A very green environment, from 700 to 1400 meters above sea level, surrounded by the main mountain ranges of the Central Apennines, which offers panoramic views of Gargano promontory, the Trabocchi coast and the Tremiti Islands.
Along the Samnites' Route, centuries-old pastures and forests alternate with small towns with the remains of medieval castles and archaeological sites, testimony to a millenary history linked to the transhumant sheep farming of which traces remain in the ancient paths, namely the grassy routes that the flocks travelled to reach the the pastures. These are a testimony of a rural civilization from which traditions, conviviality, typical products and a millenary heritage of artisan knowledge were born: it is enough to mention, for example, Agnone, with its bell foundries. And then Pietrabbondante, with the remains of the Tempio Sannitico Temple Theater, the most important architectural testimony of the religiosity of the Samnites Pentri nation.
Samnites’ Route – Travel Diary
Day 1: into the unknown
The meeting place is Isernia, the capital of Alto Sannio. In a few hours you will be won over by the beauty of the historic center and by an important but little known paleontological site dating back 720,000 years ago, La Pineta, reachable on foot through the Pescasseroli-Candela cattle track. In the evening, a quick backpack check for the start of the second stage.
Day 2: from the gray of the rock to the warmest colors. From Pesche to Miranda
Pesche is an enchanting medieval village perched on a steep rocky ridge, with the remains of a Norman castle placed in defense of the Regio Tratturo Pescasseroli-Candela. The road immediately becomes steep but this does not prevent you from admiring the narrow streets and the broader panoramic views as you climb towards the defensive fortress, among the gray local stones. Leaving the town, you climb more or less steadily until you reach a high panoramic view that overlooks the mountains of Abruzzo, Lazio and Campania.
The descent leads in a short time to the village of Miranda, a community of houses with warm colors where you can rest and enjoy the genuine hospitality of the locals.
Stage length: 10 km - uphill elevation gain: 620 m - downhill elevation gain: 220 m - duration: 6 hours
Day 3: Sheep trails and mule tracks. From Miranda to Carovilli
An old abandoned mule track climbs through a centuries-old beech forest and abandoned pastures, which in spring are colored with a spectacular flowering of orchids. In short, you realize that you are in remote places, where the presence of man is no longer perceived. From the top of the pass you can clearly "read" the signs of the sheep trails: these are the "green highways" that connected the Abruzzi pastures with the Tavoliere delle Puglie. The Samnites’ Route leads to Carovilli, another medieval village perched in a defensive position to control two important sheep trails: the Lucera - Caste di Sangro and the Celano-Foggia. The village is full of small dairies where you can taste local products and is also known for its prized white truffle.
Stage length: 19 km - uphill altitude difference: 780 m - downhill elevation gain: 653 m - duration: 7 hours
Day 4: transhumant shepherds. From Carovilli to Vastogirardi
Time to get going and you find yourself on one of the oldest roads in Italy, the Tratturo Celano -Foggia, the second longest sheep trail after L'Aquila-Foggia. The vegetation is slowly taking over the trails but in some points the extraordinary dimensions of these natural and cultural heritages, up to 111.6 meters wide (60 Neapolitan passes) are still clearly visible. Walking in these places allows you to relive the epic history of the transhumant civilization.
You leave the sheep trail to enter one of the most evocative woods of Molise, the MaB Reserve of Mount Mezzo, one of the eight UNESCO Italian Biosphere Reserves. A long journey through lush nature dominated by white firs, beeches and centuries-old turkey oaks, to arrive in the presence of a large, at this stage uprooted beech: King Fajone, for hundreds of years the largest beech in the region.
You continue upwards to the village of Vastogirardi, tired, but with eyes full of wonders.
Stage length: 16 km - uphill elevation gain: 526 m - downhill elevation gain: 411 m - duration: 7 hours
Day 5: In the heart of Sannio. From Vastogirardi to Capracotta
In this stretch of the Samnites’ Route it is not difficult to encounter a particular individual, that is to say the gentleman in the blue jeep. When he stops to tell stories of his land it is always a pleasure to listen to him - even if you must then reconsider the timetable ...! Leaving the village, the path leads to the foot of Mount Cavallerizzo, near one of Trigno river springs, where the Italic Temple of Vastogirardi stands. A little higher up, the Samnite fortification tells of distant wars between the Sannio and Rome. Here you get the feeling of entering a new or little known history, the story of a population that was conquered but never tamed: the Pentri Samnites.
A beautiful beech forest leads to the summit of Mount Capraro and then down through among rocks and beech trees almost to the village of Capracotta, an Apennine balcony at 1421 m asl, close to the Majella
Stage length: 11.5 km - uphill elevation gain: 850 m - downhill elevation gain: 570 m - duration: 6 hours
Day 6. A sea view ridge. From Capracotta to Agnone
This journey continues just outside the town to the interesting Garden of the Apennine flora. Then, on a comfortable cart track, a beautiful ascent to the panoramic summit of Monte Campo. From here , you continue along the ridge line, contemplating the view of the Majella, the Adriatic Sea, the Gargano and the Molise hills that slope down towards the Tavoliere delle Puglie. A little further down, in the valley, is the town of Agnone, a jewel of art and craftsmanship that awaits us for an interesting guided tour of the Pontifical Foundry of Bells, the oldest Italian foundry and among the oldest in the world.
Stage length: 19 km - uphill elevation gain: 830 m - downhill elevation gain: 700 m - duration: 7 hours
Day 7. The “Sannitico Temple Theater". From Agnone - Pietrabbondante
The last day of the Samnites’ Route does not spare your tired legs with a steep ascent from the valley to reach Pietrabbondante. But once you reach this archaeological area, the fatigue seems to disappear in the presence of the energy that this place is still capable of transmitting, after more than 2000 years. In the Tempio Sannitico Temple Theater you can immerse yourself in the history of the Samnites, through the narrative of a good guide with passion and abundance of details, comfortably seated inside the hemicycle, on seats carved of stone blocks complete with anatomical backrests. A jewel of Italian archeology, unique on an international level.
Stage length: 18 km - uphill elevation gain: 840 m - downhill elevation gain: 650 m - duration: 7 hours
It almost seems to not have walked, but dreamed, through the words of those met along the way. This is the Samnites’ Route, the Molise you don't expect.
The first question that I often think to ask, ironically, to the participants of this Molisan trek is why they have chosen this itinerary and, above all, what they are fleeing from (!!). Most of the time I keep it for myself though and look for the answers along the wall itself, because the slow pace, the fatigue, the unexpected wonders, the convivial dinners and the daily sharing of experiences create the group, enhance the personalities and open up to dialogue.
The answer? The Samnites’ Route is chosen out of curiosity for a land unknown to most, which reminds of the South and which is often flat and barren in the imagination, but then turns out to be incredibly rich. It is choosen for the pleasure of discovering unknown places, to get away from the obsessive rhythms of everyday life, to depart from the more famous - and perhaps more obvious - tourist circuits.
I personally recommend this journey to people interested in discovering territories through slow, experiential tourism. However, it is important to be moderately trained to walk for several consecutive days, have good legs and ... good boots!
Simone Barletta is Medium Mountain Guide and Hiking Teacher registered with the Abruzzo Alpine Guides College, accredited operator of the Autonomous National Park of Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise for environmental education and Nordic Walking instructor. He personally takes care of Atropa Trekking activities with a lot of passion.