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Introducing Monti Sibillini

Straddling the Le MarcheUmbria border in rugged splendour, the Parco Nazionale dei Monti Sibillini never looks less than extraordinary, whether visited in winter, when its peaks are dusted with snow, or in summer, when its meadows are carpeted with poppies and cornflowers.

The 70,000-hectare national park covers some of the most dramatic landscapes in central Italy, with glacier-carved valleys, beautifully preserved hilltop hamlets, quiet beech forests where deer roam and mountains, 10 of which tower above 2000m.

The park is a magnet to anyone seeking outdoor adventure or a brush with wildlife, with an expansive network of walking trails criss-crossing the area. Rifugi (mountain huts) welcome hikers every few kilometres with hearty meals and warm beds; most open summer only and details are available at all local tourist offices.

There's a terrifically scenic driving loop around the mountains, which visitors can easily reach from Norcia (in Umbria) or Ascoli Piceno, Macerata or Ancona. From the southwest, start in Norcia, heading to Castelluccio. Follow signs to Montemonaco, Montefortino and Amandola. Just past Montefortino, take the road marked for Madonna dell'Ambro, which will take you to the Gola dell'Infernaccio, Monti Sibillini's waterfall masterpiece. Backtrack to Montefortino and continue on the circle.

Although not technically in the Monti Sibillini national park, the largest and prettiest town is Sarnano, on the SS78, which leads to Sasso Tetto, the main ski area in Monti Sibillini. From the main ski area, the road drops down to Lago Fiastra. To continue on an equally stunning drive, circle around to the SS209 through the Valnerina in Umbria.