Cascata del Rio Verde (Rio Verde Waterfall; I’ve also seen it called Niagara Rio Verde) was said to be the highest natural waterfall in Italy at around 200m. While we didn’t have the means to corroborate or refute the claim, we did notice that it possessed multiple leaps with the main tier having a converging Y-shaped drop. Some of the sections of the falls were hidden from us as seen from the official lookout spots. So we suspect that the height figure reported in the literature for this waterfall pertained to its overall cumulative drop.
This was the first waterfall we saw in our Italy trip when we gradually made our way north from Naples. Since it was in the Apennine Mountains (essentially a mountain range that are the second highest in the country and forming the “backbone” of the Italian peninsula), it was a bit of a detour (over 3 hours) to get to the town of Borrello, which was the town closest to the falls. From talking with Italians we’ve met, they generally think of Abruzzo (the region in which this waterfall is located) as a place to escape for the weekend to go skiing or even to get back to Nature in Summer. Daytripping for a waterfall in the Abruzzo region (like what we were doing) was not normal.
And while we didn’t know it at the time, it turned out that most of the natural waterfalls in the country would typically require at least over two hours drive from any major developed or highly touristed areas to truly escape back into nature. Thus, our experience here contrasted mightily with the charming medieval or ancient cities throughout much of the developed parts of Italy, where trees and mountains were more prominent than hidden outdoor shopping malls, duomos (cathedrals; Italian plural word is duomi), and cobblestone streets.
In fact, we noticed signage saying there were rare native flora and fauna trying to maintain their existence in this wilder part of South-Central Italy. We even noticed WWF (World Wildlife Fund) signs perhaps underscoring the emphasis on Nature and protection in this area.
From the open-air car park (see directions below), we took a relatively short 20-minute walk towards a pair of overlooks. Initially, the path followed a gravel road past a biglietteria (ticket office) towards a signed fork where we stayed left.
The path then narrowed as it bypassed a smaller opening (possibly for vehicles that could handle the rougher road to get there) as it entered into the cover of the forest. The trail then descended a bunch of steps towards another junction.
Staying left at this junction, the path briefly descended to the first (upper) overlook where we were able to see Cascata del Rio Verde as well as an impressive panorama of the Sangro Valley. The panorama included the autoroute perched high on a viaduct passing by more charming medieval towns perched atop foothills and towered over by the Apennine Mountains still hanging onto its snow in the late Spring.
Going down the other path at the junction in the forest, more stairs descended towards the lower lookout deck which yielded us a closer and more direct view of Cascata del Rio Verde (as pictured at the top of this page). Although we were able to see most of the waterfall from this vantage point, trees tended to obstruct its lowermost sections, and it didn’t appear that there was a safe or sanctioned trail leading to the very base of the waterfall, which we didn’t do (despite photos in the literature suggesting it might be possible to get down there).
Overall, we spent about an hour away from the car during our visit. On the way back to the car from Cascata del Rio Verde, we noticed there was an open field with a gorgeous view of Borrello fronting some snow-capped mountains as well as a cross with some signage near the biglietteria.
It’s quite possible that most visitors to Borrello probably come here from the Adriatic side of Italy. However, we can only talk about how we managed to get here, which was from Naples and to Isola del Liri.
From the A1 autostrada, we took it north from Naples towards the exit at Caianello. From there, we followed the SS85, SS158, and SS652 (generally following signs for Castel di Sangro). Once we got past the turnoff for Castel di Sangro, we then continued on the SS658 until we exited to get onto the twisty SS558. By this point, we were following signs for Borrello.
When the SS558 was about to rejoin with the SS652, that was when we left the state highway (SS stands for Strada Statale) and followed the last 4km (2.5 miles) to the town of Borrello. Once in Borrello, we started to notice signs for Cascata del Rio Verde, and so we followed the signs another half-mile east of the town of Borrello to the open-air car park (which still looked like it was being worked on during our visit in May 2013).
From Isola del Liri, we could have followed the roads to Sora, then take the SS666 (into Parco Naturale d’Abruzzo e Molise), SS509, SR83, and SS17 towards Castel di Sangro. Then from Castel di Sangro, follow the directions as given above.
As mentioned earlier, it took us about 3 hours (plus some more time for getting a little lost trying to get onto the autostrada from the airport near Naples) and another 3 hours to get to Isola del Liri via Castel di Sangro and Parco Naturale d’Abruzzo e Molise after leaving Cascata del Rio Verde.
For additional context, Naples was 218km (about 2.5 hours drive) southeast of Rome by car or about 2 hours by train. The city of Frosinone was 23km (30 minutes drive) west of Isola del Liri, 138km (90 minutes drive) northwest of Naples, and 90km (60-90 minutes drive) southeast of Rome.
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