The cultural region of Riviera d’Ulisse (Ulisse’s coastal area), as the name suggests, is nationally renewed as a destination for beach lovers. The almost 60 km of non-interrupted sandy beaches, the great diversity of sea landscapes and a continuity of historical little towns has given to the area its character of Mediterranean holiday destination, with beach tourism as the most relevant attraction.
One of the inevitable consequences was that the region’s outstanding countryside and mountain attractiveness is put on the second place, both for the great beauty of the beaches and the lack of promotion and infrastructure. Nevertheless, the area also has a regional protected park named Parco dei Monti Ausoni. A quick research has shown that the website of the Italian Touring Club (a national tour operator specializing in adventure and natural travels) has a detailed database of the trails and scenic spots of this unexplored mountain region.
The area immediately captures my interest; I ask myself, ‘Why should I only focus on the sea, only because it is more accessible? Let’s explore something else’.
This is how my excursion to the sanctuary of San Martino is born.
The travel from Terracina
Since I never got a driving license (and I am mostly a lone-wolf traveler), relying on public transportation is the only way I have to move around. Luckily, the Lazio region is covered with a good net of buses and trains — among the coastal cities, at least. From Terracina, the sanctuary of San Martino can be reached with a combination of buses and trains and shuttles until Maranola di Formia, the little town from where the trail to the mountain begins.
I reach Maranola di Formia in the wee hours, and the view of the sea is simply astonishing. The trail to Monte Redentore (where the sanctuary is located) is very well noticed around the city, but not connected with the surrounding towns. It takes about half an hour by car from the nearest village to the start of the trail, and the only way I could reach it is thanks to the ride offered by a local farmer. Driving up to the mountain, squished among buckets of fresh tomatoes has never been so funny!
The trail to the sanctuary starts at an altitude of 810meterss: the altitude is immediately recognizable not only for the magnificent view of the sea (as if if we are standing on top of an 800-meter high diving board) but also from the chilly air, extremely different from the warm wind of the beach.
I wish the visibility were better at since it is impossible to see the sea; the fog is so dense that at some points I can’t see past 20 metres, which makes orientation problematic. Nevertheless, the path to the sanctuary is well signed; I enjoy the first break of this exploration when I reach the statue of the Virgin Mary, at about 1,000 metres above the sea level.
From the statue, the path continues up to the mountain; I have no idea how long it will still take to reach the church, but I’m not giving up; I want to see what I admired so much in the pictures and my efforts (despite the fog, tired legs and a complete lack of orientation) pays off.
After another 30 minutes of hiking up to the mountain, I come across a small wooden sign that says: ‘Sanctuary of San Michele, 1,180 metres above sea level’. A cross points in the direction of a dense wall of fog. WhenI try to go through the fog, the sanctuary appears like if it came out of nothing, and I am immediately overwhelmed by a priceless sense of marvel. It is fair to say that the pictures speak for themselves.
The sanctuary is a church carved in stone, which is only open once a year during local religious celebrations. The only visible asset, is, therefore, the facade, while the building is literally carved inside the mountain. Unfortunately, I am not able to explore the inside of the church — a small opening on the front door reveals a small altar with some flowers at the bottom of the cave, and irregular rock walls all around.
Thanks to another kind driver who offered me a ride on the way back, I manage to avoid the two hours of walking downhill. I leave the place with an overwhelming feeling of having discovered a magical place, and the bitter sensation that more should be done to promote this little treasure.