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The Piano Grande (Great Plain)

The Piano Grande is the dried-up bed of what was once a lake 1200m above sea level. It is a flat area of nine square miles ringed by high mountains.

Piano Grande - click to enlarge

Piano Grande from the south
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There are still patches where the ground floods, creating large shallow ponds in which the vegetation is submerged under a thin layer of sun-warmed water. Some of the ground is cultivated, while flocks of sheep roam the slopes, tended by shepherds and dogs, many of them Pastori Maremmani, a centuries-old Italian breed used to guard sheep from wolves. (They look docile, but apparently they are not if they feel their charges are in danger.)

A very large part of the ground is effectively a huge hay meadow. In April the snow retreats; the tall marker posts along the road bear witness to the depth which it can achieve. It is now that the flat grassland is carpeted with pale purple crocuses.

Spring flowers - click to enlarge

Spring flowers
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As the year progresses, the number of flower species multiplies and their density increases until parts of the basin are thickly carpeted with blooms of every hue imaginable. Among others can be found: gentians, orchids, narcissi, wild tulips, grape hyacinth, wild pansies of every colour and pattern, bellflowers, vetch, daisies large and small, scabious, cranesbill, centaury, milkwort, trefoil...

Summer flowers - click to enlarge

Summer flowers
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In the summer, the sun can be very warm while the air remains fresh. Larks sing above while the ground itself seems to vibrate to the call of crickets. It is a place to lie on one's back and drift.

In about July the grass is cut and of course so are the flowers. The ground looks even more like a carpet and the shadows of hang-gliders sail over it.

The Piano Grande is not easily accessible all the year round but there is one village - Castelluccio - on a low hill. It is a somewhat rough looking place where climbers outnumber the sun-burnt residents busily serving them in caf├ęs. When mist covers the plain, apparently the church bells are rung in the village to guide the shepherds home.


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All material copyright of Clive West and Damaris West 2007 - 2018 and not to be used or reproduced without written permission.

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