The Ring of Sibillini
The Sibillini mountains in a spectacular and very demanding route, both for the distance and for the elevation gain. Variety in the landscape, from hills with cultivated fields to mountains with high-altitude pastures. Quiet and uncrowded roads. Typical villages and legendary places out of time.
|Estimated elevation gain what’s that?||3.600 m|
|Min elevation||447 m|
|Max elevation||1539 m|
|GPX track tutorial||download
|Rustici pass from Amandola||altimetry|
|Monastero from Pian di Pieca||altimetry|
|Fiegni from Fiastra lake||altimetry|
|Campobonomo from SP98||altimetry|
|Arette pass from Cupi||altimetry|
|Frontignano from Ussita||altimetry|
|Forca di Gualdo from Castel Sant’Angelo sul Nera||altimetry|
|Forca di Presta from Pian Grande di Castelluccio di Norcia||altimetry|
|Pescolle pass from Piano di Montegallo||altimetry|
And what vast thoughts
what sweet dreams the sight
of that distant sea inspired in me,
those blue hills that I see from here,
and that I thought I would cross one day,
imagining mysterious worlds,
mysterious happiness in my life!
Giacomo Leopardi, Le ricordanze
Sibillini, the Blue Hills (Monti Azzurri), a limestone massif about 40 kilometers long, in the central Apennine chain, located between Marche and Umbria regions. Its peaks rise in many cases well above 2000 meters. Their profile, clearly visible also from the Adriatic coast, stands out dark in the West against the red sunset sky. The light rock takes on the typical pink color with the first light of dawn, recalling the phenomenon of the Alpenglow (Enrosadira) in the Dolomites. During clear days they tend to blend in with the blue sky, appearing as if suspended in the air in the distance. Sometimes they dress up, becoming white with snow, thus instilling confidence in the goodness of the coming hot season, because lasting snow means plenty of water for all the valleys and the Marche countryside.
Sibillini, a name that evokes the mystery and the arcane. According to the legend, told in the chivalric poem Il Guerrin Meschino, the Cave of Sibilla, located near the mountain of the same name, was the gateway to a magical world. The fairies, governed by Queen Sibilla, sometimes used to descend to the villages below and have relationships with the inhabitants, who could thus leave their world to enter the other dimension. Other legends are widespread in these places, such as those of Pilate Lake, located on Mount Vettore at about 2000 meters above sea level. According to some, this lake was formed when Pilate washed his hands. According to others, his body was thrown into the lake as eternal punishment. However, it was always considered a cursed place, where magicians and seers used to come from everywhere to propitiate their rites.
The Big Ring of Sibillini mountains is a 124 km long trekking route, which embraces the entire mountain chain and allows you to fully enjoy the beauty of the places and the culture connected to them. In this itinerary I have tried, as far as possible, to create a similar tour, covering the whole chain, remaining on the paved road. Obviously it is a very demanding track, which cannot be improvised and which, if you want to complete it within a single day, requires adequate physical preparation. The kilometers are 150. The elevation gain is about 3600 meters. It could be the case to foresee more stages. In this case, staying in one of the small accommodation facilities, perfectly integrated into the landscape, could add something to one of the most beautiful cycling experiences that can be done in this area.
In this blog there are several itineraries that interest the Sibillini mountains. Some have already considered the roads on this route. In those cases the corresponding posts will be cited. Those who want can also use the other itineraries to create interesting variants. For example, in the ring I did not insert the Sassotetto climb, or the Laminox, simply because in this way I would have added an elevation gain and a lot more effort to an already demanding ride, but everything is possible, for those who want to do it. An alternative can also be the Giro delle Quattro Forche, proposed by our friends from Salite delle Marche.
We start from Comunanza, but obviously you can start from any location on the slopes of Sibillini. We head towards Amandola, overcoming the small climb of Casa Tasso. The slope is very easy, perfect for warming up. From Amandola we continue to face the first effort of the day: the ascent to the Rustici pass.
The climb is short and easy, with a significant increase in the slope in the last kilometer, but it should be taken slowly. It will be a long day and we must preserve our energies and legs for what comes next. Furthermore, you will probably have left early in the morning, so the temperature will be quite low at this time and you better not to sweat a lot in anticipation of the descent after the pass, where you can get too cold.
We go down and, after the little ramp of Cardagnano, we arrive at the gates of the beautiful village of Sarnano, which welcomes us showing itself on the hill on our right. Without too much difficulty we reach the GPM (Gran Premio della Montagna: highest point). Right before, as soon as you enter the village, on the left yo’ll find a public fountain from which the water always flows fresh. We fill the bottle and leave for a series of ups and downs that leads us to the open space of Pian di Pieca, where we take the left following the signs for Fiastra and Bolognola. The next stretch, up to the Sanctuary of Macereto, has already been described in Macereto: the enchanted highland.
Soon the landscape becomes more narrow and the view more restricted. Thus we enter the suggestive Fiastrone valley. Across one of the most spectacular roads in the whole region, obtained from a cut on the rocky slope, you go up to Monastero. The climb is quite easy, if you exclude an 11% ramp in the initial section. On the right the beautiful view of the valley.
After Monastero there is a stretch of ups and downs. We meet an anti landslide gallery. Its windows are a privileged observation point over the valley. The stop is mandatory. With a technical descent we reach the Lake of Fiastra, with its turquoise waters and green banks. We pass San Lorenzo al Lago and, after a ramp of 500 meters at 10%, we skirt the north side of the lake, until the beginning of the climb to Fiegni.
The ascent is about 3.5 km long and is overall easy, although there are demanding sections. Around the middle, the road first flattens, then goes downhill to the beautiful Church of Beato Ugolino. Then we start to climb again, observing the lake below us. We cross the village of Fiegni through narrow streets and reach the SP58, which leads us to the fork for Visso-Santuario di Macereto.
Here begins a very beautiful and panoramic stretch: the ascent of Campobonomo. The road climbs regularly, between green meadows and woods. At the farmhouse Le Casette, the road becomes flat. Turn left for Cupi and the slope get demanding, about 10%, but after a while it becomes much more easy. There are no more trees, only fields and pastures. This will be the landscape, typical of Sibillini, which will accompany us for a while. We reach the GPM at the fork for Nemi, then we go down, and up a bit to the village of Cupi, where we can take advantage of the public fountain.
We descend again, on a sometimes uneven road surface, until the beginning of the beautiful and easy climb to the Arette Pass. Almost five kilometers of a very quiet ascent. Around the middle, the unmistakable silhouette of the Macereto Sanctuary appears on the right. We soon reach it and a stop is inevitable. The place surprises you. An oasis of peace and serenity in the midst of the wild nature of the Sibillini mountains. Unfortunately, the 2016 earthquake also arrived here and some signs are still visible, but the magic remains.
After passing Macereto the view opens onto the plateau and the serenity of its pastures. We are completely out of this world. If we didn’t have a bike, we could identify with a shepherd a thousand years ago. Traveling towards the Arette Pass we notice the majestic Mount Bove, which stands out in front of us. The descent of Vallestretta to Ussita is technical and requires attention, also because the road surface is sometimes uneven.
Unfortunately, the village of Ussita still bears the signs of the 2016 earthquakes, but from its public fountain, well known by all the cyclists in the area, fresh water still flows, very precious in view of the climb that we are preparing to face. The ascent to Frontignano, which, at this point of the route, after 75 kilometers, will surely be felt.
It’s more than seven kilometers. The average gradient is 6.5%, but the first 2.5 km are easy. Then we have a segment of almost three kilometers with an average gradient of 8.5%, in which the double-digit stretches are not lacking. Then the road gets flat for a while, returning to being challenging in the last kilometer, before the GPM, at almost 1200 meters above sea level.
Another long and technical descent. About 7 kilometers, with bad road surface and hairpin bends. We reach the small village of San Placido, where we also find a public fountain, and we continue to descend quickly to Castel Sant’Angelo sul Nera. This is also one of the villages most damaged by the seismic events of 2016. We can make a small stop to fill the bottle and take a breath, also because from here starts the main climb that we will face today: Forca di Gualdo.
Unfortunately, the road between Frontignano and Castel Sant’Angelo sul Nera is currently undergoing work, so it is closed. The alternative is to go down to Visso and then reach Castel Sant’Angelo along the valley road.
I have little doubt in defining this the most beautiful climb of the Sibillini mountains. Sassotetto is the queen, Laminox is the hardest, Forca di Presta from Pretare is exhausting, Forca Canapine from Arquata is easy and panoramic. Forca di Gualdo is simply perfect. Almost 10 kilometers in length, 7.7% of average gradient, many hairpin bends, many double-digit stretches, but above all a landscape increasingly magnificent as you go up and one of the most spectacular and evocative top-hills of the world.
The first six hundred meters are easy. Then we face a stretch of 4.5 km with an average gradient of 9%. The hairpin bends follow one another, unabated. The slope often exceeds 10%, until reaching the maximum value of the climb: 13%. Then the road gets flat for a few hundred meters, to return to being demanding for a kilometer and a half, up to Spina di Gualdo. Now the gradient become much easier and we can enjoy the view, which reaches the peak of beauty after the final ramp at 10%, when the valley of Pian Perduto appears in front of us, with Castelluccio in the background.
On the left we find the church of Madonna della Cona, unfortunately completely devastated by the earthquake. A few meters away there is a carved stone, which recalls the transhumance of the shepherds with Giacomo Leopardi’s verses, and the fresh spring, where I remember beautiful stops, with cyclists who bathed completely after the hard climb in the summer sun. In fact, I used to do this tour the first week of July, when the famous flowering of the Castelluccio lentil is usually at its maximum beauty. I remember the multitude of people who arrived here by bike. I remember the people camped for a picnic and I remember the children playing in the meadows in a unique scenery. Unfortunately, the road has been closed for works since 2016, with a few opening days on weekends in summer, during which it is possible to travel it both by car and by bike. The publication of this itinerary is in the sign of hope that it will reopen as soon as possible, because a lot of business and many people depend on it.
We go down to the wonderful Pian Perduto, trying not to be too distracted by the view. We cross the Marche-Umbria border and face the short climb to the most famous and suggestive village of our itinerary: Castelluccio di Norcia.
Anyone who has never been here should decide to come. The village, now almost completely destroyed by the earthquake, was located at the top of the hill, with the houses piled as if to defend themselves from the cold, which can be really severe here, with the lowest temperatures recorded in Italy . Its walls were full of characteristics graffiti in dialect, made of lime and in some ways “mysterious”, concerning events that occurred in the past among the local residents. One of the first things I noticed the first time I came back here after the earthquake is the fact that one of the most famous walls for graffiti was left standing, almost to defy nature. That wall is still there, at the square where every tourist stops to eat something or to buy the typical products of Sibillini.
Lentil (lénta, as they say here) is the product that best represents Castelluccio. Those who come here usually end up buying at least one bag, but I assure you that the best thing is to taste it in a local restaurant, with a view of the famous fields where it grows, blooms and is collected. The position of Castelluccio is unique. A small hill that rises in the middle of an endless plateau, the result of the tectonic forces linked to the formation of the Sibillini themselves. Pian Grande, which we observe as we leave the village, seems to capture our view, disorientating our mind, which cannot fully understand its immensity.
After the descent, we turn to take a last look at the magical hill of Castelluccio and face the ascent to Forca di Presta. The climb is panoramic and fairly easy, but insidious, because of the effort that we will certainly have accumulated in our legs and, above all, for the hardness of the final ramp: almost a kilometer where the slope rises more and more, up to 11% just before the pass.
Reaching the Forca di Presta pass means getting the highest point of the route and preparing to face an insidious and spectacular descent. On the side of Mount Vettore a road cut appears that looks like a wound on the mountain. A straight stretch almost two kilometers long, endless uphill, terrifying downhill, with a double-digit slope. The wind here can also be strong and come suddenly. Taking speed can therefore become risky and stressful, so I recommend braking often and enjoying the view, fantastic even after, at the hairpin bends.
We arrive at the crossroad for Pretare and turn left for Montegallo. A small and easy climb lead us to the Galluccio Pass, at almost 1200 meters above sea level. Here the view extends over the hills practically to the Adriatic sea. A beautiful and funny descent of about ten kilometers begins, with many bends and little slope. We arrive in Montegallo. The village of Balzo is worth a stop, with the classic photo of Mount Vettore from the characteristic terrace.
We reach the fork for Piano, where the last effort of the day begins. The ascent to Pescolle pass. The climb is almost three kilometers long. The average gradient does not reach 6% and there is only one small section at 10%. However, at this point of the route, even an easy climb like this will not fail to get many into trouble.
We climb up to GPM, where we find a ridge road which will lead us to Croce di Casale. First we go down quickly to the small village of Propezzano, where we enjoy an excellent view of the Fluvione valley. Then we face a series of ups and downs, always on the ridge between the Aso river and the Fluvione stream. The description of these roads, with many variations, has been addressed in the itinerary Montegallo: woods and villages in the shadow of Vettore.
At Croce di Casale we can still fill the bottle at the public fountain, before tackling the beautiful technical descent that leads to the valley bottom road SP86 Valdaso. Then we will continue to descend safely to Comunanza, our starting point.
Here ends our enterprise. We cycled the entire chain of the magical Sibillini mountains. We bring with us the joy and satisfaction of having made it and certainly the desire to discover other routes on these beautiful mountains.
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