Characteristic Villages, Fantastic Fauna
The Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo was established in 1923 to protect nature and to save certain wild animals from extinction. It’s in the heart of the central Apennines between the Abruzzi, Lazio and Molise and its some 50,000 hectares are home to 25 towns.
The scenery here is characterized by mountain chains, karst phenomena, rivers (including the Sangro River) and streams. It’s the ideal place to spend pleasant days in close contact with nature and to admire uncontaminated landscapes, a rich flora and varied fauna. It is here that certain species such as the Marsican brown bear (40 bears), golden eagle, Apennine wolf, deer, otter and chamois have found refuge and their habitat amongst remote valleys and inaccessible mountains.
A journey through the towns of the Abruzzi in the park could start in Pescasseroli, the birthplace of philosopher Benedetto Croce and situated in the province of L’Aquila. This town is worth discovering and has many interesting places to explore, from the Museo Naturalistico to the Animal park home to certain local fauna (born in captivity or injured, treated and rehabilitated at the centre) and the Apennine garden with many flora species and a pond. Your tour should also include the 12th-century abbey of Santi Pietro e Paolo, which has been restored several times and houses a wooden statue of a Black Madonna. Finally, many winter sports can be enjoyed in Pescasseroli thanks to its modern ski facilities.
Heading towards the area inhabited by the Apennine wolf and lynx is the town of Civitella Alfedena, which is characterized by typical grey houses and stone buildings. The Museo del Lupo Appenninico (Museum of the Apennine Wolf) is located here and is dedicated to the biology, history, culture, and the legends involving this predator, and the Faunal area, which is home to several animals living in semi-freedom.
Artificial Barrea Lake is close to this quaint little resort town behind the Meta Mountains. It’s the largest sheet of water in the protected area and was created by damming the Sangro River. It’s a true oasis where rare bird species can be seen such as the Grey Wagtail or the Grey Heron. Overlooking the lake is the small medieval village of Barrea, perched up on a spur at 1066 m asl and surrounded by some of the park’s most beautiful mountains.
Villetta Barrea is not far from here. Nestled on the Sangro River and dominated by Mount Mattone, today’s town dating back to the Sabellian Period was built around a small castle erected at the end of the 1300’s.
Charming Alfedena is located here. It’s a picturesque village where the medieval walls of Prince Caracciolo of Cellammare’s castle and octagonal Norman tower (10th - 11th centuries) can still be seen. The view of Montagna Spaccata Lake is beautiful.
Another leg: Villavallelonga at about 1,000 m asl. The Museo dell’Orso museum is worth seeing in this town. It illustrates the life, habits and faunal area of the bear and several bears and deer can also be observed. There is also an educational pond for children near the museum. It has plants and animals, a vegetable garden and a botanical garden with the most common and characteristics plants found in the park.
Follow trunk road no. 83 for 7 km and you’ll come to the long, wooded Fondillo Valley home to the ancient medieval village of Opi. Perched on a rocky spur and dominated by the summits of Mount Marsicano and Mount Petroso, Opi has an abundance of archaeological evidence and is also well-known for the Museo del Camoscio d’Abruzzo chamois museum.
- The best time to visit the park is the spring. The meadows are covered with flowering violets, crocuses, snowbells, gentians, lilies, primroses and buttercups, the animals (including deer, roe deer, chamois, bears, foxes, hares and otters) resume activity after the winter and the migratory birds animate the sky once again. However, the autumn colours also make this landscape even more charming. Summer is the best time for hikers and campers.
- Both the park and various towns organize themed guided tours throughout the year, as well as exhibitions and shows, events and festivals associated with traditions, folklore, gastronomy and the rich local heritage of fauna and flora.
- Most of the roads and paths that unwind in the Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo’s nature areas are closed to vehicle traffic. Cars may only be used to get to the park and to travel between towns. Excursions and tours are meant for hiking unless they follow specific paths and trails created for bicycles, horses, mules and cross-country skies in the winter. There are short or long, easy or difficult nature paths for adults and children that start in picturesque towns and unwind in a spectacular landscape, such as the Pista dell’orso (bear path), il percorso sulle tracce degli animali misteriosi (path on the trail of mysterious animals), a path dedicated to the world of insects and the path in the kingdom of the chamois.
- The park is a protected area and therefore visitors should respect the environment to the best of their ability. It is prohibited to pick flowers, break branches or carve tree trunks. Local offices have a tourist map with about 150 ecological-tourist trails covering a total of 250 km.
For more information: www.parcoabruzzo.it