What you can learn by following the herd in Italy

Discover sleepy villages and green pastures along ancient migratory routes in Puglia and elsewhere.

A herd of 300 enters Castropignano, during the last day of a 112-mile, four-day cattle drive from Puglia to summer meadows in Molise, a seasonal migration called a transhumance.

Each June, Nunzio Marcelli gathers his flock of 1,300 sheep and leaves his home near the medieval village of Anversa degli Abruzzi in the Apennine Mountains of central Italy. Walking some 30 miles over three days, 65-year-old Marcelli, his shepherds, and a few guests curious about this region’s traditional way of life herd the animals to an alpine meadow high above the Marcelli farm.

The route from the farm to the animals’ summer pasture follows a tratturo, the Italian word for the paths carved into this land by more than 2,300 years of such migrations. After clattering through Anversa’s cobblestone streets, the sheep and their herders scramble upward. They switchback through seas of wildflowers, old-growth beech and pine forests, and crumbling stone villages—including the ethereal hamlet of Castrovalva, population 12, which clings to a craggy limestone crown jutting into the sky. On the afternoon of the third day, they crest onto a 6,561-foot-high plateau below the still snowcapped Monte Greco.

Although less than a hundred miles from Rome, the plateau feels like a forgotten world. Bumblebees browse wild oregano and thyme. Golden eagles and falcons wing through the bright blue Apennine sky. Hundreds of species of herbs, grasses, and wildflowers grow in dizzying profusion. Mobile phones don’t work here. This is the kind of place you’d never want to leave.

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