On Sunday, in spite of opinion to the contrary from all quarters (our off-road vehicle tried to leave us by roadside a few times!), Selene with her nattering predictions of disaster for the entire trip, and Tina on the verge of infuenza...all of that should have awakened our group survival instinct...but it didn't. We went anyway. It was something we had been yearning to do for a long time—find the Valley of the Inferno on Vesuvius. So we did.
The Valley of the Inferno (Hell) together with the contiguous Valley of the Giant is a narrow depression that runs between the craters of Mt. Somma and Mt. Vesuvius, first to the east and then north in this volcanic complex. Access is from various points; we chose the trail from Ottaviano on the northeast slope of Mt. Somma. Once in Ottaviano we found Piazza Municipio and from there via Ottaviano Cesare Augusto; after a series of curves, we were at a square at 500 meters altitude where we left our car.
The Park trail that starts right after the barrier blocking vehicular traffic is paved for the first five- or six-hundred meters, the result of a truly thoughtless operation in the 1960s. After a few switchbacks you come to Angelo Prisco square (710 meters); he was a heroic forest rangers murdered by poachers in December, 1995. The square is the point of departure to get to the trail that goes up to the ring trail on the crest of Somma; it crosses the valleys of the Giant and Inferno and then comes down, first to the south and then north, back to your starting point. On our outing we went back up a third trail that was a more direct route, winding up on the Cognoli di Ottaviano (the peak of Somma, above the town of that name); we went down into the Valley of the Inferno for a total distance, out and back, of 10.5 km and a difference in level of 500 meters (i.e., the total difference in elevation, up and down).
At Angelo Prisco square we ran into a group of young people who, we found out, were nature guides and we went with them for the first part of our excursion. That fortunate encounter taught us a bit about botany and geology along the trail, things we would not have otherwise noticed. We went with them up to the Cognoli di Ottaviano and then back down a trail of volcanic cinders to the entrance to the Valley of the Inferno where we parted ways with our new-found friends (Enjoy Nature - Vesuvio Natura da Esplorare/ Exploring Nature on Vesuvius). They went back to their valley and we kept on north over to the Valley of the Giant. When we got to the entrance, seeing that the sun was starting to go down, we turned around and retraced out footsteps back to where we had left the other group and then back down the trail to the south. Along the way we spotted the grotto called Spacco Grotta (Split Lava) and didn't miss the opportunity to explore it a bit along the narrow trail. The grotto immediately attracted Jaco who sprang down into it with Marbet right behind him, the latter thereby being baptized into the world of natural grottoes—and I must say that he, indeed, shows promise in that once at the bottom, he showed no signs that he was in any hurry to get back up again. At the south entrance of the small grotto you can admire two particular lava formations (Lava Cords and the Dead Horse).
We followed on to the south and reached the square at 800 meters (where in years past they have had to demolish illegal construction!) and from there we turned north and back down to Angelo Prisco square, closing the “ring” on our hike. Including stops, we had been out for about 5 hours and 30 minutes.
Finally, we note that this excursion is considered by many nature lovers to be a good alternative to the classic climb up the crater of Vesuvius. No special equipment is needed, but it's a good idea to take a walking stick for the cinder trail. Dress in layers, so you can take stuff off and put it back on if you have to. Don't forget water! Along the trail we saw ONE fountain and basin, and horses use it, as well.
Click on the images to enlarge