Recently--maybe because we're just getting more adventurous or because we're getting crazier and crazier--we've been going on outings with no particular goal in mind. We set a general target, a geographic area, and then just take off, letting the chips fall where they may. So far, I have to say, we've been lucky.
Last Saturday we chose the southern part of the Matese massif (the towns of Cusano Mutri, Pietraroja, Cerreto Sannita) with some idea of finding "Hannibal's bridge" [trans. note: reference is to the legendary bridge supposedly traversed by Hannibal--with elephants!--as he moved down the peninsula during the Second Punic War] or maybe the "Grotto of the Brigands"--something along those lines, and then we just set out.
It was an interesting trip in that I have been promising for years to return to these parts, to pass beneath the grand arches of the Bridge of the Valley, that bit of the Carolinian aqueduct (built by Vanvitelli around 1750; it still feeds the waterfalls within the grounds of the Caserta Palace). It is 50 meters high and crosses the Maddaloni Valley in a straight line for 500 meters, joining Mt. Longana and Mt. Garzano with three rows of arches, one on top of the other, supported by 44 enormous pillars.
The day seemed to unfold serenely and happily, and we stopped at a small coffee bar in Cerreto Sannita, picked up some water and had breakfast in the same town and then turned onto Province Road 12 in the direction of Cusano Mutri. Having noticed no clear sign postings along the way, however, we stopped to ask directions at what appeared to be a simple little coffee chiosk at roadside. A gentleman proprietor was on hand:
- "Good morning. Can you tell us how to find Hannibal's Bridge, the Caccaviola Gorge or the Titerno Canyon?" It seemed like a simple enough question.
- "Did you book ahead?" he asked quickly.
- "Book ahead? No, but we just want to hike around a bit. We don't need a guide or anyone to accompany us."
- "You can't go by yourselves."
- " Excuse me...what do you mean, we can't go by ourselves. As I said, we don't need a guide and we are used to being on our own."
At that point, the gentleman didn't answer. He picked up his cell phone:
- "Hello? Tonino? Pasquale here." Clearly, they were used to doing this. "I've got four tourists here. They want to go into the gorge. Can you take them?"
Now we're starting to lose our patience.
- "Listen...who are you calling? I told you we don't want a guide. We just wanted some directions; we don't need you to plan our day for us."
Pasquale finally caught on that he wasn't about to get a red cent from us, and turned away--the old ruse, pretending we had somehow vanished into thin air! So much for hospitality and good manners! Fine, we'll try farther on down the road. We jumped back in the car and headed towards Civitella, a small town farther south and, thanks to some decent directions (finally!) we got there, wound up at the new bridge across the Titerno, where you can pick up one of the trails that run alongside the river.
The trail runs along an ancient Samnite mule path on the left bank (facing downstream) of the Titerno. The stretch that we followed runs from the rest area near the new bridge to the old wood and iron bridge and is called the "Forre di Lavello" (Gorge of Lavello). Our plan called for us to come back by way of the same path, deviating from it in order to visit the four grottoes in the area, the Grotto of the Fates, the Grotto of the Witches, the Grotto of the Elephant and the Closed Grotto (also known as Brigands' Grotto). I'll tell you ahead of time that we only got to the first one since it is right on the path along the river; the other three are farther in and higher up towards the summit. We missed whatever scarce trail makings there might have been; as you go higher, there are no signs at all.
The Grotto of the Fates (or Fairies) is an artificially dug cave with a more or less circular and sectioned gallery perpendicular to the flank of the mountain and about 15 meters long; four lateral passages branch off from the main gallery, two on the left and two on the right, each one 15 to 20 meters long. The first branch on the right is the shortest one. The wall is concrete with flanged pipe of about 70/80 cm in diameter running along it. It empties into what seems to be a cistern or tank partially filled with water. The other three branches end after a few wider spots at points where the rock is particularly cracked; the points have been partially filled in.
Although we didn't get to the entrance of the Brigands' Grotto (what would have been the "icing on the cake" of our trip), our hike through the woods did lead us into the presence of a large brown squirrel, who, from his high perch in a tree, had nothing against being photographed, so that was pleasant and worthwhile, as well. The trail, as you go higher, presents some particularly fascinating scenery.
As we retraced our steps and wound up back at the Titerno, we passed an old wooden and iron bridge on the right bank). From there, a trail climbed back up to the old stretch of Province Road 12 just a couple of kilometers above where we had left the car.
Generally speaking, it is fair to say that the excursion was interesting both from the point of view of presenting nature as well as from the human side. There were, however, a few points that "lower the score" but are worth mentioning.
One of the pillars of the new bridge (on the left bank) has almost certainly been built over the old Samnite trail, thus interrupting it. The old trail, visible from up on the bridge, continues towards the valley but, at the moment, the two sections cannot be joined together.
Near the new bridge, a votive shrine to the Madonna has been erected. Nothing against that, if only the faithful would stop tossing away the spent candles that they remove from the shrine. The base of the bridge beneath this spot has become a mountain of such refuse.
Along the trail we noticed a washing machine and an oven obviously just discarded on the spot.
The trail is in places barely maintained and in other spots practically abandoned and even semi-destroyed.
There are not nearly enough CAI markers (Italian Alpine Club) (the double white-red banners) and at the higher elevations are totally absent.
We are working on a technical schematic of this excursion, including GPS details. For now, enjoy the photos and videos.
Until our next adventure.
Videos: Forre del Titerno
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