Italy is such a unique and diverse country and changes from region to region. Politics, cuisine, culture and landscape all vary, which is why it is a destination so worthy of investigation. But it also has wealth of fascinating National Parks that are often missed by tourists, and it is this that makes it a perfect location for walkers.
Maiella National Park, Abruzzo
For an article on southern Italy Abruzzo is perhaps a more central starting point than I would have liked, but it is worth visiting for the magnificent Maiella National Park alone. This is a stunning park in the heart of the Abruzzo region with numerous points of interest for those with a thirst for knowledge. The park is subject to an on-going geo-scientific project, is populated with the beautiful and unusual Chamois, has glorious botanical gardens to visit and plays host to a number of archaeological projects. Alternatively you could just walk and take in the remarkable scenery; the park has around 500km of hiking tracks through a variety of terrains.
Abruzzo is a gorgeous region seldom visited by tourists. It is a shame; the landscape is a remarkable tapestry of dramatic mountains and striking coastlines, and the cuisine is rich and variegated with game, fish and succulent Mediterranean vegetables. You might not have previously considered Abruzzo as a destination, but it is begging to be explored.
Pollino National Park, Basilicata and Calabria
Naples, Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast grab all the tourists, but if you are in southern Italy be sure to visit Basilicata and Calabria. Furthermore there is another remarkable park to traverse before you hop over to Sicily. The Pollino National Park is a wild and rugged beast, but after your hike through Maiella you should be more than prepared for it. The park itself is 200,000 hectares of diverse terrain and is a wonderful location for those walkers with an eye on Flora and Fauna; there is some fascinating but sadly endangered wildlife to be observed, such as Apennine Wolves and Golden Eagles, and the park also shelters and protects a very old type of tree; the thousand year old Bosnian or ‘Loricati’ pine.
You will be hungry after your exertions so while you are visiting the region you should take advantage of the famous Calabrian cuisine. Characterised by inventive preservation methods (owing to the humid climate) you can expect a smorgasbord of cured, oiled, salted and smoked food, as well as Greek-influenced wines and hearty pasta dishes.
Riserva Naturale Cava Grande del Cassibile, Sicily
You have made your way to Sicily, what to do first? The Riserva Naturale Cava Grande del Cassibile to the south of Sicily would be a good place to start. This is a truly breath-taking canyon with some incredible plant and animal life. The reviews on Trip Advisor are unanimous in their praise, and it offers a fantastic opportunity for trekking. Just make sure your legs are strong for the climb back up, and take a walking pole! Who needs the Grand Canyon when you can see something like this?
Nebrodi National Park, Sicily
Heading back north you will find the Nebrodi National Park, a mountain range forming the Sicilian Apennines. This is one of the few parks where nature has been allowed to take its course. It can be hiked, but there are no trails and tracks as such and no specific guides. This is about as rural and rustic as it gets, so if you want to walk an area totally unaffected by modern civilisation then ‘Monti Nebrodi’ is for you.
Mount Etna, Sicily
I thought I would save the most explosive walk for last, and if you are brave enough then you could conclude your Sicilian tour with Mt. Etna. Sicilians live in the shadow of this giant and active volcano, but the rich volcanic earth does mean the cultivation and support of agriculture, orchards and vineyards and makes for some truly remarkable scenery for the walker. As Sicily’s biggest tourist attraction you won’t be alone on your visit, but don’t let that put you off. There are numerous walking tours ran for Mt. Etna and this is one of the world’s most impressive wonders – it shouldn’t be missed.
These National Parks are truly remarkable and offer so much to the walker. Most of these parks are young and only began as conservation projects in the early 1990’s, yet the good work they do is to be applauded as hundreds of plant and animal species are being protected from certain extinction. There may come a time in the future when these wonderful sights no longer exist…don’t miss them.