By Cedric Rischitelli
In recent years, the castle of Rocca Calascio has become one of the most visited locations in the Italian region of Abruzzo, and for good reasons. National Geographic lists Rocca Calascio as one of the 15 most beautiful castles in the world due to its favorable location in the middle of the highlands, which gives it a spectacular view of the surrounding area.
There are many ways to reach and visit the fort, and while there is a parking spot just near the castle itself, there is a much more enjoyable walking route starting from the village of Calascio. It takes about an hour to hike from the village to the Rocca. The road is not difficult; it leads to one of Abruzzo’s most striking locations, and walking up feels like traveling back in time. Following the course heading northeast, an old rocky path soon replaces the modern concrete roads. At this point in the journey, ruins will slowly appear. These ruins are the old walls and houses surrounding the fort. Mid-way to the summit, there is a fountain. Take a short break here and enjoy a fresh drink (especially during the warm Italian summer). Trees are scarce here, leaving a stunning view of the Apennines mountains visible all around. The Tirino Valley and the Navelli Plateau are visible from there. One can only wonder how many mountain paths can be found on these mountains. Once ready, it is time to walk again. By now, the towers of Rocca Calascio will already be in sight.
After another ten-minute walk, you will find the old medieval borough of Rocca Calascio. Even if the walls have collapsed over the years, this village still feels authentic. After the Depression in the 1950s and 1960s, the local population began slowly disappearing, but the borough saw a recent rebirth thanks to tourism. Here, taverns serve traditional dishes, cheeses, beers, and wines. The isolation of the borough ensures the authenticity and uniqueness of the products sold. There are also some hotels in the borough, so spending a night near the castle is possible.
After discussing food, let us move to the main course: the Rocca. The outer walls are also in ruins, but the main structure still stands with pride. The Rocca is 1,460 meters above sea level (4,790 ft) high. It is the highest mountaintop fortress in Italy, and it feels like a fairy tale. Like pilgrims of old traveling the land, you can breathe in and enjoy a scene that looks like a location straight out of The Lord of the Rings. All around the castle, you can see the Gran Sasso National Park. The park contains mountains, covered by brownish grass, very few trees, and clear paths to follow. Just behind the castle, there is the 17th-century Church of Santa Maria della Pietà, a charming octagonal temple that stands completely intact. Continuing north, clear paths lead to other astonishing locations.
Rocca Calascio is a unique and magical location where time seems to have stopped. If you can avoid the heavy tourist seasons, the castle might be found completely isolated, revealing a majestic silence broken only by the sounds of the wind and the sheep bells. This silence and solitude give Roccia Calascio a timeless charm, making it almost possible to witness the passing of time and history with modern eyes. This castle in the sky (originally a single tower) dates to the 10th century. Over the centuries, the fortress grew, and what was supposed to be a mere watchtower ended up hosting barons and nobles. The castle suffered severe damage in 1703 from a devastating earthquake that left it in its ruined state. Still, the fortress stood the test of time and saw many restoration projects that gave it a new life. The beauty of Rocca Calascio even attracted filmmakers as well, as the castle was the set of the movies Ladyhawke (1985), The Name of the Rose (1986), and The American (2010).
In a way, Rocca Calascio perfectly represents the people of Abruzzo. Found in the mountains, the Abruzzesi are somewhat isolated and scarred by a history of natural disasters and wars. Nonetheless, they are rich in culture and history, standing proud and undefeated by the events of history. Even more, Abruzzo and its people are welcoming, just like a fire, in the halls of a medieval castle.