It all started at an ungodly hour on Sunday morning. Well, I say ungodly but it was actually about 9 o’clock when I woke up. I got a phone call from my sister who was unsure about whether we would be going for our planned trip to Rocca Calascio as the weather was not great. We would wait until 10:30 and then decide. So I got up, had my customary cuppa and jumped in the shower. As usual, I had nothing for breakfast so I fed the cats and then headed to the bar downstairs to grab something to eat. Unfortunately there were no cornetti (croissants) and so I had to make do with some cream-filled doughuts. It’s not my favourite way to start the day but Italians love these sugary treats and so when in Rome…
Off I trundled to meet my sister, goody bag in hand and, after recharging our sugar levels to maximum, we filled our bottles with water from the local fountain (yes, Italy still believes in giving people free water) and headed off into the mountains. Rocca Calascio is about an hour away from Sulmona, unless you take the wrong turning like we did, and it truly is beautiful. We were a little worried about the weather as the clouds were starting to come over. If you do want to visit there, make sure you take jackets as it can be very windy at the top. This was my second visit to Rocca Calascio; the first time I went by motorbike and, as it was a relatively good day, there were plenty of bikers out and about on Sunday, too.
Rocca Calascio is a tenth-century watchtower that was built to house troops on a temporary basis. Unfortunately it was badly damaged in an earthquake in the 14th century and never rebuilt. It is known for being used in scenes for the film “Ladyhawke” directed by Richard Donner, starring Matthew Broderick and Michelle Pfeiffer. I have never seen the film myself but our friend and guide explained that it is the story of two lovers, both cursed by a jealous bishop. The man spends his nights as a wolf and the lady spends her days as a hawk. Even though they are inseparable, they are never together in human form. How romantic!
When we arrived at Calascio, the town that sits just below the tower, there was no parking so we had to head back down the road where we then had a 20 minute walk around the hill to get to the top. If you park further down, there are two ways to get to the top; you can go up the road, which is quicker, or you can take the scenic route, which is longer and more difficult but it gives you fantastic views of the surrounding countryside. Make sure you wear sturdy shoes because it can be difficult climbing over the rocks around the tower. The journey up was absolutely beautiful – the flowers were all in bloom and the butterflies were all out. We actually appreciated the fact that it was cloudy because it meant it was cooler for our walk. When the sun did come out, it was boiling, so we were constantly putting our jackets on and then taking them off again, but that’s okay. Below the tower is a small church called the Santa Maria della Pietà. It was built in the 17th century and has specially adapted windows so that the shepherds could either watch the services from outside or leave their flocks outside and keep an eye on them while they prayed. According to legend, it was built on the spot where the inhabitants of Rocca Calascio defeated a terrifying gang of bandits who had been plundering their small town.
As we approached the tower, it started to rain quite hard but luckily it didn’t last long. We took refuge in the little doorway and waited for it to pass. The wind was extremely strong though and we were being blown about quite a bit. Needless to say, my hair didn’t make it. The tower itself is rather small and there’s not much to see but the views from the top are breathtaking. It really is worth the visit. We spent ages at the top admiring the scenery and, like all tourists with smartphones, taking panoramic shots of the landscape. For more information about Rocca Calascio and the various events that are organised throughout the ear, click here (Italian only). For more information in English, click here.
When we had had our fill of taking photos, we headed down to the town below the castle. Calascio is a very small town with a population of 136, according to Wikipedia. Life is not easy in this town. Their main revenue comes in over summer when tourists arrive. There is a bar/restaurant, a cafe and an osteria, or tavern. In summer, the whole place transforms into a type of motel or holiday village. You can rent rooms all throughout the village, both individual and shared, and relax in the beautiful countryside. Prices start from €70 for two people sharing a room. Find more details here (both in English and Italian). We stopped at the restaurant for a few beers and some cake made from farro (wheat) and almonds. Prices were a little higher than elsewhere but this is to be expected and it wasn’t too exaggerated. After filling our stomachs, we headed off to the next place, Rocca di Mezzo, to see the Festa del Narciso (Daffodil Festival).