A visit to see the Piano Grande in Castelluccio di Norcia

If nothing else, I was keeping Melba moving for the last days of her visit. We worked night and day preparing for the Infiorata, and then left immediately for Florence, the Cinque Terre, and then Cuneo, where we visited her relatives. Next came the train trip to the Arezzo Antiques Fair through the fields of sunflowers, still keeping up the pace.

On the Sunday following the Infiorata, Leonardo and Paola invited us to join them for a drive to the Piano Grande, which I had never seen before that day. We drove through the Apennines toward Norcia, and then dropped down into the vast basin of the Piano Grande (“big plain”), surrounded by the Sibillini Range and a part of a large national park. I have been asked repeatedly, as a photographer, if I have ever visited the Piano Grande, and never knew why the question kept coming up over and over. One look at the immense and flat valley, and I understood.

Our first view of the Piano Grande, with Castelluccio at the far end

A small barn and stable located on the valley floor

Famous for the ever-changing colors of wildflowers that are cultivated in the valley, we were “too late to the party.” Many types of wildflowers were still evident, but photos show that, in early summer, the valley floor is striped with vast fields of flowers, and each color is replaced as it fades with the next flower to bloom. (Here’s a link, to see for yourself why this basin is so famous in central Italy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZNnrnXwHZJ4.)

Leonardo drove us through the valley to an area with a few parked cars (probably a fraction of the traffic that appears at peak blooming season), and we were off on foot to explore and photograph the scenery and the last of the wildflowers. Across the valley, Paola pointed out a cluster of pines on the side of one of the nearby hills, planted in the shape of a map of Italy, Sardegna and Sicily. We began to walk across the fields toward “Italy,” with many types of flowers mixed in the grasses along our way.

Across the valley, a "map" of Italy planted in pines

Paola sets off walking toward "Italy" through the grass and flowers

A bumblebee pollinating a thistle just beside my knee

At an altitude of 4000 feet, red poppies ("papaveri") bloom a month later than in Spello

Castelluccio di Norcia is a small village located on the top of one of the smaller hills, at the far end of the valley. Often, this is called the “Piano Grande di Castelluccio,” for the village here. Since there is no admission paid to see this spectacle of flowers, I suppose the tourists who come to see and photograph, hike and ride horseback through this area provide income for the village residents. I can only imagine the view from their village down onto the blocks of color below when the flowers are at their peak.

The hilltop village of Castelluccio di Norcia

A mix of flowers in every color, with Castelluccio in the distance

Photographers love the Piano Grande, and Melba was no exception

As we got closer to the “Italy” pines, we came upon a field of fiordalisi, one of the wildflowers we had collected two weeks before near Colfiorito, in the wheat fields. Although we were assured that the peak had passed, there were still enough blue flowers (“cornflowers,” to us) to make a swath of blue as a foreground for the little village above us. A few red poppies dotted the blue, and we could see stripes of red poppies in the distance, closer to the village.

Standing in a field of fiordalisi, with Castelluccio framed in mountains

Paola, beginning a small bouquet to bring home

Turning toward the valley, only a few other people were there, wandering through a concentration of red poppies, with yellow buttercups flanking the stripe of red. It was not difficult to turn in any direction and photograph more flowers. As we climbed up one of the side hills, we could see both the blooms flanking the hills and the obvious cultivation zones below. I had a difficult time convincing Paola that, although they WERE “wildflowers,” they were obviously planted (in rows, as we walked through them) in huge fields, with perfectly square edges. I cannot help but wonder who does this work each year, when this stunning landscape is open for all to see and visit without paying an admission fee. The national park, perhaps? The blue fiordalisi were fading to green grasses, but the rectangles of varied colors were still visible from the hillside.

Other visitors enjoy the stripes of poppies and buttercups

Mixed flowers lead the eye to the village

The rectangles of cultivated "wildflowers" are visible from above on the hills

As we began to turn the car to leave, a pair of shepherds arrived with their flock and sheepdogs. People (including Melba and me) appeared with cameras, and photographed them as the dogs moved the herd along, on the commands of the shepherds. Later, as we stopped the car near a watering trough for Leonardo to take a phone call, one of the herding dogs arrived for a drink from the fountain, and we met one of the shepherds who was following the dog back to the small trailers where the shepherds and dogs live among the sheep.

A herd of sheep appears over the foothill, with a shepherd and dogs

One of the sheepdogs appears at the fountain for a quick drink

A friendly shepherd with weathered skin greets us, says "Ciao!"

For me, and for Melba, it hardly mattered that we had missed the peak of the blooming season for the Piano Grande. It is a beautiful landscape, surrounded by rolling hills and dotted with a tiny medieval stone village, and the weather was perfect for all of us. The sheep, the dogs and the shepherd who spoke to Leonardo added to our trip, and we saw more flowers than we had seen in our many trips to pick for the Infiorata. On my “bucket list,” now is a trip to catch the Piano Grande on a perfect early summer day, when the entire valley is covered in solid patches of blossoms from end to end. As beautiful as our day was there, I’d love to see what a real riot of blossoms would look like in this beautiful setting!

5 comments to A visit to see the Piano Grande in Castelluccio di Norcia

  • abucko

    Finally was able to post. Your photos take me back to Spello and Umbria again and again. Each blog brightens my day and shortens my longing to return. Glad we will be back in a few weeks. Meanwhile, we appreciate all your fabulous photos which almost make me feel like I was standing in the fields. Trouble posting previously and don’t want to hog the blog.

  • Welcome, be my guest with your comments. I’m always interested to see who is following along with my posts.

  • rich

    The village and the valley are both beautiful. You did a great job shooting the photos. The fields of flowers are very pretty.

  • […] in spring when the wildflowers are in full bloom, see this YouTube video or this blog from the Old Broad Abroad. They get Four Seasons in Castelluccio, but that isn’t the reason that Francesco Stephen […]

  • […] in spring when the wildflowers are in full bloom, see this YouTube video or this blog from the Old Broad Abroad. They get Four Seasons in Castelluccio, but that isn’t the reason that Francesco Stephen […]

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