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Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Best Hike in the Colli Albani: Monte Cavo, twice, with gourmet lunch

We included an itinerary for climbing Monte Cavo in our book, Rome the Second Time: 15 Itineraries that Don't Go to the Coliseum.  Now, years later, we've got a new one that requires more hiking and offers an excellent pasta pranzo (lunch) at a trattoria known only to locals. 

Here are the basics: you start at a main (lower) piazza in Rocca di Papa; ascend Monte Cavo.  Descend Monte Cavo--on the other side, where you have lunch; ascend Monte Cavo and return to Rocca di Papa.  About 4 1/2 hours, including lunch.  Total elevation, about 2000 feet with some steep (but nothing dangerous--you could bring the kids) sections, so don't do this hike if you're not in decent condition.  Hiking poles recommended.

I called this an "itinerary," but the directions that follow are less than fully precise, because we didn't keep close track.  Still, it's hard to go wrong or very wrong, and it's fun to find your way without being told where to go every fifty feet.

If you drive, you'll emerge from a curving road into the town's main piazza, which at 11:30 a.m. or so will be full of older men talking.  Park in the piazza and have a second coffee (we assume you had your first one in Rome) at Bar Europa.

Late morning in the piazza.  I counted 30 older men (not all in the photo).  

Begin your trek by going uphill on the town's main drag: the road to the left as you look up toward the mountain.  This could be the steepest section of the walk.  You'll pass by a church in the classical style and head up to the right on a street with "permanent" poster art every 100 feet or so.

You should go by this wall coming and going (here, on the descent)
  Above, gorgeous views and some old signs that say "Monte Cavo" with an arrow.  Follow them.

Sign for Monte Cavo (and woman hanging her washing)

You'll eventually arrive at a piazza at the top of the town, where you'll see signs for Monte Cavo heading up the mountain.  Soon you'll reach an intersection, unsigned, where one road goes right and the other left.  Take the left fork.  This road will turn into the Monte Cavo trail, which becomes via Sacra, the sacred road up to the top of the mountain, which once had a temple to Diana. This is as good as Roman roads get, and you don't have to fight tourists or face barriers to walk on it.

When you arrive at the blue sanctuary to Santa Rita (and Mary), go up left on the stones of the via Sacra.

The sanctuary, ahead
the via Sacra - 2,000+ years old
Ahead, there's a splendid lookout over lakes Albano and Nemi (here, left).

Trail through the woods to the "top" (here,
on the descent)

Then the trail goes left, toward and around a green gate.  Parts of the top are closed for military purposes, but you can get as far as you can go by taking a dirt use trail (as in, not official, but clearly people have made a trail by walking up this way)--close to the green gate--up right and through the woods and around the corner to an old hotel "under construction" (it's been under construction for the decades we've been hiking up here) and, when we were there, a barking, unleashed dog. The top of Monte Cavo unfortunately is chock-full of cell towers now, with no trace of Diana's temple. (You also can take the asphalt road that's close to the gate up and around to the top instead of the dirt trail).

Descend the way you came, until you again reach the blue sanctuary.  If you're exhausted (you've done about half the total elevation) return to town on the trail--straight ahead, past gorilla rock (photo above with Dianne leaning on the rock). (You really don't want to do this if you're hiking for your lunch.)  If you're still up for lunch, curve left around the sanctuary and descend on the 2,000-year old via Sacra, which will cross an asphalt road ahead. Apparently there was an effort around 2006 to clear the via Sacra and put in benches and picnic tables and signs.  A few of each of those, in dilapidated condition, remain.

Below, there's a problem.  The stones of the via Sacra will suddenly end, on the edge of a large open space that was being logged when we were there (May 2019).  At that time, one could choose to go left around the logged area or right.  We chose left, where there were some trail markings.  WRONG.  We ended up walking at least half a mile on a very dangerous, no-shoulder road.  Go right, on the logging road, several hundred yards to a trail that goes off to the right.

When you see this abomination, go right along the logging road until you see a trail off right..
You'll be on this for a few minutes.  Look for a trail that descends left at a right angle, and take it.  In about 5 minutes you should come out on the road, close to the Trattoria La Baita (just to your right).  Have the fettucine or the roast maiale or whatever else you like; the cook knows how to cook.  There is a nice outside space but also an inside dining room, if the weather is chilly.  You'll be welcome even in your hiking garb.

Only locals, clearly, in La Baita. There were 2 choices for each stage of lunch, listed
on a blackboard outside.  Pick any of them!  This is a half-portion of tagliatelle with funghi
porcini and crispy guanciale.  Amazing!
Return the way you came: up through the woods, right at the first "T," left when you hit the logging clearing, left again a few hundred yards up the logging road, onto the via Sacra), up the via Sacra to the blue sanctuary (no need to go back up to the top of Monte Cavo), then straight down the trail (abandoning the via Sacra) into town.

Rusty house and view of Colatrava's unused swimming pool, on the descent into town
You'll go by this basketball hoop both ways.
One of the all-time best hikes in the Colli Albani.


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