Most people think of Italy when they think about museums and ancient ruins. Or, if they’re like me, interesting food to eat. Italy is a small country with a lot of these things. Between all the historical cities and towns are 25 national parks, which make up about 5% of Italy’s land.
In many areas of Italy, hiking is a very popular pastime. You can also go horseback riding or mountain biking in Italy. There are also many water sports, such as kayaking, that you can do off the coast. Even if you have never thought about visiting Italy’s national parks, you might want to add one or more to your next trip to Italy.
This is not a complete list, but there’s a website that lists all the Italian national parks. Here’s a look at some parks that you may be familiar with, but you might not have realized they were national parks.
Cinque Terre National Park
The Cinque Terre is perhaps the most well-known national park. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is one of the smallest national parks of Italy, covering only 14.9 miles of Ligurian coastline. It includes the Cinque Terre towns, as well as parts of Levanto & La Spezia. Hiking is a popular activity largely due to the famous trail connecting the Cinque Terre villages. You can also find other trails. If you are looking for a more challenging hike (and prefer to be away from crowds), get a trail map. Or, even better, hire a local guide.
Vesuvius National Park
Vesuvius National Park, which covers just 28 square miles in Italy, is another small park. However, it also contains the huge Mt. Vesuvius, or Vesuvio in Italian. This volcano is responsible for the ashes of the Roman cities of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and many other areas, during the disastrous eruption of 79AD. Herculaneum, however, is within the national park’s boundaries. The excavation at Pompeii was not done in the national park. It still towers above Naples and the Campania country, and it is still active.
Gran Paradiso National Park
Gran Paradiso, which was established in 1922 and extending into the Val d’Aosta regions, was Italy’s first national park. It spans more than 270 miles and is responsible for saving the mountain goat species, known as the ibex. The park is home to ibex, particularly around the Nivolet Pass.
Cilento National Park
Campania is home to the Cilento Vallo di Diano and Alburni National Parks. They cover just over 700 square miles. While the park’s natural landscape is beautiful enough, the most notable attraction is Paestum , an ancient Greek city, which lies within the park’s borders and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Stelvio National Park
The enormous Stelvio National Park is located in the northeastern region of Italy, near the border with Switzerland and Italy. It is the largest national park in the country. This huge park is home to an amazing variety of wildlife and landscapes. We’re talking about the dramatic scenes of the Alpine peaks, but also towns and museums and other historical sights. The Stelvio Pass is a scenic mountain pass that has more than 70 switchbacks and is very popular with motorists as well as cyclists.
Abruzzo National Park
The Abruzzo National park actually covers a little more than 196 miles and extends into three areas – Abruzzo and Molise. It was established in 1922, making it the second Italian national park. The area is home to only 20-30 bears. The park also has a variety of birds of prey, including goshawks and peregrine falcons as well as kestrels and a few types of owls.
La Maddalena Archipelago National Park
The Archipelago of La Maddalena, a small network of islands located off the north coast of Sardinia is not only one of Italy’s national parks but also contains some of Italy’s most beautiful beaches. It’s on UNESCO’s List of Sites to Be Considered for Inclusion. Seven main islands are present, but only three of them are inhabited, including the largest, Isola Maddalena.
Gran Sasso National Park
Gran Sasso in the Abruzzo and Lazio regions is Italy’s third largest national park. Monti della Laga is in the Le Marche areas. Gran Sasso, the highest mountain in the Apennines, is part of the park’s 545-square-mile area. The park has approximately 190 miles worth of trails that can be used for hiking, mountain biking or horseback riding. In winter, there is also skiing.
Tuscan Archipelago National Park
The Tuscan Archipelago national park covers 288 miles of land and water. Elba, Giglio and Capraia are just a few of the seven islands found in the Tuscan Archipelago. Elba is third in size, after Sardinia and Sicily. However, it is Italy’s third largest island. You can also visit Napoleon’s house on the island.
Aspromonte National Park
Aspromonte National Park is Calabria. It’s located at the bottom of Italy’s boot. It covers just 294 miles and gets its name from Aspromonte Mountain. This prehistoric peak is older than the Apeninne mountain group. Pentedattilo, a small village within the park’s borders, is a popular spot for hiking. The ancient Roman city was abandoned, and it was then a ghost town up until the 1960s. It is slowly being repopulated.
Gargano National Park
Gargano National Park is named after Mount Gargano in Puglia. It also contains a spectacular coastline and the archipelago known as the Tremiti Islands, which is located just north of the promontory. This archipelago has hidden caves and grottos, as well as an extremely photogenic rock arch. Five islands make up the archipelago. Their names are derived from their vulnerability to seismic activity.
Asinara National Park
The entire Asinara island is covered by the Asinara National Park, located off the northwest coast Sardinia. It is so isolated that the island has been used as a prison camp and a quarantine area, as well as later as a maximum security prison for the mafia. The island has had a strange past that almost all human intervention has been minimal. This is good news for nature-lovers. One of the unique species is the albino donkey.