Slow travel in Italy on the "Cammino delle Terre Mutate"
Updated: Apr 5, 2021
A 250 km slow adventure, hiking in central Italy witnessing how the earthquake affected the local communities
Reading an Italian newspaper a couple of years ago, I came across a long distance walking trail which somehow caught my attention; when last summer I decided to go back to Italy for a couple of weeks, I started looking for adventure ideas and I stumbled into that old bookmark, soon realizing that this could have made a really interesting slow adventure.
The “Cammino delle Terre Mutate” (Altered Lands Trail) is a fairly new addition to the list of long distance walking trails that crosses Italy but, apart from its geographical and cultural interest, it also has a very important social purpose that makes fairly unique. The aim of this trail is to sustain and relaunch through sustainable tourism, the economies of the communities and villages hit by two major earthquakes in 2009 and 2016. Starting in the Marche region, this trail winds its way through Umbria, Lazio and Abruzzo, crossing two national parks, covering a distance of about 256 km. These regions are not really part of the mainstream touristic routes but they are very rich when it comes to landscapes, nature, history and food. Actually, remaining fairly untouched from mass market tourism, has helped them preserving their authenticity as well as keeping them more affordable than other better known destinations in Italy.
The official website of the trail (www.camminoterremutate.org) has plenty of information available, including gpx tracks, list and contacts of accommodations available, description of the route and, for a donation, you can get your own “pilgrim passport” to collect stamps in each of the 14 designated stages. After studying quickly the route and the distances involved, I decided to attempt completing my slow adventure in 7 days as opposed to the recommended 14; this meant covering a distance of about 36 km per day which I considered achievable, despite the substantial climbing involved (the elevation gain was well over 2000 m each day, definitely not a flat route!). In line with the aim of the trail, I decided to stay in local guest houses each night, buying food on the way, walking my way through all the different local delicacies.
I’m going to open a small diversion here as I think that, when we are talking about outdoor adventures, whilst on one side it is now common practice to try reducing the negative impact of our activities (for example by avoiding single use plastics, reducing waste, etc.) we still don’t really put the same effort in having a positive impact on the hosting communities and destinations. As an example, I definitely enjoy a wild camp and most of my trips are planned with a minimal or very low budget but, shouldn’t I be doing a bit more to give back and support financially the destinations that I visit? Is it fair to visit a place, using its infrastructures and hardly spend any money there? It is a well known fact that the tourism industry in general has a huge economic leakage and, while this is higher in traditional package holidays, adventure or slow travel is not necessarily immune. This is obviously part of a much wider discussion; lots has been written on this topic and I definitely don’t have the solution to this issue but in general I think it is time that, while thinking about ways to “make no harm” while traveling, we also start considering how we can “make something good” at the same time.
Diversion over and let’s get back on the trail now…..
I start my slow adventure from Fabriano, a town in Marche region historically linked with paper production (actually the most important paper production location in the whole Europe in the thirteenth century) and the first day is also going to be the longest one, with a distance of around 50 km. I have been on enough solo adventures by now to know that for me the first day is always the most important one as it sets my mood for the rest of the trip: for this reason I will have an early wake up so that by 7 am I will be already on the road. I find the trail generally well marked but having a gpx map on my mobile is an invaluable support as I can use it as a reference every time I have doubts on which direction I should take. Already on the first day, the path changes its shape and form a few times: from a narrow single track to a wide white road and short stretches of tarmac, when I am nearby towns. I soon also realize that the trail is definitely more isolated than expected and that some of the villages marked on the map are made just of a few houses and nothing more so I need to make sure I am always well stocked with food and water.
Reaching Camerino, my final destination of the day, I have the first realization of the destruction caused by the earthquake of 2016. This little medieval town is host to one of the oldest universities in Italy (it was founded in 1336) but the entire historical centre, which I image used to be packed with students, is now a “red zone”, closed to visitors and its narrow streets are covered by a long line of scaffoldings, hiding the beautiful and old buildings behind them. From what I can see, it doesn’t really look like the restoration process will come to an end any time soon.
On day 3, I reach Norcia, one of the culinary highlights of the trail, which is famous all over Italy for being the home of some of the finest hams, sausages and salami produced in the country. Norcia is definitely a mecca for foodies, offering plenty of “norcinerie” (grocery shops selling the famous locally produced cured meats) and “osterie” (small local taverns) and I have definitely no problems in finding a place for dinner before heading to bed early, as I know the following day is probably going to be the hardest of my walk. Tasty and authentic food is definitely one of the main ingredients of any slow travel itinerary and luckily Italy has plenty on offer.
I have about 8 km of climbing before reaching Castelluccio di Norcia and, while the trail is steep and sometimes challenging, the views at the top are definitely rewarding and super-peaceful. I have now covered pretty much half of the full distance of the trail and about to reach the villages that were most badly hit by the earthquake.
Before completing this section, I will need to pass Arquata del Tronto, Pescara del Tronto and Accumuli, places that I have heard many times on TV, as unfortunately this is where the highest number of casualties was recorded. The level of destruction of these hamlets was so high that there isn’t much left to rebuild or restore; they have been wiped away and all that is left is the memory of the people that have lost their lives there.
My final call for the day will be Amatrice, another highlight for foodies like me as it’s the place where the famous “pasta all’amatriciana” comes from: one of my favorites and I’m definitely not disappointed!
I’m on the final section with about 65 km to cover in 2 days and I’m in Abruzzo now, the region where I come from. I definitely feel at home as the names of the villages as well as the local dialect sound very familiar. The landscape has also changed once more as, after walking my way around the Lake of Campotosto, I hit a long stretch of highlands where it’s very easy to end up in the wrong direction.
The last night on the trail is spent in Mascioni, a tiny hamlet made of 70 people on the shores of the lake. After dinner, I stop for a chat with the owner of the restaurant, who is a local mountain guide and actively involved in development of the trail. He tells me that the Cammino has been very popular with Italian walkers during the summer: for a year like 2020 which has been an absolute disaster for tourism, I guess the only positive to save is that people have rediscovered traveling more locally and spending more time in nature (when allowed).
The final stage takes me to L’Aquila, the capital of Abruzzo region, a town I haven't visited in more than 20 years! Being an important political centre (the 2009 G8 summit was hosted here), the reconstruction is definitely proceeding faster here than most of the other places I have visited during my walk.
I thoroughly enjoyed my first slow adventure in Italy; I guess this trail is a very different experience from the well trodden paths like the Camino di Santiago, very remote, wild and isolated but nevertheless well organized and fairly easy to follow. Italy in my opinion has a huge potential in terms of slow travel as its history and culture already provide some of the basic ingredients travelers are looking for. There are many new community lead projects being developed; the next big challenge will probably be promoting them in a way that they will be able to attract both domestic and international travelers.