A book review and giveaway
This excellent little book, written by part-time Abruzzo resident Stuart Haines, is subtitled ‘Walks in Italy’s Wildest National Parks’. It has a cover photo of Rocca Calascio’s evocative church of the Madonna della Pietà surrounded by craggy outcrops so you would be safe to assume that it’s a guide for proper walkers – mostly somewhere between yompers and hikers – but definitely not for casual afternoon strollers.
Included are an impressive total of 30 separate routes spread over all 4 Abruzzo provinces focussing primarily on the Majella National Park, (AQ, PE and CH), the Gran Sasso National Park (CH), the Abruzzo National Park (AQ) and the Sirente-Velino Regional Park. The routes in and around the Sulmona area include a 16km walk from Passo San Leonardo and a similar length route from Palena station.
For variety the routes vary in length from 2 hours to 8 hours and are graded according to difficulty from 1 to 3 where 1 is ‘a straightforward wander that may involve a climb’, 2 is ‘suitable for a fit walker with reasonable experience of the hills’ and 3 is for those ‘comfortable with mountain conditions, exposure and route finding’. Each route also has detailed written instructions of the type: Pass behind houses and start up a fine old mule track that zig zags through the pine forest…(note that) occasional blue paint flashes (directional markers) are wearing thin on the trees…
On a personal note, those who don’t know us or our wider work, might think that what we write is simply a ‘What’s On’ guide for Sulmona and the Valle Peligna. In fact that forms only part of our greater mission which is encouraging people to enjoy all that’s here and not only food festivals and concerts. Perhaps most importantly we help visitors to take advantage of what’s free and available on our doorstep – in every season. We also want people to enjoy the mountains in a safe and responsible manner which means not just taking off on a whim up a random trail wearing flip flops at mid-day. Buying a book like this to be really well informed is a really good start.
The author has meticulously included the little details, which in our opinion often make the difference for visitors as to whether they will attempt this kind of outing. The seemingly mundane pointers such as where to park, where are the best spots for a picnic and if there are facilities at the start and along the route are what makes this handy and affordable guide a particularly useful little volume which all residents and visitors to Abruzzo should have in their collection. As an added bonus the photography is pretty special too – almost all of the images were taken by the author whilst researching the material for the book and serve not only as helpful illustrations but more importantly as the inspiration to just get out there and enjoy the mountains.
It is stated that the sketch maps in this guidebook should suffice for shorter walks below the tree line, but you should take the recommended map as well and you should definitely take a map for those routes that visit peaks, ridges and bare mountainside. The author also comments that ‘there is no comprehensive mapping of Italy for walkers. Published maps of Abruzzo are patchy, both in coverage and quality, but the maps listed (in the book) are recommended and cover most walks. These are published principally by the Club Alpino Italiano (CAI) and Il Lupo’. Also recommended by Stuart is the tourist map of the Parco Nazionale della Majella published by Monte Meru Editrice. Maps can be difficult to obtain, especially out of the region. In Sulmona, try the bookshop called Susilibri opposite the Comune on Via Panfilo Mazara.
Stuart and his partner live for part of the year near Pettorano sul Gizio where they run a holiday rental and make wine. We caught up with him to ask a few personal questions:
What was your first experience of walking in Abruzzo?
I first visited Abruzzo at Easter in 2005 and we went to Civitella Alfedena in the Abruzzo National Park. We set out but hopelessly underestimated the amount of snow. We floundered, got soaked, fell into drifts, got lost, saw wolf tracks and had a fantastic time! I knew straight away that this was a special region.
What prompted you to write a guide book?
I walked, off and on, in Abruzzo for the next two years until, in 2007, we found our new home near Sulmona. During that summer I walked a lot more in the local mountains and began to get to know the lie of the land. Though I am quite happy with just a map, I looked anyway for a guidebook in English but realised, quite quickly, that it didn’t exist so I decided I would create it.
Do you have plans for any other guide books and for which regions?
Volume 2 of ‘Walking in Abruzzo’ is always on my mind, though, and I’ve gathered many new routes for possible inclusion. Every year I explore more and add to the stockpile. We did an amendment and reprint of the book in 2014 but didn’t expand it. It’s time to have a word with the publisher…
What’s your favourite short walk around Pettorano Sul Gizio?
Pettorano sul Gizio is my home comune and I’ve spent lots and lots of great days exploring the valley and the mountains to either side. My actual favourite walk is quite a long one but the all-time family favourite is from our house, up through the Val del Gizio, via Vallelarga, and then onto the lower slopes of the hillside, passing through old olive groves and above the railway, until arriving in the village of Pettorano. It takes about an hour and a half and we time it to have lunch at La Locanda or, in the summer months, at Il Torchio’s outside grill next to the river in the archaeological park.
What’s your favourite season for walking here and why?
May and June are especially wonderful because of the bird song and wild flowers. I know of nowhere like it. September and October are equally good and without the risk of lingering snow to hold you up. Those warm, clear days; the vivid autumn colours and the bellows of rutting stags are a heady mixture!
Do you have a favourite piece of kit or gadget that you always take with you?
My smartphone does wonderful things like tells me where I am, where I’ve been, takes lovely photos, tells me the time and, er, I can ring people up. But I never rely on it so a map and a compass are always in my pack as are two tins of Eurospin tuna with Mexican salad! And I’ve got my Grandad’s old penknife.
Much is made here of our wonderful fauna but how likely are casual walkers to see a bear or a wolf or an eagle?
Well now, it took me 8 years until I saw a bear and I’ve never seen a wolf. I’ve heard them though and seen their tracks quite often. Red Deer are pretty easy to come across as are Golden Eagles. There are definite eagle hotspots. Camosci (Chamois) are fairly easy to find too provided you put in the effort to get high above the tree line. In some places like the Val di Rose, Monte Cefalone and Monte Aquaviva you are almost certain to see them. Cinghiale (Wild Boar) on the other hand can be seen in the valleys – usually in big family groups. There are lots of these but they are shy so seeing one is not as common as you might think. I’ve also seen pine martens, foxes, peregrines, roe deer, whip snakes, hares and a lot else besides!
If you could change something about the way that our region manages or promotes tourism, what would it be?
S: I would make a real effort in a relatively small area to bring path signposting and waymarking up to Swiss Alps standard. It would not cost a lot and is the one element of the hiking equation that would give a huge boost to people’s confidence to venture up the winding mountain path. It’s the thing visitors always complain about – the partial, the confusing or the non-existent footpath signs. Most people are not that happy with maps and, even when combined with a guidebook, they do not provide that confidence of coming across a reassuring signpost telling you are going the right way. Do one area really well and then notice the difference – the word will spread and people will come!
You can check out Stuart’s gorgeous holiday rental here: www.casalarocca.it
Giveaway rules We have 5 copies of Stuart’s book to give away. To enter all you need to do is send us any photo that fits the caption: ‘Walking in Abruzzo‘. We’ll leave it up to you how you interpret this brief. Upload your pic to our FB page with the hashtag #walkinginabruzzo before March 31st. The 5 winning photos will be chosen by Luca del Monaco, a Sulmona based professional photographer. Luca is a freelance photographer whose work is focused on naturalistic photography and reportage. His work has been featured among others by WWF and is regularly published by several national magazines. He contributes as member editor to the magazine Abruzzo è Appennino. After that date anyone else will be able to buy a copy of the book at a discounted rate until September 30th, 2015 at Cicerone.co.uk using the following code: ABR25