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by Allan Nelson & Konrad Orlowski 

Day 7 - Tuesday 23rd May 2000 < day 6     day 8 >
Castelluccio to Ascoli Piceno
Sunflrbt.gif (1265 bytes) Castelluccio - Forca di Presta - Balzo - Uscerno - Pedana - Venarotta - Ascoli Piceno
Kilometres: 60

Castelluccio to Ascoli Piceno

Woke early this morning, about 6:30am.  Slept really well though, probably because it's a bit cooler up here (mind you yesterdays climbing could have had something to do with it).  Opened the shutters and got a fantastic view of the early morning mist rising from the Piano Grande below.   Couldn't resist taking a picture, but the picture doesn't really do it justice.  We were sorry to be leaving such a wonderful place, and although we'd made an early start, by the time we were ready to leave, the owners had already gone out for the day.  We left the key on the counter of the cafe.  Obviously very trusting folk.

We went across the road to a 'bar come shop' adjacent to a wall with lots of graffiti on it.  I took a picture hoping I could get it translated when I got back as I'd looked up several of the words in my phrasebook and couldn't find them anywhere.  Konrad ordered some cheese and ham pannini's, and the old chap offered him some local cheese to taste.  He then took a large hunk of bread and hacked great doorstep sized chunks off it.  Similarly with the cheese.  However, when it came to the large ham, I've never seen anybody so skilful at cutting such wafer thin strips.  No machine, just using a knife, which was obviously incredibly sharp.  I'll just say here, you can keep your Parma Ham, this Prosciutto crudo from Marche is in a league of its own.

Outside, there was some activity.  A group of men in suits, very stylishly dressed and talking into mobile phones, were standing by some equally 'loud' and large 4-wheel drive vehicles at the side of the road.  I decided that these men were something to do with the large sign we had seen on entering Castelluccio.  Basically someone is spending around L550.000.000 doing something to do with tourism.  What that something is I'm not sure, but I fear that it will involve building a large car park!   I feel for the locals with what must be a perilously hard existence, but I hope the place isn't made too commercial.  Mobile phones seem even more annoying up here than normal (and that's very annoying).

We took a last look around this unique place, and slowly made our way down the hillside on to the Piano Grande.  At the cross-roads we turned left, signposted Ascoli Piceno, and after a kilometre or so of more flat riding, we began to climb our way up, pretty soon reaching the Forca di Presta, the gateway out of the Piano Grande for us.  The views from here were once again stupendous.  Monte Vettore was on our left, unfortunately mostly obliterated by cloud. We'd climbed to 1540m at this point, and we stopped to take photo's.  I don't think either of us wanted to leave here.  But, it was cold, and one minute the road was clear, the next the mist would roll in.  It took us an absolute age to descend.  We kept stopping to take photo's of crags, steep valley drops, plants etc. (the roadside verges were full of alpine flowers).  The descent just went on and on.  We'd turn a hairpin to be faced with Monte Vettore straight ahead, a really impressive sight.  The sun was now out too, and the cloud was lifting from the tops of the mountains making the views even more stunning.  Finally, we descended into woodland, and the views were gone.  At the first junction, we took the road for Balzo, where we stopped at a small cafe on a very sharp bend through the village.  The very friendly old lady running the place handed us a card and told us the cafe does Bed & Breakfast.  Could be useful for anyone considering doing this ride in the other direction i.e. from the Ascoli side.   All I would say is, judging by some of the very steep hills we came down, particularly after Balzo, that will be one hell of a hard road.  It was at Balzo that we ate our pannini's, and excellent they were too.  We'd feared the bread would be rather dry, but no, it was all superb.  Could have eaten another!  While sitting at the cafe, a policeman walked over.  He asked us where we were going and where we had come from.  I think he may have been a bit of a cyclist, because he then walked over to my bike and went to lift it off the ground.  I don't think he could quite believe how heavy it was. He never got the back wheel off the floor, and he called another chap over to show him how heavy the bikes were.  We just sat there feeling rather smug ;-)

As I say, at Balzo, the road drops sharply through Bisignano and on to Uscerno and Pedara.  At Roccafluvione, we turned left for Venarotta (a short climb) and then it was all downhill to Ascoli Piceno.  At Ascoli, we had a short stretch of busy road until we turned off and entered the town itself, via a magnificent arched bridge.  We pulled in to the side of the road, and talked about the days ride.   It had been absolutely superb - indescribable.  Of the 60km's we'd covered, at least 40km's of that must have been downhill, and the roads were so quiet.

We rode aimlessly about Ascoli for a while and eventually found ourselves in the very impressive Piazza del Popolo, with it's shiny marble like surface reflecting the arcaded buildings around it.  It was remarkably quiet in here.  We decided to try the local Tourist Office in the Piazza to see what rooms were available.  The chap pointed out a few places on a street map he gave us, and we eventually found the Canteena del Art.  We got a room in there for L70.000.  Just across the alley, was a restaraunt of the same name.  We showered and changed, and made our way back to the Piazza del Popolo, where we duly wrote out the postcards we had bought in Castelluccio while doing the other tourist 'thing' of sitting outside in the square having a rather pricey cup of coffee (but we felt like indulging ourselves).

We walked around for a while and found ourselves at a very large, very old church.  Some impressive paintings and frescoes inside, but, hunger was striking, so we decided we'd get back to the Canteena del Art for dinner.  We literally arrived just in time.  We'd just ordered when a group of about 6 young chaps who were in there when we arrived, were joined by about 40 others!  Seems it was a meeting of 'Militaire'.  Still, the food and wine was fine, and we only had to stagger the width of the alley to our room.  The end of another brilliant day.

Another brilliant route (not just because most of it was downhill ;-)
I don't think I've been so sad at leaving a place as I was at Castelluccio.
Ascoli Piceno is a lovely town.  Deserves a day of it's own to look around properly.
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