Decontra is a village that sits on the northwest flank of the Majella, perched on a high plateau at 800 metres between two gorges which descend from the summit of the Majella – the Orfento and the Santo Spirito valleys. These valleys are mystical places which have had a long history of spiritual retreat. Until the 1970’s, the only access to Decontra was on a dirt track that rose in switchbacks up the mountain. In the winter when it snowed Decontra could be cut off for weeks at a time.
To the farmers and shepherds that worked the land and tended their flocks in the high pastures around Decontra, this mattered little – they had everything they needed. They grew their own fruit and vegetables. They cultivated grain and milled it themselves. They hunted the deer and the wild boar that were plentiful in the area (and still are today). Their livestock provided milk, eggs and delicious cheese made from the milk of the sheep that grazed on the Majella’s fragrant mountain herbs. They spun their own cloth, made their own charcoal, and their own mortar and bricks to build Decontra’s houses.
Because it is a place of such great natural beauty and, at the same time, so inaccessible, the area around Decontra was for hundreds of years a destination for people in search of spiritual retreat. At one time there were no less than three Benedictine abbeys and eight hermitages in these valleys. Walking out from the town, and looking back at Decontra in the distance as it sits on the edge of the Majella wilderness, one still has the feeling that in many ways little has changed, that it still remains as untouched and protected from modern life as it was when monks and hermits came here in religious retreat.