Good Sights: Italy – Castelluccio di Norcia

LIGHTS. CAMERA. ACTION!

In 1972, Italian film director Franco Zeffirelli helmed Brother Sun, Sister Moon, a dramatization of events in the lives of Saints Francis and Clair of Assisi. Part of the Academy Award-winning movie (Best Art Direction) was shot on location just outside the little hilltop village of Castelluccio di Norcia - the focus of this travel blog – in the Parco Nazionale dei Monti Sibillini (Sybilline Mountains National Park) where the Umbria and Marche regions meet in central Italy.

Franco Z knows how photographic the area is, and now you will, too.

A former 13th century AD military bastion, Castelluccio does have a link going as far back as the Bronze Age with the influence of the Roman Empire somewhere in between. Today, this tiny village atop the hill has approximately 150 permanent residents.

If YOU SOW IT, THEY WILL COME

It stands to reason that if people flock to the administrative seat of Norcia down below for its pork products, then those that bike, drive or ride up the 28 km (16.8 mi) winding road to the Piano Grande (Great Plain) and Castelluccio (little castle) do so for the lenticchie (lentils), the world renowned blue-ribbon standard for this tiny, but hearty, legume.

At 1,452 m (4,764 ft) above sea level, the Castellucciani cultivate the land to produce its remarkable lentils, herd sheep that graze in the abundant fields all across the Piano Grande, produce excellent pecorino (sheep) and ricotta cheeses, and enthusiastically serve, with the warmest hospitality, the visitors that reach their village for the clean, fresh mountain air and breathtaking 360-degree panoramic views.

FESTA DELLA FIORITA

With the vast expanse of the Piano Grande, part of the Parco Nazionale dei Monti Sibillini, the entire high altitude valley comes unbelievably alive  during the late May-June period when the ground of winter’s past bursts with unbelievable color as wild flowers, poppies and rapseed collide as far as the eye can see.

It is a spectacular natural phenomenon that needs to be seen at least once in one’s lifetime and is celebrated annually at the Festa della Fiorita (The Flowering Festival) on the third and last Sundays in June.

  

TAKE A FLYING LEAP OR JUST SLEEP

There’s plenty to enjoy in the rarified air of Castelluccio. During the spring, summer and early fall, platoons of people trek up Monte Vettore, at 2,476 m (8,123 ft) high, while others jump off her peak and sides in para and hang-gliding formations down to the colorful Great Plain below.

  

Still others saddle up as cowboys/girls at Sibillini Ranch and enjoy leisurely horseback rides across the vast expanse. Picnicking, sunbathing and a pleasant snooze will do, too, or mountain biking, bird watching and orienteering. In wintertime, the sports minded bundle up as alpine and cross-country skiers, slip on snowshoes for a trek through the white stuff, or rev the engine on a snowmobile and go for broke. Yahooooooooo!

  

If heart-pumping recreation is not your forte, just relax and stretch your legs a bit as you meander along Castelluccio’s narrow pedestrian-only stone walkways and staircases admiring the quaint bedrock homes, artisan shops, local watering holes, restaurants and agriturismo (literally, agricultural tourism – farmhouse-like lodging upstairs and locally produced organic foods in the kitchen below), walk through the 15th century AD archway and pay a visit inside Chiesa Maria Assunta (Church of the Assumption).

   

 

With a broad smile on my face and all of my digital photo storage cards maxed out, I strolled back down to main square down below, hopped into my car and waived goodbye – at least for now – to the little village atop the hill with the big heart for the tourists from down below.

Thanks again for the tip, Franco Z.

©The Palladian Traveler | ©Tom Palladio Images

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