I was lucky to live and work for a year in Rome, where the highest peaks of the Apennines were accessible within a couple of hours. It was a hill walker’s paradise, with a feast of mountains of great variety, and reliable weather.
Had they been that close to London, those peaks would be crawling with walkers, but this 1,200km chain of mountains that forms the spine of Italy is undiscovered, despite being criss-crossed with hiking trails.
There isn’t much information available in English. We started our explorations with the excellent Cicerone guidebook Walking in Abruzzo, but good trekking maps are available (see below). Most trails are well marked with the red and white paint marks and signposts of the Italian Alpine Club (CAI). These things together mean that the peaks can be easily explored by experienced hikers.
In a series of posts I aim to provide a short introduction based on my own experience. It is inevitably focused on the Abruzzo and Lazio regions near Rome. The Apennines are amazing. I hope it will whet the appetite, and encourage some of you to explore this fantastic area.
This week I’m going to talk about Monti della Laga, a ridge of green hills north of the dramatic rock towers of Gran Sasso.
- Regions: Abruzzo and Lazio
- Paper map: Edizioni il Lupo 1:25,000 Amatrice e Monti della Laga
- Principal peaks:
- Monte Gorzano (2,458m)
- Cima Lepri (2,445m)
- Pizzo di Sevo (2,419m)
- Pizzo di Moscio (2,411m)
- Cima della Laghetta (2,372m)
- Monte di Mezzo (2,155m)
- Photo album: Monti della Laga
Monti della Laga forms the northern, and less famous, half of Parco Nazionale del Gran Sasso e Monte della Laga. In contrast to the dramatic rock towers of its southern neighbour, Monti della Laga is a grassy sandstone ridge which snakes from north to south along the border of the Italian regions of Lazio and Abruzzo.
Monti della Laga (‘Mountains of the Lake’) takes their name from Lago di Campotosto, an artificial lake in the shape of a letter ‘V’ that was retrieved from peat bog in the 1930s. At an altitude of 1,313m, it is one of the highest lakes in Italy.
The green ridge of Monti della Laga may appear unremarkable beside the grandeur of Gran Sasso, but its leading summits rise almost as high. The highest peak, Monte Gorzano (2,458m) straddles the border of Abruzzo and Lazio, and is therefore the highest point in Lazio.
The southern end of the ridge is accessible from the town of Campotosto, above the shores of the lake. It’s a fine location from which to survey not only the lake, but the spires of Gran Sasso. From Monte Gorzano the ridge stretches south over the multiple summits of Cima della Laghetta (2,372m) and the range’s southern outlier Monte di Mezzo (2,155m). This latter peak can be climbed on a good circular walk from Campotosto, including some enjoyable ridge-walking along the range’s southernmost spine.
To the east Monte Gorzano can be accessed from the village of Cesacasina, which sits at 1,150m on a wooded shelf overlooking the Valle Vomano, the deep gorge that divides Monti della Laga from Gran Sasso. The trail rises through thick forest to reach the ridge. The higher peaks of the Apennines can be a dry desert devoid of water in the summer months, but this section of Monti della Laga is alive with bubbling brooks and the sound of running water trickling through narrow channels hidden among the thick tussock grass.
On the northern side of the range are a number of other peaks that rise almost as high as Monte Gorzano. Pizzo di Moscio (2,411m), Cima Lepri (2,445m) and Pizzo di Sevo (2,419m) are the next three peaks on the ridge as it snakes its way east and then back to the west. These peaks look north into the Marche region of Italy and another high massif, the Monti Sibillini. They are best accessed from the broad Tronto Valley on the western Lazio side. A road climbs up from the village of Sant’Angelo to the Macchie Piane, a high plain at 1,700m. From here it’s just a short hike up Pizzo di Sevo.
Alas, it’s impossible to talk about this western side of the range without reference to the 2016 earthquake and the aftershocks which followed, many of which were almost as damaging. It was the villages here that were worst affected, including Amatrice, the town that gave its name to Amatriciana pasta, where 299 people lost their lives.
When we travelled through this valley in 2017, signs of earthquake damage were impossible to ignore. Villages such as Accumoli, Pescara and Arquato were all positioned in precarious locations clinging to mountainsides. The houses had been devastated and lay in ruins. Many roads were closed and access to the mountains was consequently limited. We can only hope the area recovers more quickly than the town of L’Aquila to the south of Gran Sasso, which is still suffering from the aftermath of an earthquake in 2009.
For the first timer
An ascent of Monte Gorzano from the village of Cesacastina on the east side is a long but rewarding day, with plenty of variety. The ascent needs to be done in the summer months, when the snow is gone and the road is passable. The trail climbs directly west through forest to reach the ridge at a col, the Sella Laga.
From here, turn north and follow the ridge over the multiple summits of Cima della Laghetta to the top of Monte Gorzano. It’s an easy run down grassy slopes to rejoin the route back through the forest, but you have to be careful to enter it on a trail, the CAI 354, or it would be easy to become hopelessly lost.
For the beginner
There is a good road leading north from the village of Sant’Angelo on the west side of Monti della Laga, which weaves up to the Macchie Piane, a high plain at 1,700m. From here it’s easy to climb to the top of Pizzo di Sevo on grassy slopes.
For the adventurous
It must be tempting to complete the entire ridge from north to south, starting from Trisungo in the Tronto Valley, and descending to the shores of Lago di Campotosto beyond Monte di Mezzo. You’re looking at a distance of around 30km, with over 2,000m of ascent all told, across the majority of Monti della Laga’s 17 peaks over 2,000m in height.
It would probably require a night on the ridge. Since it’s a national park, wild camping is almost certainly prohibited, but on the plus side there would be no shortage of places to refill with water if you’re willing to descend a little off the ridge. Perhaps I’m dreaming, but that’s because a 30km ridge walk in a landscape such as this would certainly be a dream trek.
You can see more photos of the Monti della Laga region in my Monti della Laga Flickr album.
I’ve written several blog posts about our adventures in the Apennines. These will give you a bit more detail and a few more ideas on places to explore.
- Feeling at home in the Apennines. This post is my paean to the Apennines, written shortly after I moved to Italy for a year in 2016. It includes a brief reference to a hike up Monte di Mezzo in winter.
- Monte Gorzano, the highest point in Lazio. A beautiful, varied, long summer walk through forest and along the ridge. We witnessed a thunderstorm from the summit and raced it down again.
- Exploring Monti della Laga after the Italian earthquake. We returned to Monti della Laga in 2017. We climbed Pizzo di Sevo and explored the western side of the range, where we witnessed some sad scenes.