Italy – Exploring Abruzzo on horseback

Along the Transhumana Trail

The Abruzzo Apennines mountain experience is filled with tiny picturesque villages, spectacular views and ancient trails. A car will take you only so far, in order to experience the full impact of these hills, you need to go on horseback. The Maiella (Majella) Morrone Mountains of Abruzzo offer excellent horseback terrain, with cascading hills, many natural water fountains and fantastic panoramic views of the Adriatic Coastline

We took a tour with Frank Montefusco (Majella) and his haflinger horses. These horses were developed in Austria and Northern Italy and are popular for their steadfast gait. They are relatively small and very popular with expert as well as amateur riders. The tour started from the picturesque town of Sant’Eufemia and went for almost 3 hours and then back to Sant’Eufemia, for a total of 6 hours. The trek is particularly interesting in terms of the flora and fauna with great views of the scenic mountains of Morrone and the Majella massif with its high peaks.  

Italy, Maiella, Horseback
On the trail

Sant’Eufemia is a small 14th century town in the Maiella National Park in a valley enclosed by the western slopes of the Majella massif, and the northeastern slopes of the Morrone group in the Province of Pescara. Both mountain ranges can be accessed from here.

This is also the route that is associated with the transhumance pastoral migration, the migration of sheep to upland pastures in the summer and lowland pastures in the winter. The practice was so prevalent and important to the area that they established a mounted police force to regulate the practice as far back as the 17th century. The Abruzzo sheep and herders started their migration in these mountains, crossing valleys, streams and villages and ended in the lowlands of Puglia. In the summer, they would come back.

The sheep and herders were accompanied by the famous Maremma Sheepdogs of Abruzzo, an indiginous, white guard dog used for guarding the sheep. The dog is known world wide as a great sheep keeper and was featured in the movie Oddball.

During the migration, the shepherds would shelter in small huts made from local stones, which many people believe were called Tholos. However, this term was coined in a book written about the area during modern times. The huts were never called Tholos but Pagliari (small huts made of hay). The stones replaced the hay but the term Pagliari was used throughout the transhumance period. Many of these huts line the landscape as you trek up these mountains. Most are no longer used as the local shepherds live in the area and transport their sheep only very small distances. They have also built better, modern shelters.

Italy, Maiella, Sheep
Sheep grazing in Roccamorice, village on the maiella side

The shepherds travelled during the day along the existing tracks for miles at a time, eating bread, cheese and drinking homemade wine. In bad weather, the sheep would share the pagliari, otherwise they would sleep in the grass while the dogs kept watch. The dogs had to be aware not only of where the sheep were but of any predators nearby, such as snakes and wolves.

There are many routes that start from Sant’Eufemia and the town itself if charming with some great local eateries.

Italy, Maiella, Horseback
Frank Majella leading the trek

Frank Montefusco prepared a rustic dinner at the end of our tour. He has an brick oven and makes a great stuffed pizza. He also prepares hearty soups, ready after your trek.

His knowledge of the area made the trip very enjoyable as there is a lot of history here but it requires someone who knows it and is able to share it with you.

Abruzzo on Horseback Trip Tips

  • The Apennines Mountains in Abruzzo are delightful to visit.
  • A good way of touring the mountain terrain is on horseback.
  • There are several options for horseback tours, we used Frank (Maiella) Montefusco’s tour.
  • You will need an entire afternoon for a tour.