‘Volo dell’Angelo’ means ‘Flight of the Angel’, and it is an very appropriate name for this exciting adventure activity in the mountains of Basilicata, southern Italy. The picturesque villages of Pietrapertosa and Castelmezzano are perched on opposite sides of a steep valley, connected only by a long road route which zig-zags down and up again. A few years ago, someone had the bright idea of – basically – stringing a wire across between the two villages, so that people could whizz across from one side to the other. Thus the Flight of the Angel was born.
The Volo dell’Angelo is a zip-wire, or zip-line. A tough steel wire crosses the valley, from which the flier is suspended, face down, by a pulley system. When the rider is ‘launched,’ gravity sends them zooming down the wire. At the time of writing, the Flight of the Angel is apparently the highest zip-wire in the world, and one of the fastest and longest. The top speed is around 120km/h / 70mph.
It is situated in the Dolomiti Lucane, Lucanian Dolomites (not to be confused with the northern Italian Dolomites), in the region of Basilicata. This is a remote and sparsely-populated part of Italy. The countryside and mountains are largely unspoilt and the two villages are within a natural park, the Parco Naturale di Gallipoli Cognato e delle Dolomiti Lucane.
More about the Volo dell’Angelo / Flight of the Angel
The zip-wire idea was originally from France, and there aren’t, at the time of writing, many in the world on this scale. Should any other villages envy the good fortune of Castelmezzano and Pietrapertosa, they will be left frustrated, as the owners have taken out exclusive rights meaning that no similar wire can be installed anywhere in southern Italy.
As the zip-wires operate downhill, there are two lines between Castelmezzano and Pietrapertosa, with different start and finish points. You can begin in either village and make a return or a one-way journey (only return tickets are sold). There are shuttle buses to take fliers along the roads between arrival and departure points, though you will have to walk part of the way on foot.
The Castelmezzano departure point is high above the village. A shuttle bus will take you from the village to a small car park by a chapel and you continue on foot. From here a pleasant footpath leads uphill for around twenty minutes, finishing at the rocky summit where there is the launch point, a shed containing equipment and a bench. Although the gradient is tiring, this walk is worth doing even if you’re not planning to launch yourself into the air, as the views and wildlife along the way are very fine.
The line from Castelmezzano to Pietrapertosa is called the Linea Paschiere, and is 1452 metres long.The arrival point is outside Pietrapertosa, and the shuttle bus takes you to a spot from which you can walk through the village to the next departure point. The wire from Pietrapertosa, the Linea San Martino, is shorter with a greater drop. It arrives near Castelmezzano.Note that the nearest toilets are in the villages; there are no facilities by the zip-line itself.
The Volo dell’Angelo operates in the summer months, every day except Mondays, typically from May to September, and you can check the latest timetables on the official website (see links panel). It’s a wise idea to book ahead through the website – note that prices are higher on Sundays and bank holidays, the busiest times. You must be at least 16 years old, and between 35kg and 120kg to fly. At the time of writing a return ticket costs 30 (38 on Sundays and holiday).
On arrival in your departure village, you should report to the ticket office (biglietteria) a good while before your flight, allowing time to travel to the departure points (they recommend allowing 20 minutes before your booked slot in Pietrapertosa, and 45 minutes in Castelmezzano). The Castelmezzano ticket office is on Piazza Rivedi and the Pietrapertosa one is at Via Garibaldi, 4 (the villages are very small; just look out for signposts or ask anyone).
You should wear tough secure shoes, both for the walk uphill to the launch spot and to ensure they don’t slip when you’re flying. A rucksack is the best sort of bag to bring, as you can travel with it on your back. Other kinds of bag will be wedged in on your back and secured to the harness. Women should wear trousers.
As the operators prepared each traveller for the flight, they asked their name and weight in kilograms. It would be a good idea to prepare this information if you don’t know off-hand – the body-weight determines the size of a ‘sail’ attached to the back of the traveller, to slow them down.
Your hands are tucked within your harness behind your back, so you won’t be able (and aren’t allowed) to use your camera while you fly. But if you want to film your flight, you can hire a helmet-camera from ticket offices or departure points and pick up a DVD of the film afterwards.
What’s it like?
I didn’t attempt the flight, but my travelling companions were unanimous that it ‘wasn’t that frightening’. The most nervy and awkward bit was getting harnessed up in a suspended prone position. During the flight, you may find that your eyes water from the rush, and you feel as though you are going rather too fast to stop – don’t worry, as there’s a safe, somewhat abrupt, system to stop you at the far end. Everyone I spoke to who’d taken the flight said they were glad they’d done it, and that they’d even had time to admire the views.
Looking at the photographs and reading this page will probably be enough to help you decide if the Flight of the Angel is for you or not. There are also action videos on the official website.
Travel and transport
You will need to have perseverance and patience to get around this part of Basilicata by public transport, but it is possible. Buses operated by Sita connect Castelmezzano with Potenza, the region’s capital, around four times a day, taking approximately an hour, while a company called Renna run buses between Potenza and Pietrapertosa. Potenza can be reached by train from other parts of Italy. Naples and Bari are the two most convenient airports.
Castelmezzano and Pietrapertosa
Both Castelmezzano and Pietrapertosa are very picturesque villages, seemingly glued to the steep slanting rocks of the mountainside. Each used to have a defensive castle; rock-cut steps from the old stronghold can be seen in Castelmezzano, and tourists can visit the remains of the rock-fortress in Pietrapertosa. The Flight of the Angel is owned and run by the two village councils (comuni), its main goal being to provide employment, to develop tourism and to improve the villages (Castelmezzano was having its main street smartly re-paved when we visited). Travellers can be content that they are visiting a place where they are truly welcome and helping sustain the existence of these remote historic villages. One of the recent initiatives is an art-installation walk between the Castelmezzano and Pietrapertosa, descending into the valley and up the other side. Inspired by local traditions and literature, the route of this Percorso delle Sette Pietre (‘Walk of the Seven Stones’) is dotted with art and sound installations. The restaurant Becco della Civetta in Castelmezzano is a good choice for a post-flight lunch, with views of the Volo dell’Angelo from its windows.
There are a number of places to stay in the immediate neighbourhood, for travellers who wish to spend a night or two in Pietrapertosa or Castelmezzano. Several good, small B&Bs in Castelmezzano itself include Il Borgo Ducale and La Perla nelle Dolomiti. If you’d rather stay in a larger town with more to do, and are prepared to drive, the best place to stay in the region is the cave-town of Matera, just under an hour’s drive away.
I travelled to experience the Flight of the Angel as a guest of Basilicata APT, the regional tourist board. Their official UK website can be visited at Discover Basilicata UK.
On this site
Useful external links
Volo dell’Angelo official website, with bookings
SITA buses (Potenza – Castelmezzano)
Renna buses (Potenza – Pietrapertosa)
ViaMichelin (driving routes)
Discover Basilicata UK official tourism website