In the heart of Umbria, Castelluccio di Norcia offers the most evocative natural event. The flowering is a spectacle worth witnessing at least once in a lifetime.
Castelluccio di Norcia, the heart of Sibillini Moutains
Located in the heart of the Sibillini Mountains, in the region of Umbria, Castelluccio di Norcia, as its name suggests, is a hamlet of the municipality of Norcia, the city famous for being the birthplace of Saint Benedict. The village stands on the top of a small hill at 1452 metres above sea level, in the middle of an extensive plain - or Piana di Castelluccio - where the characteristic lentil is grown. Dominated by the 2476-metre-high Monte Vettore, the Piana di Castelluccio is a vast plain at 1270 m above sea level that occupies 15 km2 of plateau divided into three plains: Pian Grande, Pian Piccolo and Pian Perduto.
The Pian Grande ("the great plain") the best known and most visited, especially during summertime, is the largest of the three, as its name suggests.
The Pian Piccolo ("the little plain"), the smallest of the three, is located on the border of the Pian Grande and communicates with it.
The Pian Perduto ("the lost plain") is the plain behind the Pian Grande. Norcia lost this territory during the battle against the neighbouring Visso (in the region of Marche) in 1522. It is located in the province of Macerata.
And it is right here that the peculiar village of Castelluccio has its usual appointment with a completely natural but sensational event. Some of you probably already know what we are referring to, but not everyone has had the opportunity or the good fortune to admire a spectacle offered not only by Mother Nature but above all by the skilful mastery of expert farmers who for centuries have been carrying on a tradition passed down from generation to generation with pride and passion.
Of course, this is the famous Fiorita or Flowering of Castelluccio di Norcia, a wonderful spontaneous expression that takes place every year between mid-May and mid-July (depending on the weather, this period may slightly vary).
Firstly, however, it is necessary to take a small step backwards. It all starts in spring when, once the snow has melted, the land is ploughed and prepared for sowing once the soil has dried. So, the roveia (a wild pea), lentil, Chickling vetch, wheat, barley and spelt are sown. Castelluccio lentil, known locally as "lenta" and a certified PGI product, will be focused on later in this article.
The Plain of Castelluccio, capable of offering evocative landscapes throughout the whole year, at this time is transformed into something magical and unique, arousing unparalleled awe and wonder in visitors.
From the white of the snow that covered the fields during the winter, to the lush green of unspoilt pastures in the spring, we arrive in the summer with the explosion of the most vivid and bright colours. We can admire an unusual polychrome mosaic in which the yellow of the wild rape, the red of the poppy and the blue of the cornflower undoubtedly prevail. The peculiarity of this phenomenon lies in the fact that this extensive flower-studded grassland constantly changes its appearance and takes on different colours. This is due to the large variety of species blossoming and, of course, not simultaneously during the same period. Gentianella, narcissus, violets, poppies, buttercups, asphodels, purple Eugeniae, clovers, sorrels and much more... delight our eyes in a rainbow of colours. The flowers of the lentil, however, are not particularly brightly coloured and are characterised by their small size and white-purple colour. The plant is not very tall, reaching a maximum of 10-20 cm, and has small green compound leaves.
The highlight of this suggestive and scenic expression of nature is between the end of June and mid-July. After mid-July, the lawns are mown, so it is good to keep these dates in mind. It is worth remembering - and this is something that the farmers themselves are very keen on - not to trample on these colourful expanses in order to capture these enchanting views in photographs or videos, as you are trampling on them and compromising their harvest! There are footpaths for this purpose that allow the visitor to fully enjoy this breathtaking wonder.
Castelluccio di Norcia PGI lentils
The time has come to say a few words about Castelluccio PGI lentils.
This legume, known since Roman times, is a food rich in fibre, iron and protein, characterised by its colourful appearance and unique and unmistakable flavour. It grows naturally, without the use of pesticides or chemicals, as it is the high altitude that prevents the formation of parasites. Thanks to low environmental impact techniques, the production of this precious fruit of the earth takes place in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner, in full respect of nature. The cultivation of lentils is centuries old and has come down to us today thanks to the hard work of farmers who are deeply rooted in their land and who, from generation to generation, keep alive the link with those who came before them.
According to people from Castelluccio, lentils are not just a legume, but a deep and indissoluble link with the traditions and culture of a people proud of its origins. This is also what Nunzio Testa - Secretary-Treasurer of Castelluccio Pro Loco and, above all, a proud farmer- says. (Pro Loco are organizations aiming at promoting local communities)
Open-air activities in Castelluccio
Unfortunately, due to the earthquake that struck central Italy in 2016, the medieval village of Castelluccio di Norcia is currently uninhabitable. However, there are accommodation facilities and characteristic places to explore the gastronomic culture as well. Nevertheless, the village offers numerous opportunities to its visitors. Many tourists are attracted by the possibility of completely immersing themselves in nature and practicing outdoor activities such as hiking. There are trails suitable for everyone, from experts to beginners and families, on foot, by bike, on horseback, or donkey.
Many people simply choose to come here seeking refuge in this green paradise, in search of relaxation far from the chaos of the city.
Let's not forget that Castelluccio di Norcia is one of the municipalities belonging to the Monti Sibillini National Park, which stretches between Marche and Umbria. Of considerable interest for the variety of woodland species and fauna, the mount complex is made up of more than 20 peaks over 2,000 meters high, the most imposing of which is Mount Vettore (2,467 m).
Finally, as in the rest of Umbria territory, the delicious local cuisine and typical specialties, especially dairy products, are the crowning glory of a unique stay.