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  • Returning to a Natural Paradise

    Visitors are mesmerised by the incredible nature in the plains surrounding the village of Castelluccio di Norcia in the Italian region of Umbria. But tragedy struck in 2016, when an earthquake destroyed parts of Castelluccio. Is it worth returning to paradise? Come on a journey with us and find out.

  • A thick, white early morning mist floods the plain by Castelluccio, a village surrounded by gently rolling mountains. In fact, the heart of Castelluccio di Norcia is the only thing that can be seen rising up from the mist. It looks like a muffin with a circle of cream around the outside – or at least it did to us when we were looking down at this natural spectacle while enjoying breakfast outside our motor home. The sun sends its rays across the mountains. It’s almost as if nature is sending us a friendly invitation to set out on a hike. We accept and head off towards Monte Vettore.

    There is a pleasant sense of tranquillity to the plain. The only thing we hear are the small stones that, every now and then, crunch under our shoes and roll away from us. The autumn wind is so strong and brisk that we don our woolly hats. We are in the heart of Umbria. In the Parco Nationale dei Monti Sibillini, the Monti Sibillini National Park, to be more precise. If you imagine Italy as a boot, then we’re in the calf area. At an altitude of around 1,400 metres, nature has carved its own chunk of paradise here. Solitary mountains, sprawling fields, herds of sheep and La Fioritura – the flowering season.

    The beautiful surroundings are made for hiking.
  • Castelluccio’s sea of flowers

    Between May and July, the plain is transformed into a picture-perfect landscape that mesmerises visitors from around the world. A carpet of flowers pops up with bursts of blue, red, white, purple and, most importantly, yellow – the first colour that appeared here.

    The yellow Lenticchie di Castelluccio, arguably Italy’s most delicious lentils with a verythin skin are grown here. The blue, red, white and purple wild flowers, by contrast, were sown randomly by the threshing machines when they were used to harvest lentils, wheat and spelt. The flowers have gradually spread to the lentil fields, so Castelluccio has been gifted a rich wealth of colour – enough to turn Impressionist painters green with envy.

    Some of the mountain summits reach altitudes of 2,000 metres or more. Monte Vettore, the mountain we’re climbing, is a staggering 2,476 metres high – the tallest mountain in the national park. It is shaped like a horseshoe and mainly composed of light limestone. Don’t get us wrong, we’re not aiming to climb to the top of the mountain. We just want to wander around and enjoy the breathtaking views. Our hiking route snakes around, here and there, as if it doesn’t really know where it’s heading. Thankfully we know just where we want to be.

  • Friends in high places

    At around midday, we turn our backs on the mountain and head towards the village of Castelluccio di Norcia. “Di Norcia” means the small village is part of the town of Norcia, around 28 km (18 miles) away. It sits atop a hill like a medieval castle. The heart of the village is still out of bounds, the destruction unmistakable. Despite the fact that Castelluccio di Norcia actually has close friends in high places. After all, St. Benedict, who founded the Order of Saint Benedict, was born in Norcia. But with this earthquake, even a saint couldn’t stop the destruction. 

    We take a break and refuel with a snack on a piazza. From time to time, we see the remains of the village’s unique chronicle: rather than noting down events in a book, the people of Castelluccio wrote them in big letters and in rhymes on exterior house walls. But with the earthquake, this spectacular archive is now history. The reconstruction works are painfully slow. Every tourist who visits is a ray of hope for the locals as they bring a bit of normality back to the village. Sure, the earthquake inflicted major damage on the village. But the countryside is, as always, extraordinarily beautiful and definitely worth a trip.

  • Lentil soup di Castelluccio

    How nice to be able to come home every evening, even when abroad.

    As darkness slowly descends upon the plain, we start to head back. An icy chill creeps up the hill with us, to where we parked the motor home. But we have an ace up our sleeve: we switch on our Webasto parking heater remotely, already a kilometre away from the vehicle. And indeed, as we clamber back into the motor home with tired legs, we are welcomed by a cosy warmth. How wonderful to enjoy this feeling of coming home even in the middle of nowhere.

    We slip out of our jackets, get some tea on the go and leisurely start preparing the famous Lenticchie di Castelluccio on our Webasto diesel cooker. A little while later, we enjoy the lentils in a gloriously hot soup – the perfect end to our return to paradise. “Are these lentils really the best Italy has to offer?” I hear you ask. No. We think they may even be the best in the world.

  • Good to know

    • The village of Visso in the north-west of the country is a stunning place.
    • Do you like sport? This is a great place for paragliding, mountain biking, riding mules and horses and cross-country skiing in winter.
    • Best time to travel: If you want to marvel at the sea of flowers, May is the best time to go. The hottest months are usually July and August. The weather in January and February is quite rainy and cold. September and October are the nicest months to travel in autumn.
    • Not all roads in the region are accessible due to the damage caused by the earthquake. The route from Foligno to Norcia and then to Forca di Canapine is clear.
    • Do you have specific questions? You can contact Umbria’s tourist office at: contatti@umbriatourism.it
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