Mountain Biking Grande Anello dei Monti Sibillini

Where are you from? How did you end up in here? I mean – how do you find to Sibillini from Finland?

Grande Anello dei Monti Sibillini is a 170km mountain bike trail circling around Monti Sibillini National Park in central Italy. The area is relatively remote, even though it´s located less than 3 hour drive away from Rome, and the feeling of desolation is only intensified by the visible effects of earthquakes that hit the area in 2016.

The most challenging part in planning my trip there was getting over the fact that every single piece of information available online was written in Italian. Unfortunately, my Italian language skills are limited to grazie mile and a couple of items from the pizza menu.

Luckily, I had Google Translate to rescue and was able to lean on one of my Italian colleagues to help me out in sorting the necessary reservations for bike hire and accommodation.

Due to time constraints, my plan was to cover the five day 170km mountain bike trail in just four days. I wasn´t up for shortening the route, so I eagerly ended up increasing the mileage for the first two days.

Fiastra to Montemonaco

On the first morning, I set off early from a conveniently located B&B overlooking Lago di Fiastra from the North. The trailhead was located 5km away in the southern end of the lake at Fiastra town, and I was eager to get on the trail early, knowing the first day would be one of the extended ones.

Starting the journey downhill was a breeze. Sun had just climbed above the mountaintops surrounding the valley, birds were singing, and I had a full day of mountain biking ahead of me. Pedaling felt effortless!

When coming across an uphill, I made a conscious effort to take it easy, as I knew there was much more to come through the day. I hadn´t even broke sweat yet, when I suddenly heard an uncomfortable crack and the pedals started spinning wildly with no traction. I peered down and saw the broken chain trailing behind the bike dragging the asphalt. Not good.

Quick check to the toolkit confirmed my initial fears – no chain tool or extra link available for repairs. This was going to take some time. That much for an early start.

Luckily, the really helpful guy from the bike rental shop was already awake. A couple of phone calls later, he had helped me locate a tiny bike shop in Fiastra to assist in getting the chain fixed. Unfortunately, they weren’t willing to sell their one and only chain tool – I made a mental note to bring my own for the next trip.

When eventually arriving in Montemonaco, I was exhausted and hungry. It had been a long day out, and energy bars washed down with water don´t really feel inviting any more after a full day out in the mountains.

The hotel i had booked had big comfortable rooms, outdoor swimming pool, warm shower, but it quickly turned out they weren´t serving dinner. And the dinner was really the only thing I had been looking forward to during the past several hours on the bike.

Luckily, the extremely helpful hotel manager (who didn´t speak a word in English) hooked me up with a group of guys from Bologna. They were heading for dinner in a restaurant I had passed on a long downhill on my way to the hotel. After a day in the saddle, I wasn´t up for biking all the way back up there, so I was really glad they offered me a ride.

We spent the evening together on a long dinner Italian style, discussing everything and politics. I tried my best to break the prejudice of shy Finns while at the same time avoiding the delicious red wine that kept flowing to our table. I had another long day on the bike ahead of me.

Montemonaco – Castelluccio

Trail from Montemonaco to Castelluccio is mostly uphill. Luckily, while challenging, this is also hands down the most beautiful part of the whole trip.

Staying clear of the big dogs watching over packs of sheep along the trail, I put my head down and plodded forward, alternating pedaling and pushing the bike uphill through the day.

Castelluccio is located in the middle of a big open valley dotted by roaming packs of sheep. The town itelf is tiny, sitting on a small hill shadowed by Monte Vittore in the background.

I barely made it to Castelluccio before sunset. When stepping in my hotel, the first thing on my list was making sure there was dinner available. And there was!

Castelluccio was hit pretty bad during the earthquake, and most of the town center was closed for reparations. The few shops and restaurants were mostly operating out of temporary buildings made of containers. The hotel I was staying in was one of the few open permanent structures.

In the evening, it got pretty cold and I needed to dig out my down jacket when stepping outside – we were located at >1800m altitude and there was a constant wind pushing through the valley.

Castelluccio – Visso

After an early morning climb back up from the Castelluccio valley, the trail to Visso looked like a welcome chance of long downhills. After two extended days out on the trail, the idea of a relatively short day cruising down the mountainsides sounded like an excellent option.

However, it appeared the wind was against me and getting over the first climb took some real effort. On the top, I pedaled with my shell jacket on to stay shielded from the constant gusts trying to knock me down.

Once I finally got across the first ridge, the wind subsided and the heat quickly picked up. I stripped the shell and cruised down trying enjoy the scenery without falling down on the rocky trail.

In the valley, the route passed a number of deserted towns. Many of the houses were collapsed and the ones still standing had fractures in their walls making them too fragile and dangerous to live in. There were no people in sight. Spooky.

Descending to Visso, it was apparent that this town had been hit quite bad as well. The old town center was completely closed with “Zona Rossa” signs, and again, many of the basic services were offered from temporary buildings.

My accommodation was a newly built small house in the front yard of a bigger apartment building still being renovated. The keys were left for me on the door and the host asked me to leave the payment on the desk when leaving as she was currently out of town.

Even while away, she made an excellent job making me feel welcome by making sure I found the place, was able to lock the door, and by providing tips on the local restaurants for the evening.

The next morning, I left the door unlocked and money on the table by the bed thanking her for a great stay over WhatsApp.

Visso – Fiastra

The final day from Visso back to Viastra was a quick one. 15km uphill to the pass, then another 15km back down to Fiastra followed by a short pedal to my starting point at the other end of the lake.

When I finally stopped my clock, back at the B&B where I had started from four days ago, the overall distance was showing 174km of biking. Honestly, my butt couldn´t have taken any more of it.

It was late afternoon, and from the previous days I had learned that none of the restaurants would be open before 7PM. I retreated to my room munching another energy bar and sucking the last water from my backpack.

I didn´t realize the odd odor of my biking gear before returning to my room after a long hot shower. The whole room was getting unbearably smelly, so I quickly decided to postpone the problem to when I´m back home stuffing all the gear in one big water (and smell) proof bag stuffing it to the bottom of my luggage.

I slept like a baby for full 11 hours without waking up once.

The Logistics

Getting there: Hired a car from the Fiumiciano Airport in Rome, less than 3h drive to Fiastra. I left the car in front of the 1st B&B (see below) for the duration of the trip.

Bike hire: Very helpful bike hire company Bike Tour Sibillini, Jimmy speaks excellent English. Special thanks for helping me sorting out the broken chain before the trip even really started!

Overnight stays:

Navigation: Downloaded the trail for GPS from here. Navigated full trail with my Garmin Fenix 6x Pro and had my Garmin Edge as a backup (didn´t need it though)

Other things to know

As mentioned earlier, many of the services along the route are limited due to the 2016 earthquake. Prepare to carry everything you need for the full days between the bigger towns (water, energy). Buy energy beforehand, no bars/gels were easily accessible along the route.

My Scandinavian dinner time (5ish) is a bit early for Italians. Most of the restaurants open at 7-7:30 PM. Plan food accordingly. You´ll probably miss the lunch on the trail.

The tap water was perfectly ok to drink. I went with bottled for the first couple of days until I relented to filling my water bladder from the tap and had no problems.

It was surprisingly hot in the valleys and surprisingly cold (and windy) up in the mountains. Take gear for both. Even though it´s not showing in the photos, it also did rain on a couple of days.

I also carried a head torch for emergencies and peace of mind. Didn´t end up needing it.

Happy riding!

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