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Marche – a trekking and cycling paradise

We’re very fortunate to be less than an hour away from the Sibillini mountains which form part of the Apennine Mountain range, commonly known as the backbone of Italy. Since 1993 the area has been part of the Parco Nazionale dei Monti Sibillini (Sibillini Mountains National Park) a range of around 30km long filled with wild valleys and wooded slopes that drop away steeply to the more fertile and populated areas. The wild and wonderfully unspoiled Park never looks less

than extraordinary, whether visited in winter, when its peaks (10 of which tower above 2000m with the highest being Monte Vettore at 2476m) are covered in snow, or in summer, when its highland meadows are covered with a stunning display of wild flowers. The Parks’ hills are home to the majority of the towns and villages and economic activity, which up until a few years ago was mainly comprised of farming and forestry.

Unlike the more well-known Italian ranges of The Alps and Dolomites, tourism remains at its infancy leaving these mysterious mountains unspoilt by human touch and encouraging the 1800 plant species, 50 species of mammals, 150 species of birds and more than 20 species of reptiles and amphibians to flourish. Having said that, the relationship between the mountains and man has a long history and is evident in the medieval villages, Romanesque churches, castles and abbeys which blend harmoniously into the landscape.

The Park is worth visiting throughout the year as each season has its own unique identity and whilst I would say for cycling/hiking mid-June through to mid-September are probably best avoided, although not impossible due to the heat, my favourite months are definitely April, May, October and November. During autumn the oak and chestnut wooded hillsides transform into a multi-coloured display of warm tones. Anytime from November it’s always a special moment when I pull back the curtains in the morning to see the mountains “wearing their hats” – this is how our Italian project manager described the first snowfall of the autumn during the restoration project of our country house.

As a family we’ve enjoyed endless days throughout all seasons in the mountains choosing easy walking when Grace was small.

If you prefer, guided walks can be arranged for all levels.

Following the earthquakes of 2016 some of the routes are still impassable so it’s always worth checking beforehand. A good site is http://www.sibillini.net/en/chiedi_sibilla/index.php

The coastal area of the Monte Conero is another area of natural beauty with mapped walks/cycle trails. We spent an amazing couple of days in April walking round the Conero, enjoying the beautiful local towns, fresh fish restaurants and walks down to the various beaches. An easy 50 minute drive will take you to this little gem.

Just 10 minutes from Caserma Carina is the Abbadia di Fiastra, founded by Cistercian monks in 1142. This beautiful abbey is set in acres of grounds offering walking, cycling/cycle hire and horse riding.

Of course Marche is perfect for road cycling – how better to see our diverse landscape than on 2 wheels. Dotted with endless hilltop towns you could literally fill your week winding from one to another, stopping off at each to discover their individual history, monuments and local cuisine. Why not venture into a scenic ride through the Monti Azzurri – starting from Ripe San Ginesio, a medieval hilltop village, passing the imposing Rocca Leonina head towards Colmurano, stopping to admire the view from its balcony overlooking the Sibillini Mountains and then onto Camporotondo di Fiastrone, a secluded place surrounded by nature and where you can enjoy a visit to the Franciscan monastery of Colfano. Heading down to Belforte del Chienti you’ll be immersed in the hills dominating the river. Take a pause and visit the church of Saint Eustace where you’ll have the pleasure of viewing The Polyptych by Giovanni Boccati, a jewel of Marche Renaissance art.

The list of road cycle routes and interesting places to visit is endless. We had a family stay in August this year who were keen to explore the Sibillini mountains and the local area around Mogliano on foot and on 2 wheels. Here are some great tips from Robert:

“Caserma Carina lies in ideal terrain for road cycling, much of it providing a good challenge due to the 35+ heat in high summer (early starts and/or evening rides recommended) and the rolling terrain where you are cycling from village to village spread on hilltops at ca. 400m, so you climb to a village, drop down and then repeat. Surfaces are generally very good, and the roads well-graded averaging 4-8%. Best to stick to numbered roads as the more remote lanes have a mixture of surfaces and can be very steep, going straight up hillsides! A local map is indispensable as route finding can be hard relying on Italian road signs. Close by are the Sibillini mountains proving a greater challenge still. In periods of lower heat, these are reachable from Caserma on a return trip, with Sarnano being the starting point for a great climb to Bolognola and then dropping down to Lago di Fiastra and heading back. The route over the hills and back to Caldarola via San Ginesio is also a good trip. Essentially, there are an infinite number of routes to try.

Bikes are available to rent from https://www.chronobikes.com who will deliver and collect. Expect to pay around €200.00 for a 2 week hire of a good standard Giant bike. You can also browse their gallery to get a feeling for the beautiful landscapes!

We also hiked in the Sibillini with good routes starting about 60-90 mins drive away. For English visitors, the Cicerone guide is excellent, and you will need the 1:25,000 SER maps available in the park at refuges and bookshops costing EUR 10.00. The Sibillini site has lots of information, including recommend Excursions starting E1, etc. (also shown on the maps). The site is also very useful to check for path closures due to the 2016 earthquakes – the refuges, though providing excellent hot food, are not especially well-informed and we had to turn back from a circuit (E6) starting at the Rifugio Amandola up the Tambro valley. However, we were able to walk back and climb Monte Amandola which has amazing views over the Sibillini and Le Marche region. Depending on experience, walks are doable by children – plenty of water and sun protection should be carried in high summer.

A nice way to get cooler air is to climb higher in the Sibillini and the walk from Rifugio del Fargno to Monte Priora which is a 4-5 hour return trip. At Pintura di Bolognola you drive to the refuge along a rutted gravel road, quite common once the tarmac runs out. A bit apprehensive to start but then you realise the Italians drive up these routes in all sorts of vehicles. Just take it easy and drive slowly, especially over the larger ruts and the roads are passable (we had an Opel Corsa!). The Cicerone guide, by the way, rather overstates the narrowness of the ridge up to Priori which is perfectly safe.”

Useful links for bike hire:
http://www.sibilliniebike.it
http://www.mtbclubsibillini.it/noleggio_mtb.html
https://www.marcheandbike.it

Whether you’re a single traveller, a couple, a family or a group of friends, if you love Italian food, wine, walking, cycling, art and culture or just relaxing by our pool, Caserma Carina is the perfect holiday.

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