An escape to the Madonna del Fiume and Cascate di Calabritto near Avellino, Italy is a perfect adventure for a hot Italian holiday.
Living in Naples, Italy Week 7
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The Sanctuary of the Madonna del Fiume is off the beaten path – unless you count the twisty hiking trail that you take to get there – and it wasn’t on our bucket list for Italy. We sure are glad we went, but the motivation to go was something very Italian: Ferragosto!
Ferragosto is the Italian holiday that brings everyone out and shuts everything down. Friends warned that beaches and popular cities would be extremely packed, and some advised us to just stay home for the weekend. We wanted to get out, though, so we decided to go someplace free of crowds.
We pointed our car to the mountains of Avellino, away from the crowds of Napoli, Rome, and Venice, and drove until we were far from any major city. Our destination, a hiking trail leading to Madonna del Fiume, was at the end of a 90-minute drive over highways, through tiny villages, up steep switchbacks, and finally into a valley behind Calabritto.
What is the Madonna del Fiume?
This beautiful sanctuary caught me by surprise. We were wandering along the karst formations and all of sudden the cave and chapel were there. The chapel’s location magnified its serenity: deep in the forest, where all you hear is water rushing from the stream and the chapel’s bell occasionally ringing out. A few locals were inside when we got there, and they told us we were very lucky because the gate is usually closed and locked.
Over 1,000 years ago, someone painted a fresco of the Virgin Mary on the ceiling of a chapel lying in the grotto where the sanctuary is today. A terrible storm in the early 1600’s ravaged the area for days, and it destroyed all of the chapel – but left the portion of the ceiling depicting the Virgin Mary completely intact.
In honor of this miracle, the locals built the current chapel in 1624 – “The Sanctuary of Madonna del Fiume.” It’s now a pilgrimage site, especially for pregnant mothers. A certain breast-shaped stalactite drips water, and pregnant women are supposed to provide plenty of milk if they drink from it!
With so much to do in the cities in Italy, it was nice to get out in nature and take a hike. Signs clearly mark the trailhead for both Cascate di Calabritto and Madonna del Fiume. I finally got my Ergo baby carrier unpacked, so I was excited to carry Jeannie most of the time. It meant she was on my back safe and sound, away from the edges of the trails. Some of them have long drops without great fences!
A lot of the trail at the beginning is downhill, which concerned me for the hike back. However, the trail was a nice mix of uphill and downhill – not too hard for kids. In fact, our friends’ 4-year-old daughter hiked the whole way back on her own.
With plenty of places to explore along the path the kids all had a really good time. One of the highlights was catching pollywogs and frogs in the river under the waterfall.
Cascate di Calabritto
There were 6 kids and 4 adults. Together we traversed the mountainside until we came to a small cascade and pool. A sign pointed up to the Cascate di Calabritto and another pointed on to the Madonna del Fiume. After we played in the water (ok, fell in the water), we hiked another 20 minutes to Madonna del Fiume.
On our way back from Madonna del Fiume we went to the main waterfall. The larger waterfall is about 5 minutes above the smaller one and a much better place to stop and play. The kids put on their swimming suits and had a great time chasing after the water creatures filling the river.
Plan your trip:
How long should I plan to hike to Madonna del Fiume?
We hiked from around 11-3, with plenty of stopping and playing along the way. It can easily be a half-day activity (2 hours there and back) – and is a great outdoor activity while in the Avellino area.