A Guide to Irpinia
Irpinia is characterised by the presence of two regional natural parks, the park of Partenio and the park of the Picentini Mountains (Monti Picentini), as well as a third natural park - the natural park of Vallo Lauro-Pizzo Alvano – that was set up by Regional Law no. 1 of 2007 but the exact perimeter of which has not yet been established. Irpinia has much to offer to tourists who enjoy being in close contact with nature.
There are excursions for experts and for enthusiasts, hikes to see the breathtaking landscapes, cultural tours to immerse yourself in history and art, and people can go trekking, cross-country skiing or downhill skiing. For those who want to enjoy nature with family and friends, there are plenty of nature trails to do so on foot, mountain bike or horseback, with rest- and picnic areas and special areas for bird watching.
Partenio Regional Park
In the western part of Irpinia, the SCI Partenio mountain ridge (in Italian: SIC Dorsale dei Monti del Partenio) largely coincides with the perimeter of the Partenio regional park, which was established in 2002 and covers a total surface area of 14,870 hectares, including 22 municipalities, distributed in all of Campania’s provinces except the Province of Salerno.
Fifteen municipalities are located in the Apennine part of the park, including the villages of Mercogliano, Monteforte Irpino and Ospedaletto d’Alpinolo. In the adjacent valley called Valle del Sabato, we find municipalities like Pietrastornina, Sant'Angelo a Scala, Summonte; in Valle Caudina the villages of San Martino Valle Caudina, Cervinara and Cervinara Rotondi and in Valle Lauro Baianese we can visit the municipalities of Mugnano del Cardinale, Quadrelle, Sirignano, Sperone, Baiano and Avella.
The mountains of Partenio are characterised by the impressive peaks of Montevergine (1,480 metres above sea level), Monte Avella (1,598 m) and Monte Ciesco Alto (1,357 m). A variety of nature trails, a total of about 110 km in Irpinia, cross the park. Many of them use the international red and white trail markers of the Italian Alpine Club (CAI).
Along these trails we can spot a rich variety of wildlife. Twelve beautiful species of amphibians have been found in the area, including the spectacled salamander, the fire salamander and the yellow-bellied toad. The most common reptiles are the green lizard, the gecko, the rat snake and the Aesculapian snake, the symbol of pharmacology. Over 70 bird species nest in various environments: from rural suburban areas to forests, high-altitude pastures and the mountains. Two splendid birds symbolise the area: the peregrine falcon and the hoopoe.
Another of the park’s resident birds of prey is the buzzard. Mammals are more difficult to find, but there aremany foxes, stone martens, hedgehogs, weasels, moles and wild boars. The rare hazel dormouse and the edible dormouse also inhabit the area. The wolf, which characterises the iconographic image of Irpinia, only passes through the Partenio.
The Partenio has one of the highest biodiversity ratings in Europe: more than a thousand plant species have been counted and analysed here. Up to 500 metres high we find oaks, flowering ash, blackthorn, Italian buckthorn and privet forests. The undergrowth is dominated by asparagus, ivy, hawthorn, dogwood and cyclamen. Between 500 and 1,000 metres, the forests are characterised by chestnut trees, widely used for timber and fruit. The beech, field maple, the Neapolitan maple, willow, dogwood and yew tree dominate between 1,000 and 1,400 metres. Several species of fern are found in open areas where light can freely penetrate. The clearings and meadows at higher altitudes offer more unexpected surprises, like the Italian catchfly, Etna viola, heartsease, the narcissus, the clover, as well as the Turk's cap lily, which is too beautiful to pass unnoticed, and the very rare Anthemis of Partenio, used for the production of medicinal liquor.
Along the nature trails, we find welcoming places like Acquafidia in Mercogliano and, at an altitude of 1,370 metres, Campo Maggiore, a beautiful plateau with a picnic area. In just one and a half hours, nature trail no. 217 links Campo Maggiore to the San Giovanni spring: Campo di Summonte (or Campo di S.Giovanni), which can be reached from the historic centre of Summonte as well.
On the slopes of Valle Caudina, the mountains of Teano, Pizzone and Trave del Fusco are famous for the Mafariello resort, at an altitude of 700 m, and the presence of an oligomineral spring. The area in Avella near the Clanio river, the karst caves of Sportiglioni and Camerelle with the beautiful Cave of San Michele Arcangelo, are well worth visiting. In the park's heart lies the oasis of Montagna di Sopra, covering 312 hectares, between the 800-metre-high Ciesco Bianco and the 1,590-metre-high Monti di Avella, both peaks of the Partenio massif. The main attractions of this oasis are nature trails for trekking, a special nature route for schools with open-air classrooms, a mountain hut and a botanical garden with medicinal herbs and wild berries. There are also tables and other picnic facilities.
The Park of Monti Picentini
The natural park of Monti Picentini is the largest park in Campania. It embraces 30 municipalities throughout the provinces of Avellino and Salerno, with a total surface area of 63,000 hectares. The park’s rich diversity of natural habitats includes the large SPA of Picentini and 7 Sites of Community Importance, namely Monte Mai, Monte Monna, Monte Terminio, Monte Tuoro, Piana del Dragone (Dragon’s Plain), Monte Cervialto and the higher parts of the Alta Valle (upper valley) of the River Ofanto,as well as the rivers Tanagro and Sele.
The park, established in 2003, holds seventeen municipalities within its borders: Montoro Superiore, Solofra, Santa Lucia di Serino, S.Stefano del Sole, Serino, Sorbo Serpico, Volturara Irpina, Chiusano di San Domenico, Montemarano, Castelvetere sul Calore, Lioni, Montella, Nusco, Bagnoli Irpino, Calabritto, Caposele and Senerchia.
The landscape of Picentini offers tourists breathtaking mountain views, trails and peaks that are comparable to those in Abruzzo and Calabria. Most of the major rivers in Campania find their origins in the Picentini mountains, including the Sele, the Calore, the Sabato, the Tusciano, the Irno and the Picentino. The Picentini mountains offer almost unlimited possibilities for hiking. Numerous combinations are possible, with crossings, tours and even treks that take several days to complete, stopping in villages on the slopes of the mountains. There are also of course easier paths for beginners.
On the plateau of Laceno, a major winter ski resort, we can enjoy winter hikes with snowshoes and cross-country skis, along the snow-clad trails. Trail no. 137, also known as the Circuito (circuit) of Rayamagra, starts from the plateau near Hotel La Lucciola (The Firefly). During the first section, we overlook the Caliendo valley, the valley of the River Calore, Montella and Bagnoli Irpino, a view that is totally different from the usual ‘picture postcard’ panoramas. Along the path, a side-path leads to the magnificent Caliendo caves, second in length in Campania only to the caves of Castel Civita in the province of Salerno. Nowadays about 3.5 km of the caves are accessible, but only with caving equipment and accompanied by guides. The caves have been carved by an underground river and boast several underground rooms with rich concretions.
In the park, in the municipality of Senerchia, we can enjoy the less accessible parts of nature crossed by the River Acqua Bianca (white water) which, in the Valle delle Tavole (table valley), which is the Irpinian slope of Monte Polveracchio, characterises the oasis of Valle della Caccia (hunting valley). Thanks to a beautiful waterfall, caves and springs along with the extremely rare Austrian black pine, which is native to the area, walks along these nature trails and educational trails offer walkers a moment of true immersion in nature.
The Vallo Regional Park Lauro-Pizzo Alvano
The new Regional Natural Park Vallo Lauro – Pizzo Alvano was founded with Regional Law no. 1/2007, art. 31, c.15 and is based on the SCIs (Sites of Community Importance) of Monti di Lauro and Pietra Maula. The park embraces municipalities in the provinces of Naples, Salerno and Avellino. The SCIs of Monti di Lauro and Pietra Maula are geographically part of the whole Avella-Partenio-Pizzo d’Alvano mountain massif. The most important municipalities on the network of nature trails through the beautiful Pietra Maula and the Lauro mountains are Marzano, Pago Vallo di Lauro, Taurano, Lauro, Moschiano, Quindici and Domicella, all of which are in the Lauro valley.
On the slopes of the mountains that form the Sites of Community Interest, on the opposite side of the Lauro valley, to the north of the SCI of Pietra Maula, lie the municipalities of Baiano and Monteforte Irpino. On the eastern side of the Monte di Lauro SCI we find Forino and Montoro Inferiore. Another beautiful landscape is formed by the Pietra Maula mountain ridge, a limestone relief with steep slopes. There is a noticeable difference in climate between its northern side (wet) and southern side (dry). The Pietra Maula ridge offers a perfect view on the peaks of the SCI of Monti Lauro, with its slopes richly scattered with hazelnut trees. On the other side we have a fascinating view to the slopes of Mount Vesuvius.
Walking through the dense network of mountain trails, we find many species that only live in the southern Apennines, which makes these two sites even more valuable in terms of natural heritage. At altitudes between 400 and 1,000 metres, the most common tree is the chestnut, follow ed by the beech and various types of oak trees: holm oak, Turkey oak and downy oak. Here we also find silver fir, larch, juniper, mountain elm, and several varieties of maple, particularly sycamore maple (acer pseudoplatanus) and Neapolitan maple (acer opalus neapolitanum), which are native to the Campanian Apennines. The undergrowth is dominated by grasses, buttercups and orchids. At lower altitudes we find hazelnuts, walnuts, olives, as well as vineyards. As well as being an attractive feature, mushrooms grow abundantly in the area. Rich and varied fauna thrives in the vegetation of the sites of Pietra Maula and Monti di Lauro.
Many animal species are found exclusively in protected quiet places, far away from populated areas. There are several bird species, including the rare golden eagle, buzzard, goshawk, red woodpecker and black woodpecker, hoopoe, and the fastest bird in the world: the peregrine falcon. The area is also home to many uncommon amphibians, including the spectacled salamander and the fire salamander. The courtship behaviour of the wild rat is often seen in the area. The scent of herbs, flowers, nuts and mushrooms makes hiking on the trails a pleasant experience.
The Urban Parks of Regional Importance
In Irpinia, three new urban parks have been recognised as sites of regional importance: Parco Panorami di Frigento, Parco Materdomini di Aiello del Sabato, Parco dell’Angelo in the municipality of Montoro Inferiore.
The park called Panorami Frigento includes the old centre of Frigento, one of the best preserved in Irpinia, with hanging gardens inside the historic eighteenthcentury buildings and a wooded area with a chestnut grove sloping towards Sturno. A visit to one of the most significant scenic roads in the whole of Irpinia, Via Limiti, is a must.
The Materdomini di Aiello del Sabato park covers a large wooded area, on the borders of the municipality of Solofra. The urban park contains important environmental sites, including 25 hectares of dense woods that can be accessed by the public. Campania’s most important ‘Scouts’ Logistics Base’ is situated in this natural setting. Here we also find the natural springs known as ‘Acqua ‘o lupo, ‘Acqua ‘a vipera’,‘Acqua ‘o ruviezzo’, which are real tourist attractions. A network of trails, well-suited for cross country, mountain biking, nature hikes and wildlife spotting, crosses the park. The urban park covers a total area of around 75 hectares of woodland.
The Park of the Angelo di Montoro Inferiore offers a wide variety of natural, historical and archaeological features. The hills, the slopes of Monte Romola, which surround and enclose the Piana Agricola (agricultural plain) of Montorese, offer various trails immersed in chestnut or hazelnut woods, depending on the altitude. The archaeological site of the Lombard Pantaleone castle and the cave of San Michele Arcangelo, with its many stalactites and stalagmites, make a visit even more interesting. We can also make excursions along the River Lasbo.