When to Walk in the Sulmona Valley

It’s often the first thing to consider about an area for a walking trip. When’s a good time in the year to go? I’m asked the question quite a lot about the Sulmona Valley, so here’s an expanded version of what I say!

An August thunderstorm rolling around the Upper Gizio Valley

The first thing to know about are the seasons. Assuming you’re not a local, the climate here maybe quite different from what you’re used to. In a nutshell, the seasons are ‘big’ and vary markedly from each other.

Here’s the picture for Sulmona itself. Winter is cold with an average temperature in January of 4.4C and plenty of days where it will dip below freezing. Summer, though, is a whole lot different, i.e. hot, with an average temperature in July of 22.1C but most days it will peak in the high 20s and often push into the low 30s around midday. Rainfall too has a notable seasonal variation. Autumn is the wettest season with an historical average of 108mm of rainfall in November. Summer is the driest season with July having an historical average of 39mm of rain.

It’s interesting that the wettest season follows the driest; there is often a sense around the beginning of September of the summer having ‘broken’ – the transition from one to the other can be quite rapid and dramatic.

To complete the picture, the average temperature in April is 11.2C and in October its 14.3C. Average rainfall in April is 71mm and in October is 96mm.

Mid April on Morrrone di Pacentro

So let’s forget winter right now. Unless you’re a local and can wait for a good day or are an afficianado of snowshoes, it’s not the best time for a walking holiday.

And averages are all very well. What’s more important to planning a day outdoors is how is it actually likely to pan out. There are a few things I can reliably say. We’ll consider altitude first.

Sulmona lies at 400m, the summit of Monte Rognone is 1,700m higher and the temperature will drop about 1C for every 100m you climb. So how warm it will be depends not just on the time of year but where you go. High routes can be fresh and comfortable in the height of the summer when it’s just too hot in the valley. In the same vein, in the spring and autumn it might be freezing on the skyline but perfect walking temperature in the valley bottom.

The time of day matters too. It takes a little while to warm up so, in the summer, you can make a real difference to your day by setting off early – beat the heat! (Yes, I’m talking walking before 7:00 am. West and North facing slopes will stay in the shade for the first few hours too – be remiss not to climb them then.) When you start your walk is not so much of an issue in the spring and autumn …but for one thing, daylight.

Mist on the Morrrone near Colle delle Vacche

These numbers are the top and bottom of it. In Sulmona on 1st March the sun rises at 6:38 and sets at 17:54 which is 11 hours 16 minutes of daylight. On 30th November it rises at 7:12 and sets at 16:34 which is 9 hours 22 minutes of daylight. And on 21st June, the longest day, it rises at 5:28 and sets at 20:43 which is 15 hours 15 minutes of daylight. Yes, ok, it just says it’s light for longer in the summer. But I’ll point out two things – it gets dark surprisingly early if you are used to more northern latitudes and it’s really quite hard to get up so early that you can’t see where you are going.

A last word on the time of day. It rarely rains all day, hardly ever in the summer. Typically the day starts fresh with clear skies and stays that way as the temperature builds to the hottest time, around 13:00. Then clouds begin to appear. Not blanket cloud but piles of fluffy cumulus that rise higher over a few hours until, often, they become thunderheads. From mid-afternoon thunderstorms can occur. They are usually localised and can be violent – to be avoided if at all possible! So, the lesson – summer is a great time to walk in the Valley but, especially if you are going high, do it early!

Thunderhead on the rise

One more thing about altitude. Snow. The first snow of the coming winter lies above 2,000m from about mid-November and it will stay there until about the end of April; patches linger in gulleys and on north-facing slopes above the treeline into May. Thin smears might hang on into June. The snow line creeps remorselessly down the slopes as winter progesses and will hit the valley floor once or twice in February and March but, usually, only to stay for a day or two. To be sure the skyline is walkable with no more than the occasional diversion around a persistent patch, come between the end of May and the end of October. May itself, though, is a great walking month – just be mindful that higher routes may not be quite clear.

Late spring shower over Pettorano

The very last word about the weather. Thick mist affecting visibilty is not often an issue. There are days of low cloud but it very rarely fills the valley from its floor. And when it does it will be between late autumn and early spring. At other times cloud on the mountains is not usually thick and often follows rain.

Let’s add it all up so far – winter isn’t worth it; summer is great but nearly always hot; late spring and early autumn can be perfect, the best of all, but there will be some rainy days and lingering snow in the spring.

The Sulmona Valley early one summer morning

There are two weather forecast websites to help in your shorter-term trip planning, particularly once you are here. Here are links:

  • The Il Meteo site will give you a good forecast for every village and town (comune) in the valley
  • The mountain-forecast site will provide a forecast specifically forĀ Monte Morrone

 

When to come is not all about the weather (though it mostly is). Here, to finish, are a few other things to think about.

  • Bars, cafes and accommodation can be seasonal and not, or infrequently, open in the winter. More remote places may only be open in the traditional Italian holiday months of July and August.
  • Vegetation growth can be make paths trickier to negotiate in the summer, particularly at lower levels
  • The wildflowers of the valley are at their most spectacular in the spring and early summer whilst the autumn colours of the forest are unforgettable
  • Wildlife can be at its most interesting and observable in the autumn. The red deer rut, for example, is quite wonderful
  • The school summer holiday months (June, July and August) have a reduced bus service to outlying villages
  • The summer months are chockfull of village festas and cultural events (you’re not going to be walking all of the time)

 

The perfect day in August

p.s. if you are a snowshoer, then there is no better place than the Sulmona Valley in the winter and early spring!

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2 response to "When to Walk in the Sulmona Valley"

  1. By: Paul Turner Posted: 17th August 2018

    Curious to know when is the peak time for autumn colours in the valley and in the surrounding mountains?

    • By: Stuart Posted: 17th August 2018

      Hi Paul
      I would say second half of October. Things begin to change in late September and the leaves carry on changing into November. But mid to late October is best.
      Curiously, the Mountain Beech doesn’t drop it’s leaves until the spring, just as the new ones are in bud and ready to open. The old leaves do change colour in the autumn though so the beech woods look great all winter!
      Stuart

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