In Abruzzi, you will find the Majella Massif, an imposing mountain group known to the locals as the Montagna Madre (Mother Mountain), and which was called by Pliny the Elder the Padre dei Monti (Mountains’ Father). Along with the Porrara, the Morrone and the Monte Pizzi, the Majella Massif makes up the Majella National Park, which spans the provinces of Pescara, L’Aquila and Chieti.
There are several beautiful karst planes and valleys in this territory, as well as gorgeous mountains, the highest Majella peak being Monte Amaro. Here you can enjoy over 500 kilometers of trails through this mountainous region, with several tourist centers dotted throughout the park as well as many features unique to the area and ample biodiversity.
Due to the destructive and intrusive action of men over the centuries, several large herbivores in the area have become completely removed and more have become increasingly rare species. The Majella National Park acts to protect these animals so that they survive for future generations.
The chamois of the massif became extinct in the 19th century, while the roe and red deer are only present in small numbers. These deer have been successful in maintaining what population they have, because they are able to exist in the harsh climate of the park. Another well known animal colony of the Majella National Park is that of Apennine wolves.
Due to the combined efforts of the government, WWF and the locals, the animal situation in the national park has changed significantly over the last few years. Roe deer and deer can now be seen in the clearings and in the woods, and there are around 150 specimens of deer living in the national park. The Abruzzi chamois is the most important animal to be found in the national park and it lives on the high meadows and summits of the area. Brown bears can also be found here alone with Apennine wolves and otters living along the Orta, Orfento and Vella rivers.
The protection of the woods by authorities has allowed species like the spectacled salamander, the Apennine salamander, the yellow bellied toad, goshawks, honey buzzards, white backed woodpeckers, polecats, weasels, stone martens, martens and wild cats to survive.
The harsh valleys of the Majella provide ideal conditions for the extremely rare lanners, peregrines, wall creepers, Alpine choughs, choughs and Golden eagles, that are native to this area. Snow voles, Alpine accentors, snowfinchs and Orsini’s Vipers can also be found at higher altitudes.
The Majella has also a unique vegetal heritage and much biodiversity. There are more than 1,800 different vegetal species to be found in the national park. In fact, one third of all Italian Flora with Pyrenean, Arctic, Illyrian, Balkan, Alpine and Mediterranean elements can be found here. The beech woods here reach up to an altitude of 1,800 meters and ash trees, hop hornbeams, Turkey oaks, maples, sorbs and hollys are also part of the local flora.
The high summits and the grasslands of the mountains remain covered with snow during the winter months and several species that drifted to the Majella from the Adriatic Sea can also be found. When the glaciers withdrew from the area, a kind of genetic isolation occurred in the region, which led to the growth of several new and unique species such as the centaurea tenoreana, carex capillaries, juniperus sabina, adonis distorta, pinguicola fiorii, cypripendium calceolus, aquilegia magellensis, taraxacum glaciale, gentian magellensis, leontopodium nivale, ranunculus magellensis and viola magellensis.
A Tholos in the Majella National Park.
Tourist Points of Interest
There are several interesting places to visit in the Majella National Park. In every season, the park offers different settings and different types of beauty. Late spring is the time of blooming and, along with autumn, it is the best time to visit the many hermitages and towns in the region. Those who are planning to enjoy the Majella’s hiking trails should do so in the summer, while October is best to view beech trees and their changing colors.
The town of Pacentro is located only 10 kilometers from Sulmona and is one of the most important places to visit in the area. The town has an important cultural, historical and naturalistic heritage. The towers of the town’s castle stand in stark contrast to the lush green vegetation that surrounds it. Several of Pacentro’s ancient rituals, rites, folklore and events survive to this day and the town is largely known for its gastronomical traditions and farming methods.
The tourist centers located in the park are as follows:
Museo Naturalistico, Piazza Municipo, Fara San Martino
Maurizio Locati Visitor Center, Colle Madonna – A botanical garden as well as areas dedicated to chamois and archeology.
Paolo Barrasso Visitor Center, Via del Vivaio, Caramanico Terme – Check here for fossils and other archaeology artifacts from the Upper Paleolithic to the Roman era.
Sant’Eufemia a Maiella, S.S. 487, Sant’Eufemia a Maiella – Includes a botanical garden.
There are many hiking trails in the park to explore, and several different itineraries to help you discover the park’s hidden gems. Some of these routes can be demanding, long and tiring and would be suitable for those who are a little experienced. There are also many trekking routes that are suitable for those who are still new to outdoor activities. Entrance to the national park is free and the park authorities provide plenty of amenities and facilities for visitors. On foot, you can explore the mountains and woods as well as view the cave paintings in the Grotta S. Angelo and the Grotta del Cavallone. Some itinerary ideas:
1. Serramonacesca – San Liberatore – Majella – Castelmenardo – Hermitage of Sant’Onofrio
2. Roccamorice – San Bartolomeo in Iegio – Santo Spirito – Majella
3. Orfento Ring Route: A tour of the Orfento Valley, you must advise the Visitor Center in Caramanico before beginning.
4. Colle delle Vacche – Hermitage of San Pietro – Monte Morrone (the mountain hut will soon be renovated to be available for hikers).
5. Majelletta – Anfiteatro delle Murelle – Monte Focalone: The classic Majella hike it is usually very busy and offers glorious views.
6. Val Serviera Ring – Route of Vallone di Santo Spirito: The best hike to explore the deep eastern valleys of Majella.
7. Fonte Romana to Monte Amaro: Best for experienced hikers it is a good way to reach the summit of Majella.
8. Quarto del Barone – Fonte Cernaia – Monte Secine (this hike is best avoided in the spring when the area becomes muddy and swamp-like)