Italy: Wildlife Destinations
Wildlife Highlights of Italy
1. Green swathes beneath towering limestone pinnacles, the meadows of the Dolomites in northeast Italy support a fabulous array of orchids and alpine plants – irresistible habitat for dozens of varieties of butterfly, from pearl-bordered fritillaries to alpine blues.
2. Adjoining the Vanoise National Park in France, Italy’s Gran Paradiso National Park covers a stunning tract of glacier-draped peaks, conifer forests and meadows.
3. Ancient forest, home to goshawk, wild boar and elusive wolves, can be found in the Casentinesi Forest near Florence. The unspoilt Provence coastline of Marema Regional Park, meanwhile, has a diverse Mediterranean flora and fauna. Nearby Orbetello Lagoon supports various wader (including greater flamingo), while offshore Giglio Island has a colony of rare Audouin’s gull.
4. Sibillini National Park in Le Marche protects a chunk of the Apennines rich in alpine wildlife.
5. Located in the heart of the Apennines, Abruzzo National Park has a mixture of alpine and Mediterranean species, including numerous wild flowers, butterflies and birds, and endemic races of bear and wolf.
6. An orchid hotspot, the Gargano Peninsula has no less than 69 different varieties of these fascinating flowers.
7. The ‘Jewel of the Mediterranean’, Sardinia has a rugged interior smothered in forests and herb-scented scrub, best seen at the WWF nature reserve of Monte Arcosu. Coastal wetlands in the Gulf of Cagliari have breeding avocet, bittern, flamingo and purple gallinule.
Abruzzo National Park
Abruzzo's star species: Apennine wolf • Marsican brown bear • Chamois
A royal hunting reserve until 1877, Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo, Lazio e Molise was inaugurated in 1922 to provide a refuge for the wildlife of the Appennine range – Italy’s 1,400km-long backbone. The park’s 66 species of mammal include the Marsican brown bear and Appenine wolf – long persecuted in the region, but now making a steady comeback. Spend some time walking in Abruzzo’s ancient beech forests and you may catch a glimpse of one of these elusive predators – or get a worthy consolation prize of red deer or black woodpecker.
Wolves and bears also venture out onto the national park’s high alpine pastures, but you’re more likely to see chamois clattering about on surrounding rocky slopes – particularly in the dramatic amphitheatre of Camosciara. It’s also worth scanning ridges for golden eagle and alpine chough. Don’t overlook the detail at your feet. Abruzzo’s meadows are festooned with stonecrop, gentians, saxifrages, orchids and other alpine wildflowers – many of them foodplants for the park’s 100-plus species of butterfly. Visit during early summer and you should see blue-spot hairstreak, clouded yellow, grizzled skipper, purple emperor and scarce swallowtail varieties.
Getting there From Rome, it is about a two-hour drive to Pescasseroli, a good base in the park from which to plan walks and excursions.
Getting around The S83 traverses the park. Abruzzo also has an extensive network of hiking trails.
When to go Park open daily; snow likely November to April.
Visitor centres Pescasseroli.
Things to do Hiking, horse riding, climbing.
Places to stay Hotels, guesthouses and camping.
Further information parcoabruzzo.it
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wildlife travel essentials: Italy
WHEN TO GO
Much of Italy has a typically Mediterranean climate with long, hot summers (temperatures consistently above 25C) and mild winters. Expect cooler weather and more severe winters in the mountain regions of the Alps and Appenines.