It may come as some surprise to learn that the National Parks of Italy make up somewhere in the region of 5% of the country’s territory. That’s 24 designated regions of exceptional beauty away from the urban madness of Rome and Milan that have been specifically selected for conservation purposes. You may already be familiar with one or two of them – the area surrounding the fearsome yet breathtaking volcano Vesuvius and the marine pleasures of Arcipelago di La Maddalina spring immediately to mind – but you can just as easily find all you desire in some of the lesser-travelled locales.
Whatever you’re looking to gain from your holiday experience, you can’t go wrong with a trip to the Italian National Parks. With activities on hand to appease even the most hardcore outdoor enthusiast, and Mother Nature providing many a Kodak moment, it’s just a case of narrowing it down to the perfect destination for you.
Top five Italian National Parks
Arguably the most eye-catching of the country’s National Parks, Grand Paradiso also happens to be the oldest. Handed its status in 1922 by King Vittorio Emanuele III in an attempt to preserve the threatened ibex population, the region stands firm to this day as a snapshot of traditional Alpine life. Scattered with quaint hamlets, hunting lodges and isolated chapels, its glacial valley ‘Orco’ is especially enchanting. The best views can be found at the 2,500m peak of the Nivolet, a sweeping plateau that can be reached on foot, by bike or shuttle bus.
The thought of spending your holiday in the company of wolves and bears may at first seem an altogether terrifying proposition – but Abruzzo National Park prides itself on its efforts to protect these magnificent creatures. Sightings of the animals are relatively rare, but even if you aren’t one of the fortunate few, you’re still sure to be overawed by this forest haven. There are hiking trails aplenty leading you through the maze of pines and beeches, but if you’re feeling adventurous, you can also embark on a canoeing trip down the Sangro River.
Everyone knows the tragic tale of the 79AD eruption that destroyed the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum, but almost 2,000 years on, the responsible volcano makes for a dramatic backdrop. The aforementioned towns are, of course, popular with tourists, but the chance to make an unsettling trek to the lip of an active volcano is the big selling point of the Vesuvius National Park. Its proximity to the city of Naples also renders it perfect for blending your outdoors experience with a taste of authentic Campanian urban culture.
Few regions of Italy, or indeed mainland Europe, can boast so much in the way of variety as Aspromonte. On one hand, the expanse of the park along the luscious Mediterranean coastline emerges as a colossal granite pyramid, canyons and streams cascading towards the summit of Monte Cocuzzo. Travel further inland and the slopes give way to a landscape of colourful olive groves and peaceful countryside, the perfect habitat for wildlife such as otters, wild cats and eagles.
Arcipelago di La Maddalina
For a more relaxing National Park experience, the Maddalina Archipelago might just be your finest option. There’s no shortage of picturesque scenery here, the seven islands that comprise the area flanked by some of the bluest waters you’re ever likely to clap eyes on. It’s this feature, first and foremost, that distinguishes the park. The alcoves and beaches surrounding the archipelago are secluded enough to unwind, but why not strap on your snorkel and go exploring? A boat cruise is the best way to see everything this Sardinian paradise has to offer.
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