Porto Caleri Botanical Garden
Walkways from the sea to the lagoon cross it like a bird's eye view
The Porto Caleri Coastal Botanical Garden is unique among Italian protected areas. Reaching it is in itself a naturalistic experience, along an embankment between river and lagoon. In its 44 hectares it offers a comprehensive review of those coastal habitats that in the vast majority of our coasts have been wiped out by the construction of ports or sacrificed to the demands of seaside tourism. The Botanical Garden, one of the jewels in the crown of the Po Delta Park is located at the end of the coastal road that descends from Rosolina Mare towards Porto Caleri. It also serves as a Visitor Centre for the Po Delta Park.
This “garden” is far from being cultivated: it is nature that reigns supreme and undisturbed. The hand of man, in fact, can mostly be seen in the well-equipped elevated paths. They connect the coastal dunes to the lagoon, passing through an evergreen forest. Particularly moving is the beautiful beach, left in its natural state, with large sun-bleached logs, carpets of dried seaweed and flights of sea birds.
Why it is special
The numbers of the Porto Caleri Botanical Garden are unequivocal: hundreds of plant species, some exclusive to the Upper Adriatic, and the same goes for the fauna, especially winged, resident and migratory. One small wader, however, is the one that has gained the attention of the chronicles in recent times: it is the kentish plover (Charadrius alexandrinus, “fratino” in Italian), which has the unfortunate habit of laying its eggs in a simple hollow at the foot of the coastal dunes; perfectly camouflaged eggs, but nevertheless at the mercy not only of natural predators, seagulls, crows and magpies, but also of other beachgoers: absent-minded bathers, out-of-control dogs, stray cats and the like, so much so it is threatened with extinction. Well, Porto Caleri is precisely one of the last Adriatic beaches where the nesting of this species is protected in a way that bodes well for its future.
Not to be missed
Of the three paths leading into the Garden, the most exciting is undoubtedly the one that winds its way - three kilometres in all, most of it elevated - from the pine forest to the sea, pausing at the lagoon, where a scenic gazebo on stilts is an unmissable photographic subject. If you can, walk the path in the late afternoon when the surface of the water lights up with the colours of sunset. And if you want to overdo it, plan the excursion from May onwards, during the flowering period of the limonium, the little marsh plant that covers the ground with a violet mantle, fading into the iridescent green of the lagoon.
A bit of history
Rosolina is the Adriatic town that occupies the coastal strip between the Adige and Po di Levante rivers. The town is on the Via Romea, with all its hustle and bustle, but you only have to leave it to enter the most authentic atmosphere of the Po Delta. Going back in time, in the 1950s, the only settlement on the coast was Caleri, an outpost frequented only by sailors and hunters. Along the coastline there was an endless dune beach, then a pine forest and a lagoon with a mosaic of fishing valleys. The first tourist resort dates back to 1963, and today Rosolina Mare has 300 residents and 150,000 seasonal tourists, but it still can manage, all things considered, to safeguard the environment, and is especially proud for the creation in 1990 of the Coastal Botanical Garden.
Good to know
More than two hundred plant species are recorded in the Botanical Garden, but the palm of strangeness undoubtedly goes to the “calcatreppola” or sea-herb (Eryngium maritimum). Its triangular leaves are leathery, thorny, waxy on the surface, grey-green with bluish tones. It has amethyst-coloured inflorescences and hooked fruits which can easily be dispersed by anyone who brushes against them. Add to this the fact that it is one of the few plants able to withstand the extreme conditions of the beach and the dunes: salt, heat, wind, aridity. A plant, in other words, that would not disfigure in a hypothetical Martian flora.
Credit to: Francesco Soletti