Having two active boys means our outdoorsy family are always looking for adventures and, in our book, you can’t get much more adventurous than climbing really high mountains. Early in August, as the intense Lucifero heatwave swept through central Italy, we headed high up into the Appenines to try and find some cool air and have an adventure along the way.
Corno Grande – the Appenines highest mountain stands at 2912m a.s.l. One big piece of rock with a west, east and central peak she dominates the Abruzzo skyline and can be seen for miles around. She’s just as impressive close up. This time we weren’t going to the summit though, we were keeping Corno Grande in our sights as we took in another peak in the Gran Sasso range Monte Portella at 2385m.
The trail we chose starts on Campo Imperatore, the largest Alpine meadow plateau of the Apennine ridge, known locally as little Tibet. It’s a great starting point for kids because it’s already at approx 2000m which means your walk doesn’t have to be too arduous but you get to take in some significant peaks. You can drive up to Campo Imperatore and there is plenty of parking space, alternatively if you want to add to the adventure there is a cable car from Assergi to Campo Imperatore (which we have also taken before).
An easy single track, the path skirts the mountainside and offers up incredible views over the mountains and valleys below that even impressed the 8 and 10 year old (that’s saying something!). You then reach a natural saddle and turn up to the right before hitting the steeper part of the climb. The beauty of this path is that although it is steep in parts, the steep parts are fairly short and easy enough for the kids to handle.
After the short, sharp climb you meander onwards and upwards until you reach Monte Portella – stopping at the cairn for a photo opportunity.
Then it’s an easy down, up, down on to the traditional mountain hut Rifugio Duca degli Abruzzi at 2388m for a welcome pit stop and refreshments.
Once you’re fully revived you continue past the rifugio and head directly for Corno Grande, again the path is not too steep or difficult, but is narrow in places. You come to a junction at the saddle of Monte l’Aquila where the path is then sign posted back to the Hotel at Campo Imperatore, about another 30 minute walk down to the plateau.
A little bit of History
Before heading off take a look at the hotel on the Campo Imperatore plateau, it has witnessed a significant moment in Italy’s history. After the deposition and ensuing arrest of Benito Mussolini in July 1943, Mussolini was moved around Italy by his captors and by September 1943 he was being held prisoner in the hotel on Campo Imperatore. A bold rescue, ordered personally by Adolf Hitler, was made by German commandos and paratroopers in a daring glider mission on September 12th 1943. Italian troops were taken by surprise and overwhelmed by the German forces, Mussolini was rescued and flown out of Campo Imperatore into Rome, and then on to Vienna.
Our hints and tips
As with any hike in the mountains, take plenty of water and don’t be shy with the suncream, it may feel cooler up high but the sun is just as strong, if not stronger (those of you that ski will know what I mean!)
Check the weather forecast before you go, take layers and raincoats. Mountain weather has a tendency to change at the drop of a hat and there is nothing worse than cold, wet kids – it tends to take the fun out of things.
After an afternoon walk in the Gran Sasso we like to stop at Cherry Pizzeria in Paganica. It’s rustic and not much to look at from the outside, but it serves great pizza at incredibly good prices. It doesn’t matter if you head in still in your walking gear – it’s not the kind of place that you need to dress up for. It’s nice to be able to sit back and relax knowing that you’ve worked hard for that pizza you are about to consume!