The Cervati is the highest peak in the Cilento National Park at 1,900m. Here you will experience breathtaking views of the Cilento from the rocky plateau above the tree line, as well as the spectacular inghiottitoio or natural plug hole. You can make the walking more or less strenuous depending on where you leave the car as each place is a round trip rather than one leading on from the other. Once you leave the main road, it is a bumpy drive up the increasingly narrow mountain road through a beech forest towards the rocky plateau above the tree line. Along the road there are interesting things to see as well as places to stop including a mountain refuge and a picnic area.
On the SS18, follow signs to Palinuro, then turn off towards motorway and San Lorenzo as far as Sanza. Here turn off the main road and pass Sanza, following signs to Monte Cervati. This road will wind up the mountain for a while and then a sign for Monte Cervati will take you up a bumpy not asphalted road.
There are various things to see and walks to take along this route:
Affondatore di Vallivona
An ‘affondatore’ or ‘inghiottitoio’ is a natural ‘plug hole’ or a hole in the mountain that collects water. This fascinating deep hole 30 or 40 metres wide has sheer sides that rise 200 metres up to the forest floor above and is reached by a long tunnel dug out of the rock. A wooden sign on the road will point the way and it is best to leave the car here or just a little further down the road and proceed on foot. It is an easy path to follow and not particularly strenuous (just a bit steep when you return). The entrance to the ‘affondatore’ is marked by a cool wind that comes from a long tunnel. Prepare yourself for puddles of water and a cold breeze, and bring a torch. Once out of the tunnel it is like being in another world, with enormous leaves, cool ponds with frogs and tadpoles and a waterfall.
Further along the bumpy road there is a refuge where you can stop and ask for a coffee. Further still there is a large picnic area. The road continues past the picnic area and at a fork, follow for the Santuario della Madonna della Neve.
As you come above the tree line further up this road, a rough little sign points the way to the Nevaia (snow hole). This is a hole in the ground where the snow never melts. It is quite a strange sight to see cold snow even in the middle of August. The path is along the slope of the mountain and then over some rocks and will take about half an hour each way.
Santuario della Madonna delle Neve
At the summit, the cool forest gives way to sparse, rocky landscape and breathtaking views of the area. A small chapel dedicated to the Madonna della Neve (Our Lady of Snow) is usually shut unfortunately, but the custodians are sometimes around and so you can ask to enter. However, on the 4th August a wonderful ceremony takes place here in which hundreds of local residents take part. This is when the statue of the Madonna that spends the summer in this little chapel is returned to the her winter residence in Sanza. Local young people carry her down on a plynth, on foot and mostly at a good jog, in the middle of the night. It is a happy, fun festival with fires burning until the early hours of the morning just before dawn when everybody departs behind the Madonna.
Another fascinating place here is the small sanctuary dedicated to the Madonna hewn out of the rock on a mountain ledge. This is reached by some steep steps partly cut out of the rock that are just beyond the chapel. It is not for the faint-hearted or those suffering vertigo, as the sheer drops on the other side of the fence give stunning if knee wobbling sensation of the altitude and the beauty of the area. This tiny little cave altar was built by emigrants to America originally from Sanza, the nearest village further down the valley. Once you have driven all the way up, the walk to the sanctuary is not particularly difficult (just a bit knee wobbly due to the height).
For a longer walk to the actual summit, a rough path heads out into the rocky slopes for more spectacular views and not too strenuous walking. You can reach the summit and leave your name in the visitor’s log book hidden in a box up there.