Start & Finish: ruined village of Croce / Sat Nav – parking & start of walk: 41.22797, 14.18934 / Start elevation: 556m /Max elevation: 893m / Gain: 338m / Total distance: 4.7km / Typical Duration: 2-3 hours / Category: Moderate-Difficult (long, steep climb)
This is one of may favourite walks – a long, circular loop that takes you along ancient trails to the top of Monte Maggiore, in the centre of the province of Caserta. You’ll be surrounded by mediterranean forest of ash and oak and pop out from time to time to enjoy spectacular views from the hermitages. The remote, peaceful atmosphere at these places is very special and gives you a real breather from everyday life. The walk starts at the ruined village of Croce, which is also fascinating. The trail is well made and unusually, there are clear map boards and signs to follow! The first section is steep however, so I would advise kids age 9+. Most of the walk is ok for dogs but you need to keep them very close and definitely on a lead near each sanctuary as there are sheer drops.
The walk begins in Croce which has been deserted since 2005. Park in a new black and white square (which is completely incongruous with it’s surroundings!). Look for an alleyway to the left of the square and head straight up. After a look at the ruins, keep going straight up the alleyway and along a concrete track that bends slightly right and then opens up at a map board. Take the trail to the left, following a pilgrims ‘way of the cross’ to the Sanctuary of San Salvatore. The first half hour or so is up a long flight of steps but there are plenty of benches for a rest. On the way, look for signs to the cave of San Michele on your right and make a short detour along a narrow trail to see a cave where monks lived. Return to the main track and continue up hill for a short way further.
Keep looking ahead and after a few minutes you’ll see a huge rock shaped like a buddha. Follow the trail around the back of it to find the Sanctuary. Go through the gate and into the building. It is whitewashed with little relief pictures of the stations of the cross around the walls. At the shrine there are moving messages from loved ones to the deceased. It’s a very tranquil place to stop for a moment. If you are feeling strong, lift a floorboard at the bottom of the steps by the door to enter the crypt and visit the original hermitage beneath you. Outside you’ll see a well, a statue of Mary and a bell tower. Go under the arch by the bell to see the view of the Formicola valley below.
Go back to the track and continue along a high wooded ridge on a narrower trail. Ignore other paths to your right. After a short while the trail opens slightly where you can detour on a path to the right to visit the Hermitage of Our Lady of Fradejanne, which has been a site of contemplation and worship for over 1000 years. It’s very high up on a cliff with a sheer drop, but the views are incredible. Standing next to an old metal cross beyond the hermitage you’ll have a 180 degree panorama of the valley with the village of Pietremalara and the circle of mountains beyond.
Retrace your steps back to the path a follow it downhill, winding through the trees. At a sort of crossroad, go straight on – down the hill. Sometimes the path opens up and is more rocky and steep, in others it’s thick forest. The rocky sections have some bigger rock steps down – totally ok but go carefully and find secure hand / footholds before you step. Before long you arrive back at the village of Croce. Follow the trail through a big arch, turn left and then go straight on and then wind your way back through the buildings to the road.