso park. In any case, the weather had cleared up and the cloud lifted so that Gran Sasso could be seen from practically anywhere we were to go.

On our first day we bought lunch things in the market and headed up into the Maiella park which offered a range of different landscapes and walks. We enjoyed driving round forest roads, soaking up the views and looking at some of the villages until we found a trackhead with a pathway heading up into the distance.

We would never claim that this was the most arduous of walks but it was most agreeable climbing into the hills and finding a wonderful place for lunch with a clear view out towards Gran Sasso. The panoramas here were just stunning.
The following day was La Festiva della Mama, Mother's Day and the market place was once again busy with flower sellers who were doing a very brisk trade. We drove to the small town of Scanno about 20 km from Sulmona as our first target for the day. It was reached via a scary road through the Gola del Sagitario, a narrow limestone gorge.

Scanno was "discovered" by the photographers Henri Cartier-Bresson and Mario Giacomelli in the period immediately after the second world war. They effectively put the tiny town "on the map", capturing the narrow streets, alleys, doorways and archways, but most of all the daily life of the black clad residents. Scanno continues to be a photographer's dream and is sometimes used as a film set. The old ladies dressed in black are still sitting in doorways and minding the town's business.
Further into the Abruzzo national park the scenery was pretty impressive with villages perched on top of peaks and breathtaking mountain views. We had hoped we could find a half day walk but we found this park to be just too organised. Parking places were very regimented with steep entry fees and the marked trails were just too crowded. So we left the park and picnicked on a hillside out of sight of the road and the formalities of the park. We had, in any case, done nearly a day's walking up and down the streets and stairways of Scanno.

As we travelled further south the streets and stairways became more the nature of our walking. In Puglia, Basilicata and Calabria mountain pathways and rural meanderings gave way to explorations of hilltop towns and villages and urban environments, all of which involved nearly as many kilometres as our countryside experiences.
This park is named for the "twin" mountains of Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga within the Massif of Gran Sasso.

It was founded in 1991and is one of the largest parks in Italy encompassing much of Abruzzo, Lazio and le Marche. It embraces 44 villages, Corno Grande (2912m) which is the highest Apennine peak and Calderone, the only glacier in the Appennini.

In summer keen walkers can follow the difficult trails that go up the highest peaks but there are many other trails of varying distances for different levels of walkers that aren't restricted by the seasons.

The park symbol is the Abruzzi chamois which has been successfully reintroduced to the area. Several varieties of deer and wolves also live here.
The Majella national park was founded in 1993 and is one of Italy's newest parks. It is wholly within Abruzzo and has a network of about 500km walking tracks catering for all levels of walkers. These itineraries often follow ancient routes, used for centuries by people living in the mountains.

The park contains many fortified villages and a good entry point is the beautiful medieaval town of Pacentro, only 10 km from Sulmona. Within the park are the remains of secluded romanesque hermitages and monasteries and also traces of a colourful period when bandits and robbers hid out here.

Monte Amaro (2793m) is the second highest peak in the Appennines. There are alpine meadows and beech forests and bare mountain tops with year round snow.

Chamois, deer, wolves, a small number of bears and otter are the most highly prized residents. The wolf is the symbol of the park.

This is the oldest park in the Appennines, founded in 1923. It is perhaps the most developed of the parks but has benefitted from an administration that encourages both conservation and social and economic development.

The park's symbol is the brown bear but you are not likely to see them as they are very nervous of human contact. As well as the bear, the park is home to wolves, deer and chamoix. Two thirds of the area within the park is covered with beech woods allowing for very agreeable forest experiences.

There are 24 towns within the boundaries, many in attractive hilltop locations. One of the most agreable is Scanno.

There are many walking itineraries encompassing 250 km of trails. However as a mark of the park's popularity, visitors are encouraged to leave their cars in designated paying car parks and even to join guided walks. Most paths can of course be followed independently but may be very busy at weekends.

Parco Nazionale d'Abruzzo, Lazio e Molise
Parco Nazionale della Majella
Parco Nazionale del Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga
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Piazza Garibaldi and aqueduct
Market day - Sulmona
Mountains backdrop
View from Majella Park to Gran Sasso
Four street views in Scanno
Majella National Park
Around Sulmona

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