It’s funny the facts you can find whilst out walking in Abruzzo, for example that the stalks from the giant fennel populating the Salinello Gorge were the whipping stick of choice for corporal punishment by the Romans, and hardy enough to be used as stools by shepherds…
Up in Northern Teramo, near the border with La Marche, the River Salinello has carved the stunning Salinello Gorge just outside the small town of Ripe, where there is a convenient car park for those planning a ramble. Although this is quite an easy walk there is quite a steep incline at the beginning that, of course, you will have to come up again! Which in wet weather could be a little slippy – possibly somewhat over-cautious there is even a notice advising against the wearing of hi-heeled stilettos for those just visiting the grottoes, though this could be intended to indicate any sort of heeled shoes.
A wooded oak, chestnut and beech nature reserve, it attracts a wide selection of birds, the most common being peregrine falcons, alongside eagles, rock partridges and rock martins. Further fauna includes badgers, martens, boar and deer to name but a few. Orchids too make their mark but it was too early to see them when we visited. I loved the tiered colourful limestone rock formations here that walks you back in time to when the Apennines were growing, no doubt due to the deep fault line that runs under Montagna dei Fiori.
The area has been used since Neolithic times with the caves most recent use as a medieval hermitage, hence the name San Michele Archangelo as it sits some 20 metres above the path. Inside are two caves, one used for living, one for prayer, and a narrow hall; perhaps not incredibly interesting except to troglodytes or scholars. There was evidence apparently of ancients rituals practiced by what they believe was a High Priestess who suffered from gigantism that they found buried here but none of that remains visible…perhaps it’s simply outclassed by the stiff competition with the panorama. There was a viewing position to view the nearby waterfall, though unfortunately foliage made it difficult to actually photograph from here.
The walk takes you eventually to the ruined Manfrino Castle that sits just above the village of Macchia da Sole. A pastoral area, the original name of the village was Maccla (“woodland” or “without stain”), after which it became known as Branchisco due to its temple in honour of Branco, the son of the God of the Sun and the flock. The C13th castle was originally built to guard the valley against the troops of Charles of Anjou. Apparently, there are lots of local legends associated with it, including an apparition of a white lady who sits weaving and is guarded by a monk. We didn’t go right up to the deserted castle due to the amount of heavy snow on the ground, this is nearly 963 masl. It wasn’t as awesome as Ocre Castle but the surrounding scenery of the Gemini Mountains, Montagne dei Fiori at 1814 masl and Campli at 1718 masl, does make this just as interesting to visit.
Macchia da Sole is home to what appears a useful, well-stocked Larga National Park Centre (sadly, though not surprisingly, closed when we were there) as well as a bar & restaurant so you can replenish all those burnt calories. The restaurant part of the bar is open from April through to the first snows, but the bar remains open and you can buy Panini or if you have your own bread you can buy from the bar-owner some locally-made absolutely delicious pecorino, the slices we had were soft and had a toffee-like. There are plenty of picnic areas around in Macchia da Sole. We were lucky in that the owner had run out of prosciutto so we got to try his home-made salsicce instead. We want to return and have lunch here and then walk it all off as the hot summer sun sets.
One Way: 2 hrs and 30 minutes..
Best Time: May June – as the walk is lined with gorse and its vivid yellow flowers should be in bloom