Another World on the Edge of Umbria
Bar none, Piano Grande is my favorite place in Umbria. Nestled within the Sibillini National Park’s almost on the border with le Marche, the great plain an extraordinary treasure in a region filled with great things to discover.
The climb up from the valley of Norcia is exhilarating but does not compare with the view once you’ve reached the top of the mountain. Parking the car just shy of one of the mountain crests, one walks up the hill a short distance for incomparable views. You are so high at that point, that the temperature has dropped about 10 degrees Celsius. (I don’t recommend shorts and tell everyone to bring a sweater.) This walk around what seems like the top of the world, is exhilarating I really don’t want to leave. The stunning hills, where it is not uncommon to still see snow in the deep crevices in July, surround what is left of the high mountain lake that has long since drained away. On most visits, as you descend, you will be delighted to find roaming cows and wild horses (and a donkey or two). They can be seen grazing on the hillsides their clanging bells echoing from nearby hills.
Then, waiting too, there is the great plain itself to be discovered, and in the center, the rustic hill town of Castelluccio — population hovering around 100 in the summer and far less in winter — that, at 1452 meters (4764 feet), is the highest inhabited village in the Apennines. There you will be treated to spectacular displays of wild flowers from April till July so it is worth a springtime or summer excursion. In the plain you can find sheep herded by real shephards, some honest to goodness cowboys offering horseback riding, and, although I’ve never tried it, para sailing is available for the more adventurous.
Castelluccio sits on a high hill at the far end of the plain surrounded by rocky fields that miraculously produce the tiniest, most flavorful lentils, for which the town is justly famous. Also, being a frazione of Norcia below, Castelluccio offers quite a wide variety of dried meats and cheeses in its few shops. The majestic mountains, the real draw here, are usually poking in and out of the clouds. They are mesmerizing in any season and I make sure to visit often. It is always a pleasure to take guests on this adventure and they, in turn, are never disappointed.