A mere forty minutes drive from Bellaugello Gay Guest House brings one to the real foothills of the Apennines, those majestic mountains that form the backbone of Italy, that we see over the infinity pool at Bellaugello stretching way down to the Monte Sibillini and neighbouring Abruzzo. Here you will find a walk or trail to suit any taste from the extreme, to the gentle stroll.
At 1556 metres Monte Cucco is the grandest peak in this area and it has given its name to a regional park. The park is littered with well marked trails and paths, some are circular, others not and requiring two cars, one at the start the other at the finish some few valleys away. In this deliciously unspoilt area you walk through beechwoods, along crisp mountain streams, trek through deep gorges and discover a multitude of wild flowers and wildlife clinging preciously to moss filled boulders. There are monasteries, remote, and long abandoned, their frescoed chapel walls and stone arches slowly returning to nature and one, built in the X century on high inaccessible crags, the monastery of San Girolamo still lived in by a closed order of monks, a mind blowing feat of architecture and today a need to escape modern life. There are small villages and silent tiny hamlets, the only sign that there are still people living in these remote places being wood smoke lazily wisping from an ancient chimney.
From the village of Sigillo a good road takes one to within 300 metres of the summit of Monte Cucco. Curling ever upwards you pass horses and huge white Chianina cattle grazing freely on the upper pastures, the clanking of bells of the cattle so redolent of Swiss mountains. The road takes you past huge radio masts and repeaters, yes technology has long been even here, to the car park, so often filled with cars belonging to the many paragliders who launch their colourful sails into the clear updrafts. From there you walk. The path to the summit is easy and well marked and from the top you have views to the west over Lago Trasimeno, reaching as far as Monte Amiata in Tuscany, to the south along the Apeninne ridges and to the east over Le Marche to the Adriatic sea. Choose to return by the narrow steep north track and you come to the entrance of the “Grotta di Monte Cucco” a speleologist‘s dream. With over two thousand vertical metres it is one of the deepest and less known cavern complexes in central Italy. In an effort to map the cave complex some keen guys even stay down there several days, I’m told sleeping on narrow ledges! There are regular tours, and you need no previous experience to book a guide and explore. Grotta di Monte Cucco
Close to the summit car park is the hamlet of Val di Ranco, the starting point of a long delightful walk heading deeper into the Apeninnes, starting off through delicious beech woods. Park your car at the restaurant “Da Tobia” which is large and serves hearty local home cooked dishes on their wood fire, it is a great refuelling point for walkers and hikers and open throughout the year.
Approach Monte Cucco from the summer village of Pascelupo, the hill looks immense. It is a longer but spectacular drive, you have to pass through remote Scheggia, drive slowly, it is narrow and one of my favourite roads. A pleasant walk takes you out of the village past long abandoned houses and through woodland climbing ever higher, you are on the far side of Monte Cucco.
After about one hour’s uphill trek you arrive at the hermitage of San Girolamo. Built on a rocky outcrop in the tenth century, by the nineteen sixties it was abandoned with falling roof and crumbling masonry. Gifted to the monks of Monte Corona near Umbertide it is now home to a closed silent order. You can get as far as the outer courtyard which never ceases to amaze me in its precision and enormity. Winter occasionally sees a huge waterfall tumble from on high to the south way above the hermitage, the scale of hill, monastery and waterfall are immense. For the seriously energetic you can continue the climb to the summit of Monte Cucco, I tend to turn back!
For those whom heights are not their thing there is a the chance of a morning with a ‘tartufaio’ and hunting for truffles that are found in the foothills of the park. Your guide is a truffle hunter working with a dog who sniffs out the black or white gold, once dug up such heavily scented truffles. The white truffles are so scarce, last year virtually none were found. Indeed they are considered more precious than gold. To round off you morning hunt we take you to a small restaurant for a lunch featuring truffles.
Again to be found on the lower slopes of the park is a magical walk, that is not overly challenging but a great adventure.
Leave your car in a new car park just outside the village of Sigillo and follow the trail which runs alongside a stream.
Soon the hills close in and you are walking to a gorge, the base of which is one of the most amazing features I have come across in many years, cold clear water literally pours out of the rock, it is surreal.
As you can see signs in the park are generally good and clear. From here the path is actually in the stream and you climb ever deeper into the gorge, the crags tower above you, small trees grow in seemingly impossible earth-less places, clinging to the rock.
At one point you actually have to climb a metal staircase, it makes the adventure more exciting.
Make the most of your day trekking. Ask us at Bellaugello to pack a picnic for you , we have a great rucksack hamper and will fill it with goodies including wine and coffee, then you are free to explore, and in the long summer evenings the sunsets from the top car park are not only stunning but romantic.
The park has a website, it is not the best resource but it does give you a taste of the freedom to be found: Monte Cucco Regional Park – Hiking