Walk 4: Vallone Madonna degli Angeli and the Nebrodi Firs (with optional walk to top of the Quacella)
With good reason this is one of the most popular and best-known walks in the Madonie. An interesting loop takes you first up through thick beech forest and past some of the rare examples of the Nebrodi Firs (Abies Nebrodensis), up onto the limestone plateau. This is followed by a steep, scenic descent on a good road through the beautiful Vallone Madonna degli Angeli – please note this is in full sun, without much shade in the summer. Extensive views throughout – and there are lots of alpine plants to see from April-July. An optional extension of 45 minutes each way will take you to the top of the spectacular Quacella escarpment. Further easy but long extensions are also possible to Monte San Salvatore and the Madonna del Alto.
Time: 2.45-3.15 hours (4.00-4.45 with the Quacella extension). Degree of Difficulty: 4-5.
Total ascent/descent: 650 metres (2100 feet)
Starting/finishing point: Gate on the SP119, 9kms out of Polizzi Generosa. (P on map)
1. The entrance gate
2. Gradual route on left, steeper route to the right
Directions to starting point: drive out of Polizzi on the SP119, through the aquaduct arches at the top of the town (behind the Q8 petrol station). Drive for about 7kms and eventually enter a forest. Pass a hut on your left and then see a large gate on your right (photo 1, P on map) – park off the road on the left at the bend.
The first section of the walk offers two optional routes (photo 2) which come together close to the bottom of the Vallone (photo 4, A on map) – both offer great views of the Quacella escarpment.: passing through the gate, you can either take the main forest track up to your left, which is longer and more gradual. In April-June, the area of forest enclosed by the track (i.e. on your right going up) is a wonderful place to see wild orchids amongst the grass. Alternatively, take the path straight ahead of you (marked with the No 16) on the right-hand side of the fenced enclosure. This is steeper, rougher and more direct (photo 3). A good option is to take one route up and the other route down.
3. View upwards on the steeper trail
4. Point where the two routes come together
At the point where the two routes merge (15-25 minutes) carry on up the track, which immediately takes you left into the Vallone. This corner is a superb vantage-point, to view the south flank of Cervi, Portella Colla, the western hills of Sicily and an oblique view along the rugged Quacella escarpment – a little further up, there are also great views between rocks down to Polizzi.
5. The path down to the Nebrodi firs
6. An example of the Nebrodi Fir
The rough concrete road rises steeply and after 10 minutes you reach a steep, left-hand hairpin, with a signed track going off to the right by a fence (pic 5, B on map). Take this path, climb up and then descend to a dried up river, which you cross on a bridge. The path then rises in a series of zig-zags, at first through oaks, later through beech trees. On the way up you will pass a number of examples of the rare Nebrodi Fir (pic 6 above) each one numbered and protected by a stone wall and fence (see box).
The Nebrodi Fir
The Nebrodi Fir (Abies nebrodensis), sometimes called the Sicilian fir, is a very rare medium-sized evergreen native to the Madonie mountains. There are only 31 closely protected specimens growing in the wild, all within the confines of the Vallone Madonna degli Angeli, above 1400 metres. It is a sub-species of the silver fir (abies alba) which replaces it in the Apennine Mountains of Italy and elsewhere further north in Europe, but unlike its close relative, nebrodiensis is classified as critically endangered by the IUCN Red List. However, you will see re-planted examples of the fir in local gardens – as well as in a large pot in the square next to the Comune in the centre of Polizzi Generosa.
After 15 minutes’ climbing, you will reach a small spring beneath some tall beeches on a right-hand bend, which flows for most of the year. After a further 10 minutes you cross a scree fall and after just over an hour of walking, reach a T-junction, with a number of signs (photo 7, C on map), including two for the EcoMaratone (a gruelling marathon run each year in the mountains in early June). Even if you don’t want to walk all the way back to Polizzi (2.5-3.00 hours walk from here) it is worth turning right and climbing up for about five minutes, and you come out on the upper slopes of Monte Scalone, with absolutely staggering views to Polizzi and beyond (photo 8, D on map).
Retrace your steps to the signposts and carry on straight ahead. After a few minutes you will cross the same scree fall higher up and within 10 minutes you will enter the pine forest, as the path flattens out. Soon you will emerge onto the open plateau (you will see a rain gauge over to your left). The path snakes ahead across the plateau, with great views of Monte Cervi and the Vallone below you, and then re-enters the beech forest and starts to descend.
At about 1.30-1.45 from the start, you will come to a junction (E on map), where you have two options. Turn immediately left down the Vallone and you will reach the gate and your car in another hour or so. Turn right and round a couple of bends you will see on the wall low down to your left a sign saying ‘Quacella’ with an arrow pointing into the trees (pic 9 below). Just above this point on the right, you will also see signs indicating possible walk extensions to Monte San Salvatore and the Madonna del Alto – all on wide forest trails. These are easy to follow and could add 2-3 hours to the main walk.
9. Sign to the Quacella
10. The Quacella
Quacella extension: This diversion will take you 35-45 minutes each way. The path is fairly well marked with red bars, although sometimes widely spaced in rocky areas – but the end point is magnificent, bringing you to the lip of the precipitous Quacella escarpment (pic 10 above, F on map), with stunning vistas. You can also climb another 50m to the top of Monte Quacella – 1869 metres.
Taking the route back down the Vallone, you will soon pass a fountain spring on your right (pure drinking water, so re-fill your bottles) and a little further down, a pretty pink house, which is used by Corpo Forestale workers. On your left, between the fountain and the house, across a patch of grass, you can examine two ‘escapee’ specimens of the Nebrodi Fir.
From the house, the road drops steeply for another 25 minutes until you come to the hair-pin where you turned off to climb up to the beech forest at the beginning. Carry on down, taking either the steep path or the more gradual track, and you will reach the start in another 30-35 minutes.