In the heart of Sila there’s a special place which has got the same taste of high mountains. 150thousand hectares of Heaven on earth where the nature and the snow are the sovereigns. On the edge of our boot (Italy) we have taken off to Sila. The forests, the lakes, the highlands where the sea scents come in Summer and the silence of snow covers everything in Winter. The mountains almost reach 2000 metres of altitude and the white snow lets the sun shine in plenty of multicoloured shades from the dawn to the sunset. The Sila, also known as the Sila Highlands or the Sila forest covers an area of three provinces: Cosenza, Catanzaro and Crotone. Before starting our journey let’s remind that we can’t actually identified one area only because there are three different areas, each featuring its own wonders. The Greek Sila which stretches out up to Longobucco – Cosenza - Pollino then there’s the Small Sila which stretches out towards the South up to Catanzaro and the Big Sila that is maybe the most representative one. Our route will start here: we are in the oldest national park of the region, it was created in 2002 and it covers more than 70 thousand hectares of protected land. It’s considered the green heart of the whole region and it has been entered into the Unesco heritage among the best reserves of the Italian biosphere. The wolf is the symbol of this park, it has been an endangered species until 1970, when a law to protect these animals was approved. We hope we’ll be able to meet them in the snow near the forests.
We are moving towards Camigliatello Silano, a district of Spezzano della Sila, a place well known for its ski-lifts and ski tracks. We are in the heart of Cosenza, in the core of the Big Sila at 1300 metres of altitude. The first stop along our route is the Info Point of the National Park in a district called Cupone near the Dam of lake Cecita. Although the lake has been artificially made to produce the power we haven’t been the first ones to highlight the richness of this area. Remains dating back to the Neanderthal Man have come out and other remains dating back to the Greek and the Roman Age have also been found, mainly the bones belonging to a very rare type of mammoth that has been dated back to 700thousand years ago. All these remains are kept at the Archaeological Museum of Sila near the lake.
At the Cupone Exhibition Centre we have immediately visited the animals in captivity that are hosted by the Educational Wildlife Centre that makes plenty of children happy since they can see the wolves, the deers, the roes and all the wild species of the mountains. The tracks of CAI (the Italian Alpine Club) are very well marked and they enable you to cross the whole National Park of Sila and they stretch along 700 kilometres to make your excursions great. Our guide has assured us that these tracks can reach the most unspoilt areas where we’ll be ale to see the wolves in their natural environment if we are lucky. For the time being we can just trust her while we are coming back towards Camigliatello just a bit winded.
This is a land of shepherds so we can easily find very good cheese, the caciocavallo DOP (protected designation of origin) that is considered the top cheese here. Walking around the small shops we can also see the best handcrafts of this region like the precious carpets, the fabrics and the tapestries coming from the near villages of Longobucco and San Giovanni in Fiore where the masters of weaving have been passed down the tradition to new generations. Let’s move to another place called Tasso at 1.380 metres of altitude, a reference point for the Winter sports lovers. We go up to the top of Mount Cupone by the cableway at 1786 metres. The blue sky is turning into pink then it turns into violet in the sunset. The wolves are safe in the forest.
The next day, the sun soon invites us to go out in the fresh air on a perfect Winter day. We meet the guide and we head to San Giovanni in Fiore, it’s the oldest village of the Big Sila, famous for its weaving traditions and mastery and for its history. At the end of the XIIth century the Monk Gioacchino da Fiore, mentioned in Dante’s Paradise too, founded a Priory in this area that soon became one of the most important religious landmarks of the whole region. The Abbey features a Roman style and it’s a place full of charm where the lithographs of “Tavole del Liber Figurarum” are kept, they were made by Gioacchino Da Fiore and they are considered among the best Medieval Religious drawings. Enlighted by this wonder we move towards the main square of the village that took its name from the Abbot to visit the main Church dedicated to Santa Maria delle Grazie. It was built between 1530 and the second half of the XVIIth century, it features a front side in the Roman style while the Baroque style is more evident inside the church and it is shared with many other old buildings of San Giovanni in Fiore. The big painting that covers the ceiling of the vestry is remarkable, it shows the Christening of Gioacchino da Fiore by San Giovanni Battista. It’s a peculiar painting since it shows the Abbey in a completely different way from nowadays.
We go to Lorica in the afternoon, it’s a district of San Giovanni in Fiore and the National Park of Sila is in that area. While we’re strolling around the Lake Arvo’s banks the guide tells us about the ancient origins of the human presence here: actually a few remains dating back to around 700thousand years ago that are related to the homo erectus have been found in this area. Meanwhile the sun is reflecting on the iced surface of the lake as it often happens in this season and some beautiful seagulls fly away and leave us out of words. The guide tells us that it isn’t rare to see these wonderful birds throughout the whole year. In the forests surrounding the lake there are the wolves, the boars, the badgers, the foxes, the woodpeckers and the buzzards. It’s a natural paradise and the excitement is really great.
Our last day starts early in the morning and our guide takes us to another incredible natural place: the Biogenetic Reserve of the Giants of Sila. Along the track we notice an old spinning mill and the country house of the Mollo barons who moved there in the XVIIth century. It’ s a tiny place called Croce di Magara and it’s featured by tall pine trees like the “laricio pine tree” and the “old black pine tree” that are more than 100 yers old. These huge trees are 45 metres high and their trunk is around 2 metres wide. From here we move on to Moccone where we can travel by an historical steam train that brings us back to a very old past. The white quiet warmth of the snow is surrounding us and from the train we can see the wolves that wisely and kindly inspect us. This is the last feeling we get from Sila, together with the splendour of its snow and the charm of its history. It’ the Sila’s sense of snow.