HORSE TRAIL ON THE MADONIE
Horse trails are trekking paths that can be travelled on horseback. Along the bridle paths, you can rediscover ancient ways of travelling, respecting nature, and proceeding in harmony with the surrounding environment. There are many routes of this kind in Sicily. We will have the chance to ride across the mountain tops, slowly lulled by the animal’s pace. We will move along inaccessible paths that we can only discover by riding a horse for tens of kilometres. On this route, we will discover one of the many paths in Madonie Park. We recommend that you ride on these trails between the end of March and mid-October when the climate is milder. Wear your gaiters and helmets: here we go!
The starting point is just outside Castellana Sicula, at 950 metres above sea level. We will walk for 22 kilometres to reach 1800 metres of altitude in about 4 hours. The pace will not always be the same. The route is on clay dirt roads. We will pass through old villages, unspoilt nature and old drinking troughs, places where we, and our horse, will have some rest.
We proceed northwards through the Piana delle Felci. We are in a dense wood of holm oaks, downy oaks (you may see one that, according to some experts, is eight centuries old) and hollies. We carry on riding ’till the Sanctuary of Madonna dell’Alto. The name comes from Monte Alto (1819 m above sea level), where the Shrine is set. The Sanctuary consists of a church, a sacristy and a hermitage. Its origins probably date back to the 13th century. It houses a statue of the Virgin Mary. According to a local legend, this sculpture came from the sea, from the tower of Roccella. During a violent shipwreck, the trunk containing the statue got lost. It did not land on the coast but was left on an oxcart. After a long journey, the animals stopped right where we are now. Then the Sanctuary was founded. This interesting legend is depicted on the Church marble altar. Today the sacred statue is preserved inside the altar. Animals have always been welcome here, so the best way to get there is on a trusty steed.
After this quick stop, let’s rely on our animal friends and climb back into the saddle. We continue north- west, where the landscape changes and wooded areas turn into barren ones. We are in the Quacella area, the Madonie botanical garden. Here we can see one of the main highlights of the Madonie Park: the Abies nebrodensis or Nebrodi spruce. It is an endangered species. It has lived in Sicily since the Tertiary period, but today only 30 specimens remain. They are unique in the world. Don’t be fooled by the name: this rarity only lives here, on the Madonie. (The misunderstanding stems from the ancient denominations cause the Madonie were often called “Nebrodi”). This species has always been present on the island, and since 2018, this tree has become the island’s symbolic plant.
Further north, in the mid-twentieth century, a small green area was planted. In other parts, the land is bare. We are in one of the most selective environments in the Madonie area. Here, the weather conditions are always very windy, winters are cold, and summers are dry. There is a wide range of temperatures between day and night. The plants living in this environment are small and have deep roots. In the greenery, we can see the Boccone thistle. Its flower is purplish and reminds us of some plant species common in Spain and Algeria. Another typical plant of the area is the yellow broom of Cupani or the Sicilian stregonia. The leaves of this plant were once used as a haemostatic remedy.
We are coming to the end of the tour. We cross Portella Colla and continue northwards. We return to a wooded area from where we catch a glimpse of the Baita del Faggio, the last stage of the route. Here we will stop and rest with our trusty four-legged friend.