“My velvet escape travel tip” is a guest series about what the name ‘Velvet Escape’ evokes and what that would be in the hometown or favourite place of the guest writer. With this series, I hope to uncover travel tips from places around the world to help visitors have a truly local experience. Today’s guest post is by Rebecca Winke who writes about a stunning hike through one of the most spectacular areas in the Italian province of Umbria. The photos are courtesy of Marco Calzolari.
The Breathtaking Trail up Monte Vettore
Umbria, with its undulating landscape covered in a patchwork of fields and woods, vineyards and olive groves, medieval hamlets and isolated abbeys, is, in many ways, a walker’s paradise. Trail markings are sometimes elusive, and the paths themselves often not meticulously maintained, but the views from the hilltops and silence of the remote countryside make up for these logistical challenges.
I have walked and hiked throughout this region over the years, and there are many itineraries that I hold especially dear (one of these—The Franciscan Trail—runs virtually past my house near Assisi), but when I think of a “Velvet Escape” there is one hike that far outshines all the others: the breathtaking trail up Mount Vettore in the Sibillini National Park (Parco Nazionale dei Monti Sibillini). This rigorous hike combines all the elements that I consider crucial to a memorable trek: heart-stopping views, a picnic destination, and a (slightly mysterious) story.
Just the jumping off point for this hike is enough to justify my special affection. The Piano Grande plateau near the tiny hamlet of Castelluccio is a vast tapestry of meadows dotted with wildflowers interspersed with flowering fields of legumes and lush green forage. The plain is ringed by the dramatic, craggy Sibilline Mountains, including the Cima del Redentore (Redeemer’s Peak) – the highest point in Umbria–which you begin to ascend from Capanna Ghezzi, a tiny shepherd’s hut which marks the start of the trail.
As the path begins to rise from the plateau floor along the hillsides on the southern rim of the plain, the stunning view over the meadows below and the mountain peaks on the opposite side is a wonderful excuse to stop often, catch your breath, and snap some amazing photos. Don’t miss the vast copse of pines planted in the boot-shape of the Italian peninsula by Mussolini’s forest service corps at the beginning of the century on the far ridge.
Once over the saddle at Forca Viola, the path begins to descend the opposite slope through Alpine scenery into the valley of Monte Vettore, where snow sometimes lingers in the boulder field at the bottom into late summer. A last steep climb under the somewhat menacing sheer rockface of Pizzo del Diavolo (Devil’s Peak) brings you to a lovely surprise past the ridge: the Lago di Pilato (Pilate’s Lake) at the bottom of the glacial basin.
The legend of Pontius Pilate
This Ice-Age lake (home to the tiny prehistoric russet-colored crustacean “Chirocefalo del Marchesoni”, which paddles through the water belly-up and sometimes lends a slightly reddish tinge to the lake) is unique not only for its fauna, but also for its checkered past. Legend holds that the Roman emporer Titus Flavius Vespasianus, after having destroyed Jerusalem, brought the captured Pontius Pilate back to Rome and had him publicly executed. Pilate’s body was put in a rough sack and tossed on a cart driven by oxen which were left to run freely. The careening path of the beasts ended at the top of Redeemer’s Peak, where they upset the cart and Pilate’s remains fell into the lake below. Pilate’s bones are said to still lay in its depths, and the lake takes its name from this legend.
Fact or fiction? You can take your time to mull it over while you picnic near its shores, soak in the otherworldly silence among the mountain peaks, and rest up for the trip back down to the Castelluccio plain. Your “Velvet Escape” has been hard-earned, so take time to enjoy it!
About this week’s guest writer
Rebecca Winke moved to Italy from Chicago in 1993 and shortly thereafter opened an agriturismo in her husband’s renovated family farmhouse at the foot of Mount Subasio near Assisi, Umbria. She spends her time taking care of guests at Brigolante, blogging about the lovely region she now calls home at Rebecca’s Ruminations, and wondering about what strange winds blew an urban vegetarian to a farm in Umbria.