Travelling the Cammino Basiliano: the Pollino and Sila massifs

updated 1/27/2021
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The Cammino BasilianoⓇ is a long-distance hiking route tracing the dramatic and varied landscapes of Calabria in southern Italy. It takes in an area of great cultural, historic and spiritual significance, once travelled by Basilian monks who left a collection of fine religious buildings and sublimely sited shrines in their wake. 

Calabria’s Cammino BasilianoⓇ follows the southern tail of Italy’s Apennine mountains. It winds its way through four distinct stages, defined by the Pollino massif, the Sila plateau, the Serre Calabresi and the Aspromonte massif. Here, we explore the first two sections of the route, centring on the Pollino and Sila ranges. With striking mountain peaks and fortress towns, ancient monasteries and medieval hamlets, there are endless gems – both natural and manmade – to break up the journey.   

Why you should visit the Cammino BasilianoⓇ

Southern Italy’s newest hiking route has much to offer. Calabria has played home to a number of civilizations over the centuries, from Oenotrians to Greeks, Normans to Saracens, and each has left an indelible mark on Calabria’s cultural landscape. Walk the Cammino BasilianoⓇ and you’ll be treated to a tapestry of imposing castles, atmospheric monasteries, hillside shrines and tuff caves, and to age-old communities who still make a living from traditional crafts. Going on foot means slowing down to appreciate the sweeping views and soaking up all the local colour. What could be better? 

Overview of the route

Map of the Pollino and Sila sections of the Cammino BasilianoⓇ (and shown on a map of Italy in the top left corner) © www.camminobasiliano.it

The Pollino and Sila sections make up the first half of the Cammino BasilianoⓇ, starting in Rocca Imperiale and ending at Tiriolo on the isthmus of Catanzaro. 

From Rocca Imperiale, itself topped by a fine Swabian castle, the route passes a number of other fortress towns, including Oriolo, where today’s mighty Norman castle protects nothing but outstanding views. The Cammino continues to Pollino National Park – and the park’s highest village, Alessandria del Carretto – before revealing long views over the Gulf of Taranto and the sublime scenery of the Piana di Sibari. Between the medieval hamlet of Cerchiara di Calabria (best known for its tasty bread) and the village of Civita, you’ll find the Shrine of Madonna della Armi, spectacularly sited beneath a lofty mountain peak. Leaving the mountains behind, the trail laces its way through gentle slopes dressed in olive groves. The Pollino section of the Cammino BasilianoⓇ finishes up in San Demetrio Corone, once home to a Greco-Italian monk community and site of the Abbey of Sant’Adriano, noted for its collection of striking Norman mosaic floor tiles. 

Civita and surroundings, Calabria © RudiErnst/Shutterstock

Hiking onwards into the Sila section, the first point of interest is Acri, the northern gateway to Sila National Park, famed for its dense forests and woodlands. The town of Corigliano Calabro is another worthwhile stop for its superlative views of the Piana di Sibari, set against the backdrop of the sky-scraping Pollino mountains. The settlement itself has ancient origins, and boasts a Norman castle with a fine octagonal turret. Passing the show-stopping Abbey of Santa Maria del Patire, a monastery complex dating back to the early 11th century, you’ll come to Rossano, once an important Byzantine spiritual and political centre. The route then takes in a series of remote mountain villages, where ancient monks carved tuff caves into the hillsides – you can still see them today – before reaching San Giovanni in Fiore, known for its 12th-century abbey, one of Calabria’s largest religious buildings. The trail continues along mountain tracks to Villaggio Trepidò, on the shores of Lago Ampollino; from here, it’s possible to reach Gariglione, the highest peak in the Sila Piccola. Don’t miss Petilia Policastro, a village whose treasures include a highly prized relic in the form of a branch from Jesus’s Crown of Thorns, and the Convent of Santa Spina. There’s more than one way of reaching the village, so you can choose your route: if you hike via Santa Severina, you’ll be rewarded with staggering views over the Neto Valley. The Cammino then meanders through the Valli Cupe Natural Regional Reserve, its paths shaded by giant chestnut trees and tumbling waterfalls, before making for Sellia Superiore – expect tremendous views out over the Gulf of Squillace. Catanzaro, the administrative centre of the Calabrian region, perched on a trio of hills and facing the Ionian Sea, features towards the end of the Sila stretch, which comes to a close at Tiriolo. 

Civita and surroundings, Calabria © RudiErnst/Shutterstock

Pollino massif highlights

Oriolo

Perched on a rocky spur some 500 metres high, the village of Oriolo has all the trappings of a strong defensive fortress. Its Norman castle sits atop the original medieval village, built to protect the coastal population from incursions by Saracen armies. Aside from the castle itself, be sure to pay a visit to the Church of San Giorgio, a yellow-fronted triple-naved gem. 

Civita

Civita is one of the most fascinating villages in the Pollino massif, known for its Albanian community, who settled here after fleeing Turkish persecution in the 15th century. Today, their customs are alive and well, seen in everything from religious rites to traditional costumes. The village punctuates the dramatic landscape of Pollino National Park, and is famed for its “Devil’s Bridge” stretching across one of Italy’s deepest ravines, the Raganello Gorge. It’s jaw-dropping stuff. Be sure to pay a visit to the nearby mountain-top shrine to Madonna delle Armi, built on an ancient Byzantine monastic site. 

View over the village of Civita © Dionisio iemma/Shutterstock

Abbey of Sant’Adriano

Monasteries don’t come much more charming than the Abbey of Sant’Adriano in San Demetrio Corone, once home to a Greco-Italian monk community. The slightly crumbling exterior looks its best when bathed in honey-coloured afternoon light, but the real treasure lies inside, in the form of exquisite Norman mosaic floor tiles. Keep your eyes peeled for depictions of serpents and big cats, but don’t forget to look up at the fine frescos, too.

Sila plateau highlights

Handsome Rossano © Fabio Renzo/Shutterstock

Rossano

A firm highlight on the Sila stretch is Rossano, an important spiritual and political centre in Byzantine times. Its ornately decorated cathedral is well worth exploring, as is the adjacent Diocese Museum, which contains a UNESCO-listed, illuminated Byzantine Gospel Book dating back to the 6th century. Feast your eyes on this holy relic, one of the oldest surviving manuscripts of the New Testament.

Santa Severina

Known locally as the “Boat of Stone”, Santa Severina enjoys a stunning lofty location, with fantastic views over the Neto Valley. An old medieval village, it’s a joy to wander the honey cobblestone streets, which wind up to the Norman castle and 12th-century cathedral. The castle contains an interesting archeological museum. 

Historic Santa Severina, the “Boat of Stone” © Sopotnicki/Shutterstock

Catanzaro

Superb panoramas characterize the approach to Catanzaro, the region’s administrative capital. Here you’ll find a collection of fine historical churches and museums to entertain visitors, while the Parco della Biodiversità Mediterranea is among Italy’s most lovely parks. It’s the perfect place to unwind. 

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Tips for walking the Cammino BasilianoⓇ

Preparing for any long-distance hike requires careful planning. Whether you intend to travel the entire route or isolated sections, check that the demands of the terrain match your ability; helpfully, the trail’s different stages have been categorized as either T (“tourist”), E (“Excursionist”) or EE (“Expert Excursionist).

In addition, make sure you bring all the necessary equipment and supplies for the duration of your trip. Be sure to follow all the usual hiking guidelines, for instance walking in a group where possible, letting someone know when you plan to arrive at your destination, and diverting to public roads if necessary. See the Cammino Basiliano website for detailed information before setting out.

The first half of Calabria’s Cammino BasilianoⓇ – comprising the Pollino and Sila massifs – takes in spectacular walking country. Gorgeous national parks, mountaintop views and varied wildlife are joined by a stellar line-up of cultural draws, from honey-coloured villages to exquisite religious buildings. What’s next? Check out a complete overview of the Cammino BasilianoⓇ or a detailed description of the second half of the route, defined by the Serre and Aspromonte massifs.

Cerchiara di Calabria © Factotum/Shutterstock

Top image: leoks/Shutterstock

This article was produced in partnership with the Cammino Basiliano

Travel advice for Italy

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created 1/26/2021
updated 1/27/2021
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