Sibillini is one of the newest of Italy’s national parks and is situated on the borders of Umbria and Le Marche. It is a paradise for wild flowers, butterflies and there are still threatened species such as wolves and golden eagles in small numbers. Fortunately, people have been slow to catch on to its natural attractions but time after time those who travel with us say that they have never experienced such a wonderful feeling of ‘space’ since we are often ambling on ridges over flower-studded montane pasture with stupendous views. The Sibillini, draws us annually for the flower displays - first for crocus then narcissus, orchids, butterflies and then autumn colours... each time we find new roads and tracks. It is an area whose diversity and riches one could never exhaust. Come with us and you will begin to understand what we mean.
Within the Sibillini area there is an astonishing variety of habitats from lush valleys up through extensive woods of low-growing downy oaks (Quercus pubescens) to high mountain pastures. In a half hour or less one can move from meadows with distinctly Mediterranean orchids, to screes with high alpines such as androsaces and gentians.
Many orchids flourish in the extensive woodlands and meadows whilst short turf on grassy hillsides is coloured with mountain flowers such as thymes, forget-me-nots and rockroses spread to tint whole areas of hillsides in yellows, whites, pinks and blues.
For the first part of our trip we are based at an agriturismo near Preci where the owners are deeply attached to the region and specialise in local dishes. Scops owl chime at night and, in the daylight hours you often hear the liquid cascade of notes from golden oriole. There are flower meadows close by where around 14 species of orchid and numerous butterflies can be are found. They are a delight for an early morning or, indeed an evening pre-dinner stroll. All of our walks lie within a short drive of our base including riverside paths (Camberwell beauty butterflies) and flower-filled montane meadows with numerous orchids.
We then move to Castelluccio di Norcia and a small agriturismo, after first driving to the mountain ridge east of Norcia where nothing quite prepares you for the sight when the ridge is topped and the immense Piano Grande, once a glacial lake enclosed by a ring of mountains, stretches out before you. At its far end sits Castelluccio - a picture postcard town (from afar) - atop a knoll that is ringed with fields of poppies and cornflowers in July. Earlier, there are other spectacular plants such as yellow tulips (Tulipa australis), fritillaries (Fritillaria involucrata) and peonies (Paeonia officinalis).
The Piano Grande is dominated by the vast bulk of Monte Vettore. Myriads of purple crocus appear after the snow melts and then slopes are later strewn with orchids, such as Orchis morio, Orchis pauciflora and higher up the magenta and yellow spikes of elderflower orchids (Dactylorhiza sambucina). Higher still, carpets of pink mountain vetch (Anthyllis montana) and the contrasting blues from spring gentians (G. verna) and trumpet gentians (G. acaulis) become a vivid indicator of a high montane habitat. In July butterflies are plentiful with numerous blues, ringlets and some populations of Apollos.
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