A view above two lakes – Monte Navegna

The nature reserve of the Navegna and Cervia mountains is among the least known of Lazio’s protected areas; protecting over 3,500 hectares in the Carseolani mountain range, this protected area stands out as one of the best places for hikers looking for stunning views and landscapes.

The views from Ascrea towards Castel di Tora and Antuni

In another article I will be describing the history of the two artificial lakes on either side of the mountain range, the Salto and Turano lakes, which have shaped much of the region’s 20th century. This area, known as the Cicolano, is administratively part of the province of Rieti though it has always been closely connected to Abruzzo and it is largely a rural region, with very small historical villages either on the shores of the lakes or on the hilltops. It’s not a region which is easily accessible by public transportation – a car would make life a lot easier, sadly.

On Wednesday December the 5th, I drove to Ascrea (about 1h15 drive along the motorway – exit at Carsoli, follow the indications to Rieti/Castel di Tora/Rocca Sinibalda), a spectacularly-positioned village perched atop a cliff overlooking the Turano lake. My purpose in coming here was to hike the trail from the village to the highest peak in the protected area, the Navegna mountain.

On the peak!

Ascrea on a weekday is a sleepy village – its 250 inhabitants were clearly elsewhere when this lonely hiked walked up the steps of the village to the start of the trail. However, it has its charms though it does not rank among the oldest villages of the region: it is believed to date back to the 14th century, not that old in Sabine terms!

The Church of Saint Nicholas in Ascrea

The landscape of the nature reserve, established in 1988, is largely one of barren mountain peaks, beech forests, and below that, turkey oaks and deciduous trees. Wolves are occasionally present and the most interesting animals are, of course, birds of prey. The landscape has only been partly shaped by man and as the human presence in the Apennines dwindles, the forest returns to its earlier territories.

As I passed by the main building in the village, the church of Saint Nicholas beautifully set against the mountain’s bare rock, and looked down towards the lake and the stunning site of Antuni (also the topic for a future article), the few noises from the village vanished and I climbed up a tough trail (trail n.334).

The trail was one of two that wound up the mountain, leaving behind the deep canyon known as the Gola dell’Obito (where one can still hear echoes of the cries of the Moors brutally slaughtered by the inhabitants during the Middle Ages, or so the stories tell us) and through low vegetation (where a boar surprised me, or viceversa!) after two kilometres it reaches the bluff upon which the early inhabitants of Ascrea originally were settled: the abandoned hamlet of Mirandella.

This village was most likely abandoned towards the end of the 13th century, when the inhabitants settled in more accessible site of present-day Ascrea, and though only a few walls stand (among which some claim to recognise the site’s ancient church), it’s still a spectacular site with an unforgettable view (here I first spotted the snowcapped peak of the Monte Velino, in Abruzzo).

The view from Mirandella

After leaving behind Mirandella and its mysteries, the trail passes through a pine wood and then a more “natural” beech forest until it reaches a small passage in between the mountains known as Fonte le Forche (1140 metres a.s.l.) where the hiker can rest at some nice picnic tables. Here I made my first, and only friend of the day, a very lonely donkey who seemed to be out of place among the free-ranging cows and horses who had gathered around the old fountain.

From the fountain, the trail turns left and follows the flank of the mountain until it takes a turn at an intersection (Colle Nogaro) and then after a small forested ridge, rises in a very steep track to the peak of Monte Navegna. It’s surprisingly tiring and the sight of the crucifix atop the peak is a welcome one.

A friend donkey at Fonte Le Forche

I reach the scattered stones by the crucifix (1508m) and stare in wonder: it’s a 360° sight all around me. I can spot all of the major mountain ranges in the region: starting with the Monti Lucretili, the isolated profile of the Monte Soratte, the Monti Cimini, the Monti Sabini, the Terminillo, the snowcapped peaks of the Gran Sasso just behind the Salto Lake, the snowcapped peaks of the Sirente-Velino, the mountains of the National Park of Abruzzo and the Simbruini mountains.

The ruins of Mirandella and the Turano lake

I sit and watch in wonder, recognising all the familiar features and mountains that I have climbed these years; seldom does one find such incredible viewpoints and this is also a chance to stand atop the two lakes, taking them both in. It’s worth the sweat and the effort, no doubt.

The sun is past its zenith and I must return to Ascrea. I complete this 12-km loop by returning to Fonte le Forche and descending the much more accessible 333 trail through dense and tangled forest.
I return to Ascrea, still spellbound in its lethargy and silence and I wonder was I even truly there or was I a lonesome spirit of the mountain?

The view towards Lago del Salto and the Gran Sasso mountains

Distance 12 km

Duration: 3-4 hours (depending on fitness levels, not including breaks)

Altitude difference: 757m – 1508 metres (total of about 900 metres according to my Garmin device)

What you will find in Ascrea: a minimarket, a bar/restaurant, a small visitor’s centre (should be open everyday – here you can also find information on certified outdoor guides)

What to do nearby: kayak/swim in the Lago del Turano, take a guided visit to the abandoned village of Antuni, explore beautiful Castel di Tora, hike to the Vallocchie waterfalls, explore Rocca Sinibalda and its castle, wakeboard in Lago del Salto!

Ruins of Mirandella

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