If I were to choose one hike to represent Umbria– heart-stopping views, a proximity to fabulous food, and a bit of historical mystery– the breathtaking trail up Mount Vettore in the Sibilline National Park is a shoo-in.
The path begins in the Piano Grande plateau near the tiny hamlet of Castelluccio (famed for its tiny, flavor-packed lentils, sheep cheese, and charcuterie from nearby Norcia); from this vast tapestry of wildflower-dotted meadows ringed by the dramatic Sibilline Mountains, the trail begins to rise along the hillsides on the southern rim of the plain.
Once over the saddle at Forca Viola, the path descends the opposite slope through Alpine scenery into the valley of Monte Vettore; a last steep climb under the sheer rockface of Pizzo del Diavolo (Devil’s Peak) brings you to Lago di Pilato (Pilate’s Lake) at the bottom of the glacial basin (which is officially in the Marche region).
This Ice-Age lake is unique both for the tiny prehistoric russet-colored crustacean which calls it home, and for its checkered past. Legend holds that the Roman emperor Titus Flavius Vespasianus, after having destroyed Jerusalem, brought the captured Pontius Pilate back to Rome and had him publicly executed. Pilate’s body was put in a rough sack and tossed on a cart driven by oxen which were left to run freely. The careening path of the beasts ended at the top of Cima del Redentore (Redeemer’s Peak–the highest point in Umbria, which towers over the basin), where they upset the cart and Pilate’s remains fell into the lake below. The traitor’s bones are said to still lay in its depths, and the lake takes its name from this legend.
Fact or fiction? You can take your time to mull it over while you picnic near its shores, soak in the otherworldly silence among the mountain peaks, and rest up for the hike back down to the Castelluccio plain.
– Photos courteously provided by Marco Calzolari. Thank you!