Calabria: Southern Italy's Heartland

Day 19-5 - October 8, 2015 - Thursday - Explore Monte Pollino; Hike in San Lorenzo Bellizzi; Stop at Santa Maria delle Armi

Marianna prepared an incredible breakfast for us; we could have fed the whole town of Civita! There were fresh croissants, sweet rolls, little tarts, cakes, bread, cheese, jellies, and fresh nectarine juice.

We walked to the piazza to meet our group. There were only eight of us today. We met our two 4-wheel-drive vehicle drivers, Michele and Giuliano who took us to the National Park of Monte Pollino.

Our driver in the smaller vehicle was Michele. Vic and I, along with Maurizio, stopped for a distant shot of Monte Pollino, the highest peak in the range of the Southern Apennine Mountains in the lower region of Italy.

From the top of the highest peak, Mount Dolcedorme one can see both the Ionian and Mediterranean Seas. The hillsides were covered with vineyards, olive groves, and a few steep pastures.

As Michele drove the switchbacks, he would take his hands off of the wheel to point out and name various mountain peaks in the chain. Gennie, the nervous backseat driver, was a bit panicky at times.

We stopped at the small town of Cassano to visit the Grotto di Cassano All'Ionio. We walked through the Grotta Inferiore di Sant' Angelo. Francesca was our official guide but Giuliano was the one who explained all of the formations to us.

At one point all of the lights went out and we had to rely on the flashlights to guide us through the elevated walkways of the caves. The caves were natural, formed by millions of years of water that flowed through the limestone.

We left the caves at 10:45 and began the serpentine journey up in the canyon. As we drove through the Parco Nazionale del Pollino, Michele told us that the cliffs were now designated as the Dolomites of Southern Italy and that climbing routes were being mapped for future use.

Near La Timpa del Demanio, we left the vans and began our 45-minute hike to the top of the Raganello Gorges. The walk was not too steep as we started at 2,733 feet above the Ionian Sea.

The path was rocky and passed through forested land of cedar, scrub oak, and pinion. Supposedly, eagles, falcons, and vultures live in the canyons, but we only saw a few small birds and a very interesting lizard.

After our photos of the canyon and Civita below, we walked back to the jeep-like vehicles; we drove on a very bumpy granite road. Michele told us it was part of the original Roman Road that passed through the area.

Our lunch stop was at the ancient monastery of Santa Maria delle Armi. We ate stone baked pizza, several types of salami, cheese, and bruschetta with lightly seasoned cherry tomatoes – again, the secret was in the freshness of the ingredients.

Maurizio told us that tradition says the first time you enter the monastery, you ring the bell over the gateway one time. We followed tradition and rang the bell!

As we went into the small museum we were told about the legend of the two hunters who were lured into a cave by a deer and found a set of icons, one of the Virgin Mary and the other of John the Baptist. The painting of the Virgin was still in the church while the one of John the Baptist was taken to Malta.

The story goes on to say that the hunters brought the icons to their home in a neighboring village, but miraculously the icons returned to the small grotto. Seeing this as a sign to build a church in the grotto, they built a small church and then later it was expanded to the monastery.

A stonemason who worked the site, found a large oval stone that always seemed to be in his way. Breaking it open he found the image of the Madonna and Child. Many pilgrimages have taken place to visit these miraculous artifacts over the years.

Our last stop of the day was at a sourdough bread factory, Panificio Gole del Raganello, in Cerchiara di Calabria. We were there just in time to smell the last loaves of bread baking.

In fact, we even helped use the long flat paddles to take the final loaves out of the oven. What a treat to have the warm sourdough bread drizzled with fresh olive oil!

Gennie bought a loaf of the warm bread to bring back to Marianna, our B & B host, for her family. We reached our B & B at 4:00 with plenty of time to sort photos, write the journal, and have a light snack for our dinner as dinner was on our own this evening.

The soccer field was occupied again tonight – seemed to be the place to be under the lights! Tomorrow called for an early travel day as we were to be at the piazza by 8:15

Accommodations: La Sentinella B & B - - - Meal: B, L

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Olives Ripening

Olives Ripening

Grotta Inferiore di Sant' Angelo

Grotta Inferiore di Sant' Angelo

Gecko in the Sun

Gecko in the Sun

Monastery of Santa Maria delle Armi

Monastery of Santa Maria delle Armi

Bread From Panificio Gole del Raganello

Bread From Panificio Gole del Ragane...

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