Thursday, December 1, 2011

Autumn in the Misty Pollino

The fall color really was beautiful.  The landscape reminded us of the Columbia River Gorge with nicer architecture
We live in the Province of Cosenza – a province being equivalent to an American county. In the middle of the province is the largest park in Italy. Our home is actually within the park on the northwest side.

For a long time, I've wanted to drive a certain road that accesses the deeper recesses of the Pollino National Park. This road, SS105, starts in Belvedere on the coast ½ hour south of here, and meanders thru the mountains to the city of Castrovillari. From there you can hop on the A3 Autostrade for a short run to Mormanno, then back west down SS504 to S.Domenica Talao where we live.

As we did the drive and when I was thinking of it after, my mind was comparing things with Wasco County Oregon where we lived. So here’s some stats: Wasco County is 6203 km2 and Prov. di Cosenza is 6650 km2. Wasco County has a population of 28,000. Cosenza’s population is 733,000. Both places have lots of open space and rural countryside. Here, we just happen to have large cities like Cosenza, Paolo, Castrovillari and others. In Wasco, the largest city is 13,000 people. 

SS105 has miles and miles of stone guardrail.  One of the Italian roads that inspired the Columbia River Highway...
The park map shows some summer trails and some winter cross country skiing NW of Castrovillari that are accessed by good secondary roads into the center of the park. Our 6.5 hour drive didn’t allow for an excursion there.  prossima volta (next time).

The SS105 (SS = stradale stato – a national road) is wonderful. It takes you thru some gorgeous mountain areas at a slow speed, and when we drove it last Saturday, there was almost no traffic. So relaxing to watch scenery instead of doing fulltime defensive driving. I wager our average speed on that very windy road was around 40-50 km/h. 

Early on, as we entered the forested area, we stopped to let Vince, err...stretch his legs. You can see the white fir trees. It did not dawn on me till I looked at the images that these are some of the bigger trees we’ve seen here other than pine.  

It's unusual to this old forester to drive into the woods and mountains and then come across fair sized towns. S.Agata was the first and is known for a big castagno (chestnut) festival. Lovely city and square.  

S.Sosti and S.Donato followed. These towns are all along the border of the park, or in it. 

Most of these eastside towns have a strong Italo-Albanese culture. The few people we spoke with on the drive spoke Italian, but at one photo stop above guys harvesting olives I heard a very foreign tongue that must have been Albanian or a form of it.  

The road stretch between S.Donato and Aquaformosa is very windy and scenic. It reminded us of driving in the Columbia River Gorge of Oregon USA. (SS105 turns). Again, the lack of traffic was just great. I could stop almost anywhere for a Kodak moment without fearing a collision.
Olive Harvest below Saracena
San Agata
San Donato
If you ever follow this route, remember that you have left the tourist zone on the coast and most of the villages have no restaurants, hotels, etc. Bars aplenty for caffe and snacks. We found an eatery in the town of Lungro. L’Oasi del Viale Hotel Ristorante Pizzeria. One thing about the mountain towns is they have a slightly different menu than coastal Calabrese. Here you can get soup which is a wonderful find on a cool fall day! I also had one of the finest grilled meat lunches ever. We found soup in Mormanno during a previous jaunt, so it seems to be a mountain dish.

The mountains of Southern Italy still amaze me with their rugged nature and that there is still so much undeveloped land. Remember I said the province has 733,000 people! The hill city of Saracena is spectacular and demands a return trip because it also has a smaller road giving access to the interior of the national park. 


Finally, we came to a misty overlook of Castrovillari which I guess has 20,000 people or more. 

This one-way street in downtown Castrovillari surprised us.  

Di was the first to notice how wide it was! Not very often we see streets like this in older Italian towns. And there were open free parking spaces all over the place. Very pleasant.  The city might be a good base with overnight lodging from which to explore further into the park. I now realize that a day trip for cross country skiing is questionable since Castrovillari itself is slightly over an hour drive from us, then off onto very slow windy roads with snowy conditions??? We no longer have an all-wheel drive car and spending €100 for chains (and having to put the bloody things on whilst crawling in the slush etc)??  Maybe we’ll stay home and read about skiing on our Kindles!

It was a 6.5 hour tour. We all liked it. Vince had a short time when a 2 litre water bottle was rolling back and forth in the curves, smacking him, but he didn’t complain. I still like driving-for-pleasure. Di is not there as much anymore. It used to be America’s top form of outdoor recreation. Even when we drove 140 miles to and from work each day, I enjoyed the scenery. It’s ironic that I took the Italian nickname of Guido (my middle name is Guy) so my neighbors could call me something easier to pronounce in Italian, because when using the verb "to drive" (guidare), to say I drive = "Io Guido". 

Sono Guido e io guido...

Ci vediamo, Doug


  1. A lovely Autumnal drive in the mountains, thanks for sharing. The colours have been particularly spectacular this year.

  2. We came in to Santa Domenica Talao on the SS504 (we had been driving along the coast but a tree blew over and we were all sent to the A3 so this was our alternate route) We loved the drive and have at least 100 photos taken between the A and your place. Loved re-living that through this post.

  3. You are so lucky! Great pictures!
    And you seem to have fun learning Italian. :-)

  4. Michelle,
    Quando ho ben imparato Italiano, tutti serano perfetto!

  5. Your pictures are great as usual! I've read this post two times and think I'll have to read it again as there is so much info in it.

  6. Hi Gil,
    As usual, good to hear from you! We went on that trip in the nick of time...
    the storms have arrived. I love those too, but I like sitting and reading while the rain hits the windows, not driving in it.

  7. Hi Gil,
    Good photography. By viewing these photographs people can imagine the beauty of these places.Place are realy exotic and looking great and your blog also provide the information about these places. Good work



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