Trip to Serra San Bruno, between nature and spirituality

A visit to the small capital of the Serre Vibonesi and its sacred places

© Regione Calabria

Sites of faith

Feb 29, 2024 11:23 AM

Nestled in the heart of the Serre Vibonesi plateau, in the province of Vibo Valentia, is a town of baroque charm, suspended between nature and spirituality.

We are talking about Serra San Bruno, a small capital of forests and fine craftsmanship, whose history is strongly linked to the figure of Saint Bruno of Cologne, who founded his first Charterhouse here in the year 1000.

Let's discover the beauty of the place together on a weekend dedicated to spirituality, unspoilt mountains and the local mushroom-based cuisine.

Serra San Bruno and its Charterhouse

Founded in the year 1000, the Charterhouse of Serra San Bruno, also known as Charterhouse of Santo Stefano, was the work of the French monk Bruno of Cologne, who sheltered as a hermit in these dense fir forests at the explicit request of Count Roger the Norman, to stem the advance of Greek-Byzantine monasticism in southern Italy.

The first hermitic nucleus, not far from the inhabited centre of Serra San Bruno, is today identifiable with the oldest structures to be found near the Shrine of Santa Maria del Bosco, in the intense green of the trees and ferns.

In addition to the so-called Dormitory, there is also an artificial lake where legend has it that the monk atoned for penance.

Santuario di Santa Maria del Bosco
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A little further down the valley stands the Charterhouse of Santo Stefano, which St Bruno (patron saint of the village) founded at a later date to make life easier for the older brothers and novices.

Visitable only by men for a long time, the Charterhouse of Serra San Bruno is still one of the few inhabited Charterhouses in Europe, although the enclosure has become stricter over the years and entry is only permitted inside the Charterhouse Museum, where visitors can experience all aspects of monastic life through reconstructions of rooms, tools and original documents.

Serra San Bruno
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It was the same workers brought to these places at the beginning of the year 1000 who populated the present town, which was divided into an original historic quarter, Terravecchia, and a more recent quarter, Spinetto.

Both rich in churches and works of art reflecting ancient crafts, the districts of Serra San Bruno are a concentration of Baroque churches, monuments, streets paved in local granite, balconies and wrought-iron fixtures worked to perfection. Each element is the result of tradition handed down through generations by local carpenters, stonemasons and blacksmiths.

Not to be missed is a walk along Corso Umberto, the town's main street, overlooked by some of the main places of worship: the Mother Church, dedicated to San Biagio (the town's patron saint), the Church of Addolorata, a true jewel of Calabrian Baroque, and the two churches dedicated to the Assunta, in their respective quarters.

Chiesa dell’Addolorata
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If you wander through the alleys of the centre, after passing the beautiful War Memorial, made of wrought iron and granite, you will discover many artistic gems and valuable artefacts, such as the historic Bonsignuri Fountain.

One cannot leave Serra San Bruno without having eaten a tasty dish of local porcini mushrooms, prepared in a gourmet manner or as tradition dictates.

Paths in the green

Nature, religiousness and slow life come together in the experience of hiking in the woods, to be practised with an environmental guide or completely independently.

A pleasant route within everyone's reach is the Frassati Path, which connects the Charterhouse to the Shrine of the Wood for a length of about 5 km. Along the route, a series of resting points tell the life and story of Saint Bruno by means of signs.

Sentiero Frassati
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Those who enjoy trekking in the woods can choose a more structured outing, choosing from the various sightseeing opportunities offered by the Serre Regional Natural Park.

One of the most evocative itineraries follows in the footsteps of the Serrese charcoal burners, the famous coal producers who still hand down the trade to new generations. It will be fascinating to admire the great scaràzzi, the igloo-shaped charcoal pits that burn incessantly night and day.

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In Serra San Bruno and the surrounding area, it is possible to explore various adventure parks in the company of children, trying their hand at aerial trails between trees or coming face to face with replicas of large prehistoric dinosaurs.