The Cammino dei Briganti is only an hour away by motorway from Rome. However, this corner located in Abruzzo, in the central part of the Apennine mountain range, is hardly known not only by international tourism, but also by Italians themselves. You can get to this remote highway of the bandits, Puerta del Mezzogiorno, leaving the A-24 motorway towards Avezzano at the height of Pietrasecca, one of those villages perched on a rocky area that is so abundant in southern Italy.
Shortly before reaching the first town, Sante Marie, the main driver of the Cammino dei Briganti, a la izquierda de una curve, junto al Mastroddi farmhouse, a small tombstone is erected in homage to General José Borges and his 20 co-religionists, mainly Catalans and Valencians, who were shot in December 1861 for joining the brigantes raised in arms against the annexation of the Mezzogiorno by Piedmont. This farm, now abandoned, is within the Grotte di Luppa nature reserve, known both for its grotto with a kilometer of rooms and galleries explored by cavers and for the large production of chestnuts, a dried fruit that gives a touch of distinction to the gastronomy, pastries and traditional liquors of Abruzzo. Luciana Orlandini, municipal manager of this reserve, explains, while showing the Brigantaggio Museum (of banditry), that those rebels, despite this derogatory qualification, were not criminals, but partisans who did not accept the new masters of Italy.
In memory of that popular insurrection, the progressive City Council of Sante Marie launched this route in 2016 following the model of the Camino de Santiago and similar to other similar initiatives that emerged in southern Italy. Officially called the Posunitario Brigantaggio, that dramatic period between 1861 and 1868 was actually a bloody civil war, not yet recognized as such.
The Cammino dei Briganti, marked with the red-and-white markings of the great routes, runs for 100 kilometers in seven stages that take the traveler to a rugged Italy, with spectacular panoramic views and open spaces surrounded by an overflowing nature, passing through small towns inhabited by simple people of welcoming frankness. As in Compostela, at the end of each section the walker’s notebook must be sealed, which is guaranteed bed and food. Due to the unexpected success of the Cammino, reopened after the hard months of the pandemic and having reached 30,000 adhesions on its blog, its managers strongly recommend starting the trip with the reservations made and using the map that Sante Marie has just reissued.
The shortest stage is the first (5.6 kilometers), of Sante Marie a Saint Stephen, where La Grande Quercia offers authentic Abruzzo food; and the longest, the last, between Le Crete and Sante Marie (21 kilometers). From Saint Stephen the journey enters Valdevarri to reach Nesce (13.9 km), continuing the third stage until Cartore (16.6 km), a small place that gave its name to the main brigade group in the area: the Cartore, led by Berardino Viola.
The fourth stage is the most difficult; starts and ends in Cartore: 15 kilometers with 900 meters of unevenness. The fifth (8.2 km) allows you to visit the two medieval jewels that survived the devastating earthquake of 1915: the Romanesque church of the Porclaneta valley, with valuable reliefs inside, and the colorful frescoes of Santa Maria de Rosciolo, one of the towns that, as occurs with Scurcola (sixth stage), allow the walker to be taken back to the scenarios where the brigands they imposed their law.
Many of the works of art that resisted the cataclysm in the region can be seen in the Renaissance castle of Celano, whose medieval rooms have been transformed into an excellent sample of artistic anthology. Its panoramic view dominates the plain of the old Fucino lake, the third largest in Italy until it was dried out at the end of the 19th century. From its battlements one can also imagine Borges’s group skirting the lake on horseback without knowing that they were going directly to meet death. Here is the Paludi Museum, which collects archaeological pieces from the Roman period found both in the sanctuary of Angitia, goddess of snakes, as in Alba Fucens, the Pompeii of Abruzzo as the end of the city is associated with another great earthquake in antiquity. Considered the first great colony of the republican period (it was founded in 303 BC), it is only excavated in its central part, preserving an excellent amphitheater. At the other side of lago The Claudio Tunnels, huge hydraulic work, also from Roman times, carried out to control the level of the dammed water.
Something further, Tagliacozzo It maintains its medieval appearance, which those veterans of the Carlist wars could still admire before being shot. They received confession in the convent of San Francisco, next to the beautiful Renaissance well of the cloister, to later lead them through the Gothic door of Marsi to the place of sacrifice in the ducal square, where today a bust is raised in their honor and they are paid tribute every December 8. Just a few meters away, in front of the post office, is the Osteria del Borgonovo, one of the best restaurants in the area. Its grilled meats are more reminiscent of Cantabrian or Basque grills than of hackneyed menus saturated with pasta. It is another of the hallmarks of these Abruzzo mountains, which allow the traveler to dive into deep Italy just leaving Rome, also opening the door to that unknown reality that is the Mezzogiorno, following the still-living paths of the brigands.
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