There’s a particular satisfaction in spending a day out walking knowing that you didn’t use a private car in the process. And if you live in Sulmona or are based there for a while then it is very achieveable. The Sulmona valley has a well-established public transport network and a walking holiday here for a couple of weeks without a car is absolutely possible!
Every walk description in our catalogue has information on how to access the start point from Sulmona by bus and / or train. In fact, we have designed routes to take advantage of the network. The more we think to use it the more we help to sustain and develop it as well as make our small but positive contribution to looking after the natural world we love. It all adds up!
There is a problem, though – the infrastructure exists but how do you begin to understand it, let alone use it! It’s, er, not as obvious as other places you may have been. So here’s a guide; my contribution to getting you down the lanes and onto the hills without adding to the valley car miles…
Let’s begin with buses as they are the mode you are most likely to use.
Point number one is that there are three separate networks operating at different levels – urban, suburban and interurban. Urban services are run by the local council, suburban services by TUA (Transporto Unico Abruzzese) and interurban services by TUA and a number of private licenced operators.
In Sulmona itself there are seven bus routes that run around the town and outlying hamlets within the town’s boundaries. These urban routes link the station, the town centre, the hospital, the cemetery, the industrial area, schools and other popular places. I’m not going to say much about them, though, as they serve only two of our current route start points – the cathedral (line A) and the cemetery (line C). Your main use of Sulmona’s urban bus may well be to get between the railway station and the town centre (line A). There is one every half hour or so. Urban buses are little and orange and they look like this:
Stepping over suburban for a moment, a few words about the interurban network (or extraurban as it’s sometimes known). These are the routes that link Sulmona with other towns and cities in Abruzzo and, indeed, other cities in Italy. Buses run to Rome, Naples, Pescara, L’Aquila, Scanno and Avezzano to name just a few places. We don’t need to go to any of these for the start of a walk but, in some cases, extraurban services stop at villages in the valley on their way out and back. For example, the bus from Sulmona to Castel di Sangro stops at Pettorano Sul Gizio and Rocca Pia. And the bus to Scanno stops at Bugnara and at Anversa Degli Abruzzi. Just bear in mind that the bus you catch may be on its way to somewhere a lot further afield. Extraurban buses are more like coaches (pulmans) and tend to look like this:
So, now to the ones that, for Sulmona Valley walking, matter the most. This is the map of the extensive Sulmona valley suburban bus network. It’s good and nearly all the villages are served.
Wondering what the colour coding and numbers mean? It’s all about fare stages. The network is centered on Sulmona – green is the inner stage, red the middle stage and blue the outer stage. You pay for the number of stages you travel in; the digit just confirms how many stages a destination is from Sulmona. So, for example, Casa La Rocca is a one stage ride from Sulmona, Pacentro is a two stage ride and Vittorito is three stages away.
To complete our picture of what buses look like, this is a typical suburban bus:
You buy tickets for the number of stages you need for your journey and they must be bought in advance. (This is also true for Sulmona’s urban buses.) You can get them typically from bars, newspaper kiosks and tabacconists – there are over 30 outlets in Sulmona so you are never far from one. They often, but not always, have the following sticker in their window. If you need a ticket and are in a bar or tobacconist ask anyway – chances are they have them.
This is what bus tickets look like for the suburban network. These examples are for two fare stages (tratte). All journeys are one-way and end when you get off the bus. You’ll need another ticket to get back again. You must validate your ticket by stamping it with the date and time when getting on the bus. The arrow on the ticket shows the end to push into the stamping machine, which will be just inside the bus door and is often yellow. If you are found to be travelling without a validated ticket you may be fined.
Ticket prices are currently €1.20 for one fare stage, €1.70 for 2 fare stages and €2.40 for 3 fare stages. (The fare structure continues but nowhere in the suburban network is more than 3 stages from Sulmona.)
Now a quick moan… frankly, bus stops are a disaster. They offer no assistance to the traveller other than being a place to flag down the approaching bus and, in some cases, a roof to shelter beneath while you are waiting. Do not expect to find any information about the state secret which is the routes that use the stop and the times buses arrive. You are expected to know this already. But, in this online age, all is not lost! More below…
Below is a photo of a local bus stop. This example is used by both suburban and and extraurban services which is quite common and useful. It also says that it’s a request stop. My advice is to treat all bus stops as request stops – wave and look the driver in the eye. No harm in being very clear. Buses display their destination on the front so if you waved and then noticed it’s going somewhere else, step back with grace and humility. (ARPA, by the way, is what TUA used to be called.)
How do I know where my stop is? Hold on, it’s coming up. First a few words about the main stops in Sulmona. The nearest thing the town has to an actual bus station are the stops (one in each direction) almost below the Capograssi bridge (Ponte Capograssi) on the road that passes aound the east side of the historical town centre (Via Circonvallazione Orientale). Almost all buses leaving or arriving in Sulmona stop here. Indeed, such is the status of the place that both stops have two shelters. Roughly speaking, buses headed north, or north initially, stop outside the IP petrol station whilst those headed south, or south initially, stop on the other side of the road and on the other side of the bridge. Other useful stops, depending on the route you are taking, are the railway station; either side of the long park (Villa Comunale) in front of the cathedral; near Porta Napoli at the southern end of the old town and the hospital on Viale Mazzini, about a kilometer south of Porta Napoli. Here they are on a map:
And the last but most important words on buses – how do I find out the times, routes and stop locations?
It’s easy as long as you can connect to the internet (and you probably wouldn’t be reading this if you can’t). Quite recently TUA launched a new website for searching for bus connections and you can see it by clicking here. And a massive improvement it is, too. Hooray! You specify the two places you want to travel between and the date and departure time and then press search. The website returns a list of all the connections available from then on – departure and arrival times and stop names, service number and number of stops. It also gives any changes you may have to make. If you then click on a connection for more details, you can see all of the intermediate stops and, on a map, the line of the route. If you zoom in on the map, you will see exactly where each stop is. My advise is use it!
Note that the TUA website won’t tell you if a connection it has listed terminates at your destination (likely to be a suburban service) or just stops there on the way to somewhere else (likely to be an interurban service). For example, the 13:04 for Pettorano is actually the service between Sulmona and Castel di Sangro. Be aware that the destination name on the bus isn’t necessarily where you are getting off – just ask the driver if you are unsure.
Now it’s the turn of trains. Sulmona is a historic railway hub and we are blessed in the valley by having four separate lines that radiate from the town. (Ok, one of these, to Castel di Sangro, no longer has a scheduled service but it’s fully operational and is used frequently for very popular themed railway specials. These may not be of particular use for getting to and from the start of a walk but you might find them a lovely way to spend a day with your feet, more or less, up.) The other lines go to Pescara, Roma and L’Aquila. All train services are operated by the national rail company, TrenItalia.
This is a map of the valley’s railway lines and stations – the black lines have scheduled services but the blue line, sadly, does not:
Pratola and Popoli stations are on the line to Pescara; Raiano station is on the line to L’Aquila and the others are on the line to Rome.
Services to Raiano all begin in Sulmona. Services from Rome and Avezzano to Pescara pass through and stop at Sulmona and then also call at Pratola and Popoli. In addition other services for Pratola and Popoli begin in Sulmona. Conversely services from Pescara to Rome and Avezzano pass through and stop at Sulmona and then some also call at Goriano Secoli and Cocullo. In addition other services for Goriano Secoli and Cocullo begin in Sulmona.
Currently there are no scheduled services for Bugnara, Anversa and Prezza. However these stations have been served in the recent past from Sulmona so I suggest checking the TrenItalia timetable before your planned day out; hopefully the situation might have improved.
The frequency of trains on weekdays and Saturdays is pretty good between Sulmona and Pratola, Popoli and Raiano, with up to 16 trains a day to Pratola and Popoli and up to 12 to Raiano. It’s not bad to Goriano Secoli and Cocullo either with 5 on weekdays and Saturdays. Services are reduced on Sundays. Check the times of trains using the Trenitalia website here.
Train ticket prices in Italy are cheap and will probably feel like a bargain if you come from somewhere else. Currently a single from Sulmona to Popoli or to Raiano is €1.90 and to Goriano or Cocullo is €3. You buy your tickets at the station before you board. At Sulmona station you have the choice of using the ticket desk or one of a number of ticket machines. The machines will display English if you select this at the outset of your transaction.
You must validate your ticket before you get on the train or risk a €50 on-the-spot fine for travelling without a valid ticket. Insert your ticket into a validation machine which prints the date and time on it. Validation machines look like this and you will find them on every station:
So, our User Guide is almost done! Already you are feeling more than confident enough to use public transport in the valley. Great!
But, a final few words about one other option – the taxi. You are likely to be disappointed when looking for a taxi rank in Sulmona because, well, there aren’t any. The only place you may find a car waiting is at the railway station – and that’s uncommon. There are a few taxis but you need to call for one and preferably sometime ahead of when you need it. Here are a couple of numbers and a website (which may be easier) to try:
Marco 3929106710 (This is Orso taxis and car hire)
Orso’s website is here. There is a contact form.