The Majella National Park is the most southerly alpine region in Europe and walking in the Majella offers great choice in terrain and itineraries: from the cool glades of the river gorges which cut through the heart of the Majella massif, up the limestone canyons, through high alpine pastures thick with wild flower and butterflies, higher still through peaceful beech woods, and beyond through pine and maquis to the desert plateau which crosses its peaks.
The park has a broad diversity of wildlife: over 2100 species of plants, and some of Europe’s rarest fauna, not least the Marsican bear, the Apennine wolf and golden eagles. There are herds of chamois, roe and red deer, wild boar in abundance, and otters among many other mammals, amphibians, reptiles and insects.
The Majella is called the ‘Mother Mountain’ and there are several variations on the legend which explains its origins. According to one, a mother and son from a tribe of gigantic warriors in Asia Minor came to these mountains in search of a medicinal plant to cure the son wounded in battle. That year the snow was deep and late to melt. Unable to find the plant in time, the boy died. Jupiter, in the boy’s memory, spread the mountain where he died with a little tree called the Majo from which hung profusions of fragrant yellow blossoms. In this way, the mountain came to be called Majella. In another version, the mother’s grief was so deep that she lay down and died herself, and the mountain which rises up from the rolling hills of the Adriatic hinterland is, in fact, her recumbent form.
The Majella has always been associated with its great natural beauty and a spiritual past: the Roman naturalist, Pliny the Elder wrote about it in his Naturalis Historia; Petrarch called the mountain Domus Christi; and it was here to the Majella, to San Bartolomeo – the little hermitage and chapel carved literally into the rock of the Santo Spirito valley – that Pietro di Morrone came to live for seven years before eventually being called to Rome in 1293 to become Pope Celestine V.
In the middle of the 19th century, the high peaks of the Majella were also a place of refuge for ‘briganti‘ – outlaws, many of them ex-soldiers who fought on the losing side of Italian unification for the Kingdom of the Two Sicilys.
Because so much of Abruzzo is national park, and because the region’s agricultural economy was decimated after WWII, many of its hill towns, often called a ‘borgo’ in Italy, have been protected from modern development. In and around the Majella, there are several very beautiful borghi from the medieval to the baroque to visit.
This combination of natural beauty, wildlife, history, sacred places and beautiful villages makes the Majella one of the great walking destinations in Europe. To find out more about what there is to see in the Majella, and what is within walking distance or a short drive from Decontra, have a look at the 'Further Reading' button below on this page.
We set off across meadows alive with butterflies, little brown lizard and brilliant red moths. Grasshoppers and crickets leap away from our footfall. Above us, skylarks sing out. The flora is just as diverse, with many species unique to the Majella. As we climb, artemisia, marjoram and orchids give way to blood-red peonies and electric-blue gentians.
~ Gill Charlton in the Telegraph