Monte Cucco Regional Park
The Monte Cucco Regional Park, on Umbria’s northeast border with the Marches, is a part of the Umbrian-Marches Apennines which preserves an environmental, naturalistic and cultural patrimony of important proportions.
The protected area, which includes the towns of Costacciaro Fossato di Vico, Sigillo, Scheggia and Pascelupo, covers 26,000 acres of land and has, at its highest point, the top of Monte Cucco at 1,566 meters above sea level. The eastern side of the park is punctuated by spectacular rocky gorges and woods, like the Valle delle Prigioni and the Gola del Rio Freddo. Inside the mountain there are kilometres of underground caverns of incomparable beauty, a paradise for spelunkers and speleologists.
The entire mountainous complex is made up of calcareous stratifications of marine sediments which make for craggy tops, soft slopes and deep holes created by the geological events to which this land was subjected over millions of years.
Rio Freddo (Cold Stream) descends in a northerly direction, encircling the mountain, and has its final run to the east, with spectacular waterfalls and rapids in a deep ravine, where it finally flows into the Rio delle Prigioni (River of the Prisons).
It is the park of the uncontaminated underground waters and mineral sources, vast intact beech groves and pristine karstic grottos which only experts can penetrate. It is the park where the wolf and the royal eagle live, the park of the numerous and evocative Benedictine hermitages, but above all, of the tiny hamlets rich in history and artistic heritage which still today evoke the story of the Middle Ages.
There are four Benedictine and Camaldolian abbeys which can be visited as part of the Holy Spirit trail:
- The Sant’Emiliano Abbey in Congiuntoli
- The Saint Jerome Hermitage in Pascelupo
- The Sitria Abbey at Isola Fossara
- The Fonte Avellana Hermitage
The geography, geology, the fauna, vegetation and scenery of the Park make it a perfect place for all kinds of outdoor activity and cultural experiences.
Hiking (about 120 km of marked trails)
Of all of the things one can do in the park, hiking is certainly the most popular, and up to now has accounted for most of the tourist activity. There are many marked trails to follow on the mountain, and rest stop areas with restaurants can be found in Val di Ranco, Pian delle Macinare and Valico di Fossato di Vico. Furthermore, along the divide of the Park, from the Horn of Catria to the Fossato di Vico Pass, Sentiero Italia and the Europe 1 Trail (which goes all the way from Scandinavia and ends in Calabria) snake along their course covering all of Italy along the Apennine ridge from Liguria to Calabria. These trails are marked by the FIE and can be found on all of the area Kompass maps.
Not just a sport, speleology is also about geographic and scientific research. For generations Monte Cucco has been the mountain that has provided the first stimuli for spelunkers as they descend into the Big Grotto, known the world over. There is no field of naturalistic research which does not find an application in the immense underground world of Monte Cucco: geology, karstification, hydrology, mineralogy, palaeontology, paleo-ethnology, fauna, flora, meteorology, chemistry, physics and human biology.
The favourable meteorological conditions and the reliefs of the Monte Cucco Massif, as well as the absence dangerous obstacles, make the area ideal for free flight activities, especially hang-gliding in the alternating winds from the Atlantic and Balkan currents. Taking off and landing are easy and Monte Cucco lends itself to beginners, as an ideal training ground, as well as to seasoned fliers as a place to meet and challenge experts of the highest level. At Pian di Monte, like at the Sella del Culumeo in Val di Ranco, you can take off and land in the same place. Val di Ranco, Pian di Monte and La Pianaccia are the main take off locations in the area, and you can take off in just about any wind conditions. Monte Cucco is one of the few places where high level national and international free flight competitions are held. Sigillo is the only city in all of Italy which has hosted 7 of the 21 Open Hang-Glider championships. It is where international competitions regularly take place: the Monte Cucco Trophy event enjoys the participation of fliers from many different countries around the world, and the World Hang-Gliding Championships have been held there (the first one in 1999).
Cross country skiing
Because of the climate, often conditioned by the intense cold winds which blow from the Balkans, the Park can be subject to thick snowfalls which for long periods of time leave a thick mantle of snow even at low altitudes. These conditions render certain areas of the mountain plains ideal for cross country skiing, often as competitive as downhill. The Pian delle Macinare (at 1135 meters) is one of these areas, certainly the best known.
In the area of Scheggia-Pascelupo, along the Sentino River and the Rio Freddo stream, fishermen can practise their sport in pristine surroundings.
This sport involves descending rivers down gorges and through ravines, using a mixture of elements from such sports disciplines as spelunking, mountain climbing and scuba diving. In the summertime especially, many practitioners hone their skills in Park’s canyons, above all in the Rio Freddo Ravine (over 3 km long with a height difference of 350 mts), a true paradise for lovers of this relatively new mountain sport. The descent is facilitated and rendered safe by a series of artificial grips for a secure purchase and cords above each waterfall and rapid. These safety devices are constantly checked and well maintained.
The mountain paths in the park area, some of which are old pilgrimage trails, others mule tracks, dirt roads and gravel roads, all have a solid compact base which also makes them ideal for horseback riding excursions.
Mountain bike excursions
The same applies to mountain biking, a sport for which Monte Cucco is just as perfect, with terrain ideal for excursions of all lengths and levels of difficulty.