“Nature is not a place to visit. It is our home.” (Gary Snyder) In Italy, throughout the peninsula, nature is the protagonist. Between sky, earth and sea, the territory of the boot stands out within the European and world panorama for special places of rare beauty, places where animal and plant species share space and resources without human interference, glimpses of uncontaminated environments that preserve all the purity of the origins. From North to South there are many national parks in Italy, precious treasures of natural heritage to be protected over time.
Protected national parks in Italy: the characteristics
Before going into the discovery of the different national parks that cross the Italian Peninsula it is good to define what are the characteristics of these protected natural areas.
What is a National Park?
- A terrestrial, river, lake or marine area that contains an intact natural ecosystem
- An area that needs protection for physical, geological and biological formations of recognized scientific value.
- A natural area belonging to category II of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (UICN)
How many national parks are there in Italy?
Sifting through the data of the Ministry of the Environment, an updated list of 24 National Parks is drawn out, which gives the Bel Paese the fourth place in Europe for number of parks, immediately after the podium of the Nordic nations. Overall, the Italian national parks cover over one and a half million hectares, equal to about 5% of the national territory. Between the vegetation and the breathtaking views, species of animals in danger of extinction move freely, making each of the 24 Italian parks one of the most loved and chosen destinations by Italians and foreigners for those who love nature, the outdoors and adventure. .
National Parks in Italy, what are they?
Some are very famous, others less well known. Some are so extensive that they encompass more than one region, others are small but rich in flora, fauna and breathtaking views, but what are the national parks in Italy? Ideal tourist destinations for outdoor sports enthusiasts such as trekking, birdwatching, diving and mountain biking, but also for those who want to spend a few days relaxing in close contact with nature, here is the list of national parks in Italy
La Maddalena Archipelago National Park – Sardinia
An area of about 20 thousand hectares, between land and sea. That of the Maddalena is a geo-marine park, with 180 kilometers of coasts and beaches and an extremely rare marine fauna. Between the waters of this Italian archipelago swim brown groupers and sea turtles. The perfect destination for diving and diving enthusiasts. 60 between islands and islets make up this spectacular puzzle with La Maddalena island in the center. Napoleon Bonaparte, Garibaldi and Admiral Nelson left traces of their passage in this land rich in history, culture and good food. Small corners of paradise accessible and others to be admired only from afar, to safeguard the environment, such as the Pink Beach.
National Park of Gargano – Puglia
A protected area that contains some of the most beautiful Italian landscapes: those of the Tremiti Islands, of Vieste, of Peschici and of the Umbra Forest. The island of San Nicola is a concentration of monuments and archaeological finds dating back to the first millennium BC, a necropolis and the remains of a Hellenistic civilization. Go for a walk with nature and dive to discover the rich sea beds of these beautiful islands. Along the paths of the Bosco Parlante, Turkey oaks, pungitops and ivy preserve the secrets of wild boars and wild cats. A dip in the blue of the sea and in the lush greenery of the Umbra Forest, a treasure trove for photography and birdwatching enthusiasts. For those who prefer to explore the oldest Italian villages, Peschici and the expanse of white houses carved into the rock overlook a spectacular view that stretches from Rodi Gargano to Vieste
Pollino National Park – Calabria and Basilicata
Two seas and a heritage of boundless beauty: the Ionian and the Tyrrhenian sea frame an imposing mountain range. A paradise that welcomes trekking and climbing enthusiasts, from the Pollino Massif to the lower Serre. A natural oasis symbolized by the rare loricato pine, a tree that prefers the most inaccessible points, survived the last glaciation. The oldest of the Italian secular trees, a true monument of nature. Several species of mammals and birds of prey populate the park: the Apennine wolf, the sparrow hawk and the beautiful golden eagle. For those who enjoy long walks and panoramic views, the paths of Piano di Novacco, a natural plateau covered with thick woods, are highly recommended.
National Park of Sila- Calabria
Different and varied habitats for a unique experience in close contact with nature. In the Forest of the Giants there are trees over 40 m high, the Pini della Sila, better known as the Fallistro Giants. Wolves and deer leave traces along the path framed by these masters of the forest since the 1600s. Fresh waterfalls and fascinating trekking routes await fans of the genus in the Sila Greca area. Going further back in time, 350 million years ago, the queen becomes the bulbous fern, vegetation that enriches the Canyon Trail, a road connecting the four Basilian monasteries. Among the most beautiful places in this park there are the Campanaro Waterfall, about 22 meters high and the Gole del Crocchio, reachable through the Sentiero dell’acqua and waterfalls. Mushrooms and chestnuts will “meekly” gather along the paths of the Lost Steps. And if you still don’t have enough, there are the beautiful mountain lakes, the Ampollino, the Cecita and the Arvo.
National Park of the Casentino Forests, Monte Falterona and Campigna – Tuscany
Rich vegetation and romantic landscapes. The small village of Treodozio appears to the tourist as a small jewel set among woods and streams. Here are the famous terracota settlements of the Middle Bronze Age. Around Poppi the regional state forests extend, still completely intact.
Aspromonte National Park – Calabria
An expanse of over 64 thousand hectares between mountains and water, with vast forests of beech, silver fir, chestnut and black pine that alternate with the Mediterranean scrub. The Bonelli’s eagle and the Woodwardia radicans tropical fern are the symbols of this protected area, to be visited on foot or by bicycle. Nature and culture intertwine on the slopes of the Aspromonte Massif, among ancient villages, such as Bova, Mammola, San Giorgio Morgeto and Gerace and beautiful paths, such as the Ancient Sentiero dei Greci, the path that crosses Mount Orgiata, the Rocce di S. Pietro and the Pietra Cappa, the ascent of the Torrente Salino and the romantic location of Lake Costantino.
National Park of Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise
A piece of Italian history told through nature. Discovering the ancient civilization of the Marsi in the province of L’Aquila, or of the medieval nucleus of Villavallelonga. Villages with stone houses and paved alleys that lead to Castles from which to observe the entire valley. Traditions resist the advent of modernity thanks to master craftsmen, blacksmiths and shepherds. Throughout the Park there are fenced areas where the animals live in semi-freedom, even in the case of very rare specimens such as the Apennine Wolf and the Marsican Brown Bear. Even the chamois is back among the highest peaks of the valleys around Opi.
National Park of the Gulf of Orosei and Gennargentu- Sardinia
73,935 hectares, which touch the provinces of Nuoro, Ogliastra and Cagliari. On the Gennargentu massif extraordinary excursions are possible, with routes of all kinds of difficulty, from the beginner to the expert. The effort of climbing is well rewarded by the numerous panoramic points that offer a 360 ° view, such as the Bruncu Spina and Punta La Marmora. At these heights it is easy to encounter foxes, marmots, wild cats and golden eagles. The sight of an extremely heterogeneous territory opens up before the eyes, ranging from the high mountains to the crystal clear blue waters, passing through the splendid sea caves, where the rare specimens of monk seals take refuge.
Alta Murgia National Park – Puglia
Thirteen municipalities rich in monuments, castles and world-famous archaeological sites, such as the Neolithic rock settlements in Gravina and the Castel del Monte in Andria, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The traces of the past are perfectly preserved between the Romanesque cathedrals of Altamura and Bitonto and the millennial tomb of Pulo Altamura, guardian of the skeleton of a prehistoric hominid. The landscape is interspersed with stone and tuff buildings, the characteristic Apulian Trulli. Numerous plant and animal species live in the large protected area, such as the wolf, the badger and the naumanni hawk.
Val Grande-Piedmont National Park
Its 14.5 thousand hectares of extension make it the largest wild area in Italy. Nature bursts into all its power in these infinite woods, among these giant trees, in the valleys and in the crystal clear water courses. Many, many animal species including roe deer, alpine rosalia, kestrel and chamois, and numerous colorful birds. The Alpine tradition is still very much alive and can be found in every daily gesture of the shepherds and woodcutters who inhabit this territory. Through the itinerary of the Breath of History, you can admire unique buildings of the fourteenth century, while for those who love to immerse themselves in nature there are walks in the countryside, such as Along the edge of a track, which crosses chestnut woods, larch beeches up to at Alpe Faievo.
Stelvio National Park – Lombardy and Trentino Alto-Adige
17.500 thousand hectares of breathtaking vegetation in the heart of the Rhaetian Alps, up to 3935 meters high. 24 municipalities that live at the rhythm of nature and witness a history-laden past. In Bormio you can admire the “Rezia” Botanical Garden, to discover the main floristic species of the Stelvio Park. The territory has a very varied fauna: ibexes, roe deer, the white hare of the Alps, marmots and the noble deer, as well as badgers, weasels, foxes and squirrels and magnificent royal eagles.
Monti Sibillini National Park – Umbria
The ideal destination for trekking enthusiasts who can combine the pleasure of a walk in nature with that of a direct contact with history, retracing the ancient road that connected the Kingdom of Naples to the Sanctuary of Loreto. A perfect area for birdwatching and close observation of rare bird species, such as the harrier eagle, the strizzolo, the buzzard, the averla, the tottavilla, the codirossone and the kestrel. Between the paths framed by streams and the small ancient alleys, wolves, wild cats, goshawks and red peaks move.
Cilento, Vallo di Diano and Alburni- Campania National Park
When we talk about natural beauty we imagine this Park, one of the most spectacular in Italy. Nature, culture and history find their natural habitat here. From the famous archaeological area of Paestum to the medieval village of Camerota, passing through the breathtaking view of Capo Palinuro and the WWF oases of the Bussento di Morigerati caves. There are many possible excursions, such as the one leading to Monte Cervati, or the one in the marine protected area of Santa Maria di Castellabate, among very rare animal species, such as parrot fish, castanets and some coral specimens. And then again the Alburni Mountains, the caves of Pertosa and Castelcivita, the oasis of Persano, symbolized by the otter, and many other fragments of pristine beauty to be enjoyed.
Gran Paradiso National Park – Piedmont and Valle D’Aosta
Wild animals, clear lakes, green valleys and rich forests. What awaits you in the protected area of the Gran Paradiso is a magical experience, with some of the most scenic landscapes in Italy. The perfect place for all nature’s inhabitants to discover the most beautiful floral and faunal species: marmots and white hares, chamois, ibexes and majestic royal eagles.
National Park of the Tuscan-Emilian-Tuscan Apennines and Emilia Romagna
From the mountains to the sea, passing through woods and forests. There is practically something for everyone in this Italian park. Climbing lovers will particularly appreciate the sheer cliffs overlooking streams and valleys. The territory is dotted with medieval villages, such as that of Apella, Licciana Nardi and Cecciola, with their castles still preserved in excellent condition. Rare animal species animate walks in the countryside, such as wolves, golden eagles and mouflons
Cinque Terre National Park – Liguria
Five small fishing villages on the Ligurian coast: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggiore. Different for history and traditions that give life to a very varied landscape, characterized by small bays and beaches, vineyards and olive trees, panoramic paths overlooking the sea. Despite modernity trying to insinuate itself, here the fishermen still wake up early in the morning and live off their work. Let yourself be infected by the feeling that pervades the famous Via dell’Amore, a path carved into the rock that runs along the waters of this Italian park with a double soul: on one side the vegetation, on the other the sea. It is not uncommon to see sea turtles and dolphins in the waves.
Vesuvius National Park – Campania
An oasis of great geological and historical interest that includes one of the most famous Italian volcanoes. The large crater of Vesuvius overlooks the Gulf of Naples and fertilizes the lands in which famous tomatoes and famous grapes grow. 8,482 hectares protected by UNESCO as a biosphere reserve. 13 municipalities of national forest, ancient villages and seaside towns. The excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum testify to the remains of the ancient Roman city destroyed by the terrible eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. 9 possible trekking routes for all enthusiasts, at any level. Along the path of the Inferno Valley white birches and lichens frame the lava river of 1944. Reaching the Great Cone of the volcano, the view is of those spectacular, which take your breath away.
National Park of the Apennines Lucano-Val d’Agri-Lagonegrese- Basilicata
68 thousand hectares of land rich in trees. The green lung of Basilicata. Many animal and plant species live in this protected area, among rivers, lakes, beech woods and grasslands: wolves, wild cats, Hermann tortoises, amphibians and insects. Birdwatchers will not miss the chance to spot rare birds like the golden eagle and peregrine falcon. 29 municipalities that are worth visiting in every corner, such as Pignola, “town of a hundred portals”. The houses carved into the rock seem to cling to the mountain walls, between cultivated fields and pastures of cattle and horses. Many activities to be included in the program: trekking, rafting and mountain biking. The Oasis of the Deer, the Tuppo of the Seti and the excavations of Grumentum complete an already spectacular picture.
Circeo- Lazio National Park
One of the oldest protected national parks in Italy, which includes an island, a promontory, four coastal lakes, dunes and a huge forest. Trekking and mountain-bike trails, as well as hundreds of different animal and plant species. The island of Zannone awaits nature lovers, who remain enchanted by the ecosystem of the Selva di Circe, a lowland forest, declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO. History and archeology are protagonists in these places inhabited by man since the prehistoric age: a must-see at the Villa of Domitian, in the village of Villa Fogliano and in the historic center of San Felice.
Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park – Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise
An immense surface that embraces three regions rich in things to do and see. From the year 1000 the Rocca Calascio dominates the landscape at 1460 meters high. The castle of Arquata del Tronto echoes it. The Park also stands out for its fauna: from large mammals to colorful birds, to small amphibians. The Apennine chamois is the prince of these woods, which he crosses in the company of wolves, deer and golden eagles. You can’t miss a visit to Corno Grande, a mountain that is home to the only Apennine glacier, the Calderone. Forests and gorges intersperse the landscape, to the point of discovering real treasures, such as the ancient Italian city founded by the Sabinis, Amiternum, and the Fortress of Civitella del Tronto, an example of the genius of Italian military engineering.
Asinara National Park – Sardinia
The blue and the turquoise of the waters. The white of the sand. The green of the Mediterranean scrub. In the depths of this sea, various fish species swim freely, such as brown groupers, lobsters and sea cicadas. From the shore large cetaceans are often sighted, from dolphins to sperm whales, passing through whales. On the bottom lie wrecks of Roman ships, on the waves you can go by catamaran, enjoying an enchanting panoramic navigation.
Belluno Dolomites National Park – Veneto
Peaks over 2500 meters above sea level, streams and crystal clear water courses. Between the valleys of the Cismon and the Piave stand the majestic Dolomites, custodians of the most important alpine species of the country, such as lynx, bear, chamois and grouse. Paragliding, free flight and trekking are just some of the possible activities.
Tuscan Archipelago National Park – Tuscany
One of the most romantic protected areas of our country. To visit the Castle of Volterraio near Portoferraio, the Roman Villa of the Caves and the public washhouses of Rio nell’Elba, a place of exile of Napoleon Bonaparte. Beautiful beaches and breathtaking views await you
Majella National Park – Abruzzo
The Park most loved by all trekking enthusiasts who can walk to the discovery of numerous fauna species, such as the Apennine wolf, the Abruzzo chamois, the real eagle, the deer, the Marsicane brown bear, the terrestrial salamander and the one aquatic. Many characteristic villages, such as Guardiagrele with its workshops of artisans who work iron, gold and copper or Roccacaramanico, a magical place. Among the places to mark on the agenda: the Majelletta meadows, the Valle Orta caves, Neolithic places of worship, the Hermitage of San Giovanni all’Orfento, a structure completely excavated in the rock, and the Briganti table, a large paved with rocks on which are engraved the names of brigands and shepherds, protagonists of the fight against Italian unification.
Nature sets up extraordinary shows, intertwining with the history and culture of Italy. In the national parks of Italy, man enters as a mere spectator, a silent and invisible guest of the miracle of life, of freedom in its purest state, of the fascinating and wild face of Mother Earth.