Seeking The Highest Point in Abruzzo High In The Apennine Mountains
Leaving Pescara for the day, we got up early to first make a stop to pay our parking ticket. Luckily the town with the over-zealous parking police was enroute for our planned day.This slight detour put David in a cranky mood but after leaving the police station, we bravely found a coffee stop in town for a short coffee break. We triple checked to make sure we were legally parked but still approached the car after coffee with trepidation. Luckily we would leave un-targeted!
Our plan was to take A24 towards Rome and exiting after the 10km long tunnel bored through the Gran Sasso Massif, go high in the Apennine Mountains in search of the highest peak in the Abruzzo region (2,912 metres or 9,553 feet high).
Our best laid plan required alteration when we approached the A25 on-ramp to face a sign saying the autoroute to Rome was closed. We were uncertain if this meant that the roads in that direction had taken a beating in the previous day’s rain storms. Undaunted we detoured to the regional road and kept heading in the direction of Rome to find no problems with the roads. We managed to get back on A25 awhile later so the issues might only have been with a small stretch of highway. Luckily our planned route back to Pescara would take us a different route.
Exiting the interstate after the 10km tunnel, at the base of the mountain in Assergi, we headed first into the town for a coffee stop. At least that was the plan. Driving up the extremely narrow twisty road we parked at the church and wandered.
It appeared that either there were no shops or bars in the town, or they were all boarded up tight at 11am. Some of the boarded up buildings were due to earthquake damage! We walked up and down until we finally decided to pass on any snack here.
Entering the church before we left town, we found a simple local church with interesting fresco paintings on the wall. We wondered how many tourists stopped at this church for a service with the locals before they headed into the mountains.
Of course as we left town we found both the open restaurant and the information centre. The information centre doubled as a museum and we surprisingly found yet more fresco painted walls. Nobody was there providing information, so we grabbed a few maps of the Gran Sassa mountain and park area.
By now it was clear that the clouds were indeed continuing to move down and we were concerned about continuing to drive to the highest peak. It would have to wait for a next trip. We would head to L’Aquila for lunch and watch the weather to see what our plans would be from there.
We were absolutely not prepared for what we would find in L’Aquila. With a little research we would have found that L’Aquila had been severely damaged by an earthquake in 2009. We must have tried 6 different ways to get to the old town centre and to find a parking spot for lunch but we finally left defeated.
On the outskirts we found a local bar and we stopped, just glad we could park. We both found it quite emotional to see the damage to the city. As we travelled through that area we would find other towns with what looked like earthquake damage but nothing quite as devastating as we saw in L’Aquila.
Since the skies seemed to be holding for now, I pulled up my blog reference notes and I plotted our path. The road was yet one more mountain switchback road, but at least this time it was not marked with a caution sign. On our route to Calascio we encountered a shepherd crossing his sheep across the street. It is typical in this region for the shepherds to move the sheep up and down from the hills.
The Hill Town of Rocca Calascio
Bypassing Santo Stefano Di Sessanio high above the fertile plains on this trip, we arrived at the new town of Calascio.
High above the new town of Calascio, I could see Rocca Calascio (highest fortress in the Apennines) poking in and out of the fog. As we started our walk uphill in the town, I thought maybe we would walk all the way up. How wrong I was! The switchback roads in the town led us higher and higher but when we reached the actual road up to Rocca, I knew we would go back for the car.
The town was well preserved and provided an interesting glimpse into small hill town living (only 165 citizens). We found no commercial establishments although wondered if some existed behind closed shutters. We saw one woman hanging laundry and one work truck squeeze along the narrow streets.
The biggest sign of life we found was the shaggy dog who welcomed us when we hit the top road and shepherded us back down to the lowest town square. Maybe we need to stop visiting towns in the afternoon siesta time?
The Fort on High at Rocca Calascio
Having our bearings now, we drove past town and doubled back on the high road now following the signs to Rocca Calascio. We passed all the parking signs until we got to the larger lot and saw the other cars. While we had not passed a car on the climb up the mountain road, it appeared that we were not the only ones prepared to visit on this gloomier day. When we looked high up at the fortress, we could see that the clouds were covering part of the ruins. But undaunted, we started up.
The first part was on cobblestone roads but that quickly was replaced by a rocky dirt path. I wondered why I had been so silly as to leave my running shoes in the car!
Slow and steady we made our way up, often stopping to look out over the valleys and to check on the movement of the clouds. We could see wisps winding around the church but it seemed to ebb and flow.
When we reached the top we were able to wander around the old fort site (the highest in the Abruzzo region at an elevation of 1,460 metres (4,790 ft)). In areas, only parts of walls still remained but the highest tower seemed to be in decent shape. We could look out from each of the 4 corner windows and see how this fort would have a great view in all directions and why this would be a key point of defence for the region.
Watching the clouds roll in, we finally decided we needed to head down and hopefully beat the rain.
We would not want to do the switchback roads in blinding rain.
Heading Back From the Hills of Abruzzo
While driving down the mountain David spotted a skydiver floating over the valley who may have launched from the high hills. As a former skydiver, I watched as he continued to float on the thermals and stay high over the low hills. When he lost his air he went down quickly. Although I watched to see him land safely in the hills, I was not sure he made it although we could not see his parachute hung up anywhere.
Winding our way to the interstate, still trying to beat the rain we turned the car around to take a closer look at “ruins” right on the side of the road. We found the virtually complete shell of an old church standing with no roof and no interior. It did not appear to be the victim of earthquake damage as we had seen through this region, but it was an eerie sight standing in isolation.
The rain drops hit just as we reached the interstate. It pounded down on the car the whole way home. We had been ahead of the rain all day, but if finally had caught up. But not before we had finished our mountain adventure for this day. But this would not be our only trip into the mountains of the Abruzzo region during our week in Pescara!