A landscape of great spaces, of grass and stones: this is how the Cicolano plateaus appear, today as two thousand and perhaps more years ago, when they were colonized by the ancient Equicoli. Pastors and peasants, these proud mountaineers that Virgil tells us "used to cultivate the fields with the sword at their side", followed the push of their needs, and went up the mountains in search of new spaces to cultivate and graze. The beautiful and fertile valleys that surrounded the Salto River, around which their countries of origin stood, were no longer sufficient for the needs of their families and their flocks, and the vast expanses of the highlands offered plenty of what they were looking for. : rich pastures and fields to cultivate.
The harsh climate and the snow that covered the plateaus for months, did not make stable settlements possible, so shepherds and peasants adopted the custom that today we call "vertical transhumance": at the first awakening of spring, when the days stretched and the sun released the flat from the snow, they moved their flocks here, to return to their homes only when the first snow would announce a new winter. During the long summer days, with the patience and tenacity of the mountain populations, they dedicated themselves to a meticulous work of reclamation and removal of fields and pastures. The dry-stone walls that surround the arable land, the remains of terracing, the neat circular holes that dot the prairies, the springs in which the waters of the springs were conveyed, the small stone houses and the fences intended to protect the flocks during the night, which arise a little everywhere on the margins of the plans, are the testimony of this impressive work of colonization and the origin of the current landscape.
Today there are few places in the Apennines where one can still discover the pastoral landscape of our history intact. So a trip on the Cicolano plateaus is like a ride on the time machine. The Cicolano is a geographical region of the Province of Rieti on the border with Abruzzo. The area consists of a vast area entirely mountainous, characterized by altitudes ranging between 700 and 1900 meters above sea level, rich in naturalistic and environmental values, which include extensive beech forests, perennial lakes, geological phenomena of extreme interest, and vast plateaus that make up the most important characteristic feature.
The plateaus are accessed from Petrella Salto or from Fiamignano, with comfortable paved roads, and once you pass the Valico di Campolasca, or Sant’Angelo, all traces of civilization disappear, and you dive into a landscape that is still modeled in the millenniums from nature, and enriched over the centuries by the skilful work of the ancient Cicolani.
Vast expanses of grass covered by flocks, small perennial lakes set in the middle of the highlands, a fifth of mountains covered with beech trees, fresh valleys cultivated with lentil, spelled or mountain wheat, pastures and meadows that in spring are covered with spectacular blooms of primroses, violets, orchids, crocuses.
And in the heart of the district, the extraordinary Lake of Rascino, which sees it from the hills surrounding it looks like an octopus that extends its long tentacles in the meadows.
Here, right on the shore of this lake, the water is channeled and then, through a sinkhole, feed the largest spring in Europe, the Peschiera. But the main characteristic of these plateaus, and of the landscape that they form, are perhaps the numerous "casette", or the mountain houses with stone fence for the sheep. A recovery project financed by the European Union has allowed the study and a census, which has cataloged 135 structures, scattered everywhere.
So much so as to constitute a relevant case of recurrent functional architecture, and a characteristic element not only of pastoral culture and local architecture, but of the image of these mountains, and to become over time a strong and distinctive sign of this landscape, of which seem to be part of the rocks or barks of beeches.
But the reasons of interest of these mountains do not end here, and include sources of healing waters, such as the renowned Fonte dell'Ospedale, inns offering typical dishes made with lentils, abbacchi and local pecorino, possibility of excursions up to higher peaks, from which you can enjoy magnificent views over the entire circle of surrounding mountains, up to Gran Sasso or Terminillo.
Recently, the Municipality of Fiamignano, has inaugurated a beautiful three-day Walk, The Walk of Saints and Brigands, which in three stages leads to cover all the attractions of these plateaus, sleeping in B & B in front of Lake Rascino and along the ancient tratturi along which the shepherds still lead their flocks to the valley at the beginning of winter.