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A Look at the Grotta di Monte Cucco
Mount Cucco, for which the breathtaking Parco di Monte Cucco in the northeast of Umbria is named, is home to the only cave in Umbria open for guided tours. The Grotta di Monte Cucco has been a favorite haunt for local spelunkers since the 1500s, but in recent years access stairs, walkways, and lighting have been added to the largest and most spectacular caverns and passages, making the cave suitable for visits by the public.
This Apennine peak hides an underground warren stretching roughly 20 kilometers through natural cavities, tunnels, waterways, and springs. Most require spelunking skills and equipment to explore, but the 800 meter stretch of the Grotta di Monte Cucco--the mouth of which opens near the mountain’s crest at an altitude of 1,400 meters above sea level--is accessible and can be easily visited by anyone in moderate physical shape.
Visitors must enter the cave accompanied by a guide; visits include the initial 27-meter drop at the cave entrance (the near-vertical stairs used to navigate the stretch are a deterrent for the faint of heart), three massive caverns—the Cattedrale, Sala Margherita, and Sala del Becco—and their connecting passageways.
Grotta di Monte Cucco is an example of a hypogenic cave, formed by water rising up from below and dissolving the rock, as opposed to an epigenic cave, which is formed by the action of surface waters descending into the ground and dissolving rock. Thus, the inside is thick with softly rounded stalagmites rather than icycle-like stalactites, giving visitors a vague sense of walking through a field of giant fairy-tale mushrooms.Continue to 2 of 2 below.
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How to Visit the Grotta di Monte Cucco
There are a number of different types of visits offered by the Monte Cucco guides, suited to different interests and fitness levels:
- The basic Percorso Scoperta visits about 80% of the cave length and lasts about three hours. It leaves each day during the months of July and August at 9:00 am, noon, and 3:00 pm and does not require a reservation. Entrance €10/€8 for visitors aged 10-25 and over 65.
- The Traversata, which lasts about five hours, visits the entire length of the cave from the east cave mouth to the exit on the north face of the mountain and runs from May through November. There is a shuttle service to bring visitors to the cave entrance and back which leaves from the meeting point in nearby Costacciaro. Reservations are required; entrance €20/€16 for visitors aged 10-25 and over 65.
- The Percorso Avventura is for those who are more adventurous, would like to try their hand at spelunking, and are physically fit. This more rigorous adventure course follows rope lines fixed to the sides of the cave and requires climbing gear and a spelunking guide (both provided). Lasting about six hours, this visit requires reservations and is offered from May through November. Entrance €40/€32 for visitors aged 10-25 and over 65, which includes shuttle service from the meeting point in nearby Costacciaro.
- Though none of these guided visits require spelunking skills, visitors need to be in moderate physical shape and not suffer from fear of heights or claustrophobia. There’s a minimum age of ten years, and a jacket and sturdy hiking boots are recommended. Rates and hours listed above are current as of summer, 2013.
To reach the caves, follow the road that winds its way up the slopes of Monte Cucco from Sigillo to the small lot at Pian di Monte and take the half kilometer hike to the Valcella meeting point. From here, it’s another half kilometer hike (with your guide) to the eastern cave entrance, where tours begin.
For further information, current rates and hours, or to book a tour, please see Monte Cucco Park website.