Sirente-Velino National Park
Although the Sirente-Velino National Park is probably the smallest in area of the National Parks of Abruzzo, it makes up in beauty for what it lacks in size. Just south of the L’Aquila and bordered by the A24/A25 on three sides, the park is easily accessible by car. Our drive through this exceptional park in started from the A25, taking the turnoff for Pratola Peligna/Sulmona and initially following the signs for the small town of Raiano. After driving straight through Raiano the road takes you gradually up into the mountains affording spectacular views of the Peligna valley along the way.
As you climb into the park you enter an impressive gorge (don’t forget to stop for a drink at the natural spring a mile or two into the park, this is by the side of the road and is now connected to a tap/drinking fountain for ease of use, as this is believed to bring good luck), following the signs for Castelvecchio Subequo. On reaching the small mountain town of Castelvecchio Subequo we took the road to Gagliano Aterno, and from there we joined the road that cuts across the ‘waist’ of the park heading for town of Rocca di Mezzo.
As you climb higher into the park the road shows signs of the extreme conditions it has endured over the years by way of potholes and cracks to its surface, even given these blemishes it is still a reasonable mountain road to drive in the milder seasons. In the winter, as with all the wilder places in Abruzzo, you need to take all the necessary precautions including a having a set of snow chains in the boot as required by law over the winter season (check locally for the exact dates as these are subject to change).
Among the Mountains
Even on a grey, misty day in October when we made this trip, the scenery was still magnificent, with the peak of M. Sirente slowly emerging from a halo of grey cloud. Following the road along the side of this peak, we were warned by signs bearing the silhouettes of boars and chamois to look out for the wildlife that frequents these high places – sadly on this day we were only greeted by some wandering cattle appearing out of the mist, their plaintive ‘moos’ echoing spookily across the valley (on a previous evening we had been more lucky, when on the way to L’Aquila we were forced to an abrupt halt by a family of wild boar nonchalantly crossing the road ahead of us!).
A mile or so before reaching the T-junction at Rocco di Mezzo, the landscape flattens into a large upland valley dominated by the peaks encircling it, the most obvious on this day being M. Rotondo directly ahead. At the T-junction we turned left and shortly took coffee in the ski resort of Ovindoli, which was just starting to wake up in preparation for the new winter season.
Back on the road again, heading south and with the weather turning from spots of rain to an insistent drizzle we came upon the town of Celano, totally dominated by the massively impressive castle (even in the rain and a land of many castles). The castle was seriously damaged during the 1915 earthquake, and left in disrepair until 1940, and finally restored to its former glory by 1960 it now houses the Marsica Religious Art Museum.
After exiting the south end of Celano, we soon picked up the A25 autostrada heading east back to our original starting point, leaving the imposing edifice of Celano castle and Sirente-Velino National Park behind.