6 Italian national parks to visit

A view from inside a cave on the Tre Cime di Lavaredo (Drei Zinnen) in Italian Dolomites.
A view from inside a cave on the Tre Cime di Lavaredo (Drei Zinnen) in Italian Dolomites.

6 Italian national parks to visit

by Stacy Roman
Stripes Europe

Home to sun-drenched coastlines, dramatic cliffs, sapphire-blue lakes and an abundance of mountains, Italy boasts fantastic nature spots. From the ever-popular Cinque Terre to the Dolomites, there is no shortage of outdoor discovery and adventure. Italy’s national parks are all-encompassing — ancient ruins, beautiful scenery and charming villages. With a broad choice of 24 national parks to choose from, here are six worth checking out.

Arcipelao di La Maddelana National Park

This spectacular national park is comprised of seven small islands off the northern coast of Sardinia. Accessible by ferry from Citavecchia’s port, the craggy granite coastline offers a vast array of unique wildlife, quiet sandy beaches and crystal-clear water. Spaggia Rosa (Pink Beach) gets its delicate hue from microorganisms and shells of marine life. While visitors are not allowed on the beach itself, you can hike along the edge and drink in the stunning views.

Aspromonte National Park

Located near the tip of Italy’s boot in the southern Apennines mountains, the landscape of Aspromonte is a juxtaposition of wind-swept desert chaparral and lush vineyards and orchards. Tall, piney trees line picturesque hiking trails to dramatic waterfalls. History buffs can wander through the ghost village of Pentedattilo and other archeological sites dotted throughout the park.

Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park

Nestled in the middle of the country, the massive peak of Gran Sasso dominates the park. The ample network of walking paths transforms into snow sport opportunities in the winter. In the summer, biking and rock climbing are popular activities. Visitors can also explore the ancient Roman ruins and crumbling castles and abbeys dating to the Renaissance period.

Pollino National Park

One of Italy’s largest environmentally protected areas, Pollino is close to Apsromante in southern Italy. The park is popular with long-distance hikers, offering mountain treks along bubbling streams and rivers. The thermal pool of Grotte Delle Ninfe is a popular destination, as well as the Grotte del Romito where prehistoric rock drawings have been excavated. At more than 1,200 years old, the oldest tree on the continent is located in the park. Local villages are rich in Albanian-Italian culture and lore.

Stelvio National Park

Along the northern border near the intersection of Switzerland and Austria in the north-central Italian Alps is this hidden gem. Known for razor-sharp switchbacks and sharp hairpin turns, the Passo dello Stelvio presents a challenge for cyclists in the summer. Alpine villages reminiscent of their Bavarian and Tyrolean counterparts with tumbling glacial waterfalls provide picture-perfect backdrops.

Tuscan Archipelago National Park

Encompassing seven smaller islands, this dazzling national park is situated off the west coast of Italy between Livorno and Rome. The archipelago includes the island of Elba, home of Napoleon Bonaparte during his exile in 1814. Smaller island Giannutri is a great place for snorkeling and catching a glimpse of bottlenose dolphins in the turquoise waters. The tiny isle of Pianosa became infamous for its harsh prison where well-known mafia kingpins and a former Italian president were once housed. Because of its popularity, the park has a cap on visitors each day and encourages people to book reservations in advance.

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