Km 36 – altitude range m.736 – Start and finish: Genga railway station
From the train station go round the large flat clearing occupied by the caves’ ticket office, souvenir shops and car park. Ride past the village of San Vittore and continue through the whole Frasassi gorge. Once past the canyon and after a visible industrial area, turn left along a narrow track that after a short while meets the provincial road for Fabriano. Cycle onwards until the signpost indicating Vallemontagnana on the left. The road continues in a regular manner to the inhabited village of the same name (bear left at the only visible V-junction), cross it along the various hairpin bends, at the last house the climb rises steeply until reaching a private road (access road to a quarry) that passes above the village, continues up to the highest pastures on the north side and a large uninhabited farmhouse. Now follow the CAI Trail no.147 waymarks, this is a clear, unsurfaced singletrack due south, it reaches the highest point and onwards for ca. 1 km before starting to go a bit down hill into the woods. Here attention is needed: the track becomes grassy and seems to ascend slightly; however, a somewhat hidden signpost sends us left along a very narrow trace of trail that cuts steeply through the woods. The route comes to a wider path, bears left at the following fork turn right, then becomes a gravel track that goes onto the small hamlet of Rocchetta. Ride still downhill on the gravel track to the church of San Giovanni, before reaching it, however, an iron cross announces a junction with another gravel path on the left, take it and continue uphill briefly until a pass , then downhill to the hamlety of Cerqueto, a typical Apennine settlement still inhabited. The road narrows through the houses and turns into wide uphill track, but before steepening, a stone body figure and red arrows indicates a narrow track descending on the right. The trail even if narrow is perfectly free flowing, cuts and descends on the eastern slopes up to San Cristoforo, an uninhabited hamlet which has been abandoned for years. The route exits the village on the main road due south, immediately turns left on a wide trail that descends rapidly to the valley floor along hairpin bends, then runs quickly following the course of the Esino river due north until the village of Valrapara. At this stage it becomes a gravel track, asphalted in parts, up to a level-crossing. Bear left and here you are in San Vittore; retrace the initial provincial road for 1 km until returning to the train station.
Frasassi and the hollow mountain
Apennine settlements and local cuisine
Challenging route for expert mountain bikers with considerable altitude to overshoot in one go, two inevitable stretches of narrow trails in the woods and steep descents. The ring brings into full contact with the Apennine environment of Valmontagnana mountain, the modest high ground that hosts the famous karst complex of Grotta Grande del Vento (i.e. Large Cave of the Wind) and uncountable other caves. Quite interesting is the stretch that crosses the tiny villages of Cerqueto and San Cristoforo.
The Regional Natural Park of Gola della Rossa and Frasassi is the largest protected area in the Marches. It contains a great variety of environments and species, both animals and plants, and at the same time it is an invaluable location for art and history. At the heart of the Park there is the most important speleological complex in Italy, the famous caves of Frasassi of international fame. The route passes through some of the more suggestive sections of the park, allowing the visitor to appreciate the different landscapes and views, as well as a few tiny villages (today nearly abandoned), representative of typical Apennine settlements, more or less etched onto the side of the mountain without ever having given up completely their agricultural vocation. As an example of this is the nearly abandoned village set in rocky scenery of San Cristoforo. It should not be forgotten, however, that from these peoples, their trades and customs originate a series of local traditions that are being rediscovered and revived today; especially when it comes to local gastronomy. Here are a few examples. The breeding of the ‘lamb of Fabriano breed’ is in a semi-natural state: from the grass that grows on these pastures the meat of these animals becomes rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids and so perfumed as to be used even raw; there are also unique recipes for making salami such as “ciauscolo” and “Fabriano”. The former is a specialty whose origins are lost in the mists of time (one hypothesis traces it back to the Gallic Senones, who were confined in these mountains after the defeat in the battle of Sentino in 295 B.C.). Its stuffing has a high percentage of fat which, together with a high residual humidity, makes the salami uniquely spreadable. The latter, made of selected pork’s parts, has small cubes of fat, it is seasoned for three months after which it acquires a pleasant taste and only the micro-climate of the high Esino valley allows this seasoning. In general, the cultural landscape in these areas, suspended between modernisation and tradition, has allowed the memories of past local gastronomy to survive, and old life styles have nowadays turned from primary need into tradition.