Europe’s Greenest Region

Parks, Peaks – and Plovers

There are 24 National Parks scattered across Italy – and three of them are in Abruzzo.

To those, add a Regional Park and no less than 38 Nature Reserves. The amount of land they all occupy adds up to around 35% of Abruzzo’s entire area – the largest proportion of protected landscape in one region found anywhere in Europe.

These protected areas are all very different. Within Abruzzo’s boundaries – and many within easy reach of us for amazing days out – you’ll find the highest mountain in the Apennines and the southern-most glacier in Europe; another area so bleak and remote it’s known as ‘Little Tibet’; vast swathes of pristine forest that are the home to wolves and bears, with the skies above patrolled by Golden Eagles; yet more accessibly, wild flowers in profusion in spring; well-signposted trails for anything from a gentle stroll to a full-on hike; and a tiny Nature Reserve covering just one square mile of the Adriatic coast.

Lake Serranella. Our own local Nature Reserve
Vivid blue Gentians growing high in the Majella

We even have a Nature Reserve local to Villasfor2, just 15 minutes away. Lake Serranella is where the Aventino and Sangro rivers meet, and is an important staging point for bird migration in spring and autumn.

(It also has a small population of turtles !)

The Reserve is well laid-out, with clearly-posted trails circling the lake, and various bird-watching access points. Always open – and free to get in.

And if you think small is beautiful, head for Punta Aderci on the coast, just north of Vasto. This has only held official Nature Reserve status since 1998, making it one of Abruzzo’s newest.

Path into the Punta Aderci Nature Reserve
A Kentish Plover - and chick - at Punta d'Erci

It’s a strip of coastal grass and scrubland, occupying just one square mile, and is important because it’s the largest breeding point on the whole Adriatic coast for the Kentish Plover – a small, pretty, shoreline bird that in spring nests in scrapes on the ground among the tussocks of grass.

The nesting areas are carefully cordoned-off – but has paths laid-out around it.

Punta Aderci is tucked-away – but easy enough to find with the directions we’ll give you – and outside the busiest months of high summer, you could have the long sandy beach pretty much to yourself .

Even in summer, though it’s a popular place for a day out, Punta Aderci’s Nature Reserve status means it’s free of the mass sunbeds that line much of the Adriatic.

At the other end of the size scale, are Abruzzo’s three big National Parks, each with its own distinct character…

Well-signposted trails in the Majella
Apennine Wolf - symbol of the Majella National Park

The Majella

Nearest to Villasfor2, and our constant and ever-changing backdrop, is the Majella National Park.

It’s the most rugged and mountainous of Abruzzo’s three Parks, with some thirty peaks of over 2000m.

The Majella also has a special significance for the people of Abruzzo. They refer to Majella Madre – Mother Majella – a source of myths and legends, that are celebrated in traditional songs and folklore.

The Park’s symbol is the Apennine Wolf – it’s home to the largest population in Abruzzo. If you’re walking in the deeper forested recesses, you may come across a pawprint in a muddy path – but that’s as close as you’re likely to get.

There’s an excellent and well-signposted network of trails crossing the Majella, from gentle woodland, to some genuinely spectacular terrain – and offering everything from short strolls, to serious hikes.

Because of snow cover, the highest areas in the Park are only reliably accessible between mid-June and mid-October.

The Majella National Park
Endangered Marsican Brown Bear in the Abruzzo National Park
It's not unusual to see Golden Eagles in the skies above Villasfor2

Abruzzo National Park

Established in 1922, the Abruzzo National Park was the first of its kind anywhere in Italy. Now spreading into the neighbouring regions of Molise and Lazio, this is the most untouched of our three Parks.

That’s because although the development and exploitation of all the Parks is banned, Abruzzo National – for all its size – is crossed by just two roads. The resulting deep solitude of its forests make it a perfect refuge for the endangered Marsican Brown Bear. Estimates of the bear’s numbers in the Park range from as few as 50, to around 130.

It’s certainly rare, but two of our more intrepid guests have managed to photograph it on two consecutive holidays here. It can be done !

Abruzzo National Park
The Majella and Abruzzo National have areas of gentle woodland
Corno Grande. The highest mountain in the Apennines

Gran Sasso

The Gran Sasso is the third-largest of Italy’s 24 National Parks – almost twice the size of the Majella and Abruzzo National put together. It has the most varied landscape of Abruzzo’s Parks, from forests offering spectacular autumn colour around the big, man-made Lake Campotosto; to the triple peaks of Corno Grande – at a little under 10,000 feet, the highest mountain in the Apennines.

There’s actually one lengthy, but not-too-challenging hike that in summer takes you to the very top of the mountain. Other routes are rather more testing…

On the slopes of Corno Grande, you’ll also find Il Calderone – the southernmost glacier in Europe, but as a result of global warming, every year getting just a little smaller…

Corno Grande towers over the vast Campo Imperatore plateau. This is the area that’s earned the nickname of ‘Little Tibet’, because of its bleak, windswept, inhospitable character.

The sheer size and isolation of the Campo Imperatore makes it impressive – but a little intimidating at the same time.

Just one road crosses it. A 40km run without turn-offs or short-cuts, and closed by snow from early winter to late spring. Definitely not the kind of place to have car trouble…

Gran Sasso National Park

Getting Around

Such is the scale of Abruzzo’s Parks and protected areas, the easiest way to get a feel for it all is by car.

For a perfect day in the Majella, take the road that runs quite literally up through the middle of the Park from Pescocostanzo in the south, up to Scafa in the north. (Or vice versa…)

The scenery’s breathtaking, and the roads are guaranteed to be uncrowded even at the height of summer. There are plenty of places to see and detours to take; good choices for lunch; and even a Botanical Garden showcasing the Majella’s native trees, shrubs, flowers and herbs.

Handily placed in the corridor that separates the Majella from Abruzzo National is the old town of Scanno. Whichever way you get there – from the south and Lake Barrea, or from the north down the Sagittario Gorge – the drive is highly scenic, but the best bit of all is just to the north of Scanno.

The Majella in summer. Pristine mountains and forests
The 'Heart of Abruzzo'. The unique outline of Lake Scanno

Lake Scanno. ‘The Heart of Abruzzo’. And as you drive round it – which you can, and it won’t take too long – you’ll be wondering just why it’s called ‘The Heart of Abruzzo’, as there’s nothing around to give you much of a clue.

Is it in Abruzzo’s exact geographical centre ? No, it isn’t. Does the lake’s water hold some life-giving powers ? ‘No, it doesn’t. Is it the scene of some crucially important event in Abruzzo’s history ? Don’t think so.

The secret’s a lot more simple. Seen from above, Lake Scanno is heart-shaped. You can get the idea from its picture. Apparently it’s even better from a hot-air balloon…