Italy's National Parks

Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga/Maiella/Abruzzo
Just the Facts
Location: West-central Italy
Nearest town: Chieti, Isernia, L'Aquila
Favorite activities:
Hiking, climbing, wildlife viewing, cross-country skiing

Established as a national park in 1991, the Gran Sasso d'Italia ("Big Rock of Italy") and Monti della Laga encompass a high spur of the Apennines from whose peaks the shimmering, faraway Adriatic Sea can be glimpsed. Getting to those peaks is no easy matter; the trails are steep, though well-tended, and you might want to avail yourself of the cable cars and chairlifts to get over some of the tougher sections, which can be covered with snow until well into summer.

The Gran Sasso also boasts some of Europe's most challenging climbing routes, including the famed Paretone. Open-air camping is discouraged but permitted, and long-distance walkers should consider reserving mountain huts for overnight stays. The pleasant city of L'Aquila, where the park's headquarters are located, is held by gastronomes to be one of the unsung capitals of Italian cuisine, so set aside your dehydrated rations and carboload in splendor heading in and going out.

Joining Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga to the south is Italy's version of Kings Canyon, La Maiella—meaning, in the dialect of the Abruzzo region, "the great mother." The huge limestone reef, 20 miles long, incorporates more than 60 peaks, all of them difficult and sometimes dangerous. The easiest approaches to the range are from the east, but almost everywhere you go will be remote, far from services, and, usually, from other people.

The wolf was driven to extinction in most of Western Europe hundreds of years ago, but central Italy's rugged Apennine mountains sheltered a small population up to the present, one that has now been augmented by wolves introduced from elsewhere. In the backcountry of Abruzzo National Park, laced with hiking trails, you can see plenty of wolf signs (though rarely the wolves themselves), as well as the occasional brown bear and hundreds of bird and reptile species. The park isn't easy to get to—only one road, really a glorified goat-path, serves it from the park headquarters in the village of Pescasseroli, which has several year-round hotels and restaurants. In the park's remoteness, it's easy to forget that you're in one of Europe's most populous countries—and, indeed, in the 21st century.


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