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24-05-2024 | Marcel van Herten

Unknown climb: Forca di Gualdo, through the mystical mountains of Sibylla

The mountain massif of Monti Sibillini, part of the Parco Nazionale dei Monti Sibillini, was an unexplored area on my Italian cycling map until last summer. This mountainous region is named after the myth of the Roman sibyl, Sybilla Appenninica, who is said to have wandered here, sharing her prophecies. In early August 2023, I spent a few days exploring this mystical, yet little-known area on the border of the Marches and Umbria. Among the many climbs, we highlight the Forca di Gualdo in this section.

Seismic scars

My base camp for the rides was Agriturismo Campeggio Il Collaccio in Preci. Shortly after setting off for Forca di Gualdo, I noticed the scars left by the 2016 earthquakes. The towns of Visso and Usita, located at the foot of the climb, are still heavily affected by the seismic activity from August 24 and October 30, 2016. While historical reconstruction will take years, the area is alive with activity and entrepreneurship. Every (bike) visit helps the region make progress. After touring Visso and stopping at the local fire station with its striking memorial artwork, I began the ascent of Forca di Gualdo, which leads to a beautiful plateau: the Piano Grande di Castelluccio di Norcia, at 1,250 meters above sea level.

Delightful climb to the Chiesetta

After crossing the little river Nera, the road from Visso begins to climb gently. However, the climb to Forca di Gualdo truly starts in Castelsantangelo sul Nera. "Forca," meaning "fork" in Italian, is a designation similar to col or pass. Although the Forca di Gualdo is not the toughest climb in the Marches (that title goes to the Monte Nerone, which we previously covered), the sections after Castelsantangelo still challenge the leg muscles. The road winds up through vegetation that offers no shelter from the scorching sun but does block the view. After passing through the hamlet of Gualdo, the namesake of this forca, the reward for climbing awaits as the trees and bushes open up. The Monti Sibillini massif, with its peaks above two thousand meters, comes into view. The second part of the climb is a wonderful, gradual ascent, and after more than ten kilometers and an average gradient of 7.6%, I reached the little chapel of Chiesetta della Madonna della Icona, which marks the summit at just under fifteen hundred meters. From here, turning left leads to the summit of Monte Prato, where previous attempts to create a ski resort were halted by a strong nature lobby. Thank goodness for that!

© Climbfinder

Floral splendor in spring

At the small chapel, the first views of the Piano Grande appear. To reach the plain, the largest doline in Europe, there is a short descent followed by a challenging climb to the mound of the idyllic village of Castelluccio. Against my usual Italian cycling habits, I didn't start very early, and in this otherwise largely uninhabited area, a stop for fresh water was welcome. After the pit stop, on this warm August day, I descended into a kind of steppe. How different it seems to be here from mid-May to early July. During that time, a wide variety of plants such as cornflowers, poppies, and flowering lentils transform the plateau into a colorful palette and one of Italy's most beautiful natural spectacles. The popular Italy blog Ciao Tutti made a gorgeous report of this La Fiorita di Castelluccio (literally, the flower garden of Castelluccio).

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CW's choice

The Forca di Gualdo in the Monti Sibillini certainly belongs in the "unknown climbs" section. However, it is just one of many beautiful climbs in this mountain massif. Last summer, I resolved to return, and I'm already fulfilling that resolution this year: the three-day cycling fest Terre dei Varano is one of CycloWorld's choices, and I'm in for it. The floral spectacle of the Piano Grande is included in the route of the Randonnée (208 kilometers with 4095 meters of elevation) on Saturday, June 22. Additionally, on Sunday, the Italian Championship Gran Fondo is on the program around Camerino. Could Sybilla Appenninica have already foretold this in one of her prophecies? I hope she predicted beautiful and safe cycling days. I'll be able to tell you all about it at the end of June.

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