Italy’s largest national park that very few foreigners have even heard of spans across two southern regions- Calabria and Basilicata- and it is fabulous in every way. We’re talking about Pollino National Park.
An Ancient Past
The southern Apennines jut up from the earth in their strange formations with peaks as high as 2,267 mt. (Serra Dolcedorme) and Mount Pollino at 2,248 mt. Geologic findings in this area of Calabria have proven that people have been living here for the last 20,000 years. The findings in the Grotta del Romito near Papasidero carbon date to between 16,800 BC and 4,470 BC! A perfect etching of a bull was done by the expert hand of one of our Homo-sapien ancestors.
Plants and Trees
A unique species of pine- the pino loricato or the Bosnian pine- has become the park’s symbol. This is the only place in Italy where it grows. Below 1,000 meters, you’ll find various oak species like the downy, turkey oak, and Italian oak. There are also eastern hornbeam, maple, chestnut, and Neapolitan alder. The microclimates of the park also allow for wildflowers and medicinal herbs to flourish.
In an environment like this, wildlife also has a chance to flourish and the park is home to several endangered species. Some of the rarest are the Eurasian eagle-owl (bubo bubo), the Lanner Falcon and the Egyptian vulture. Wolves, wildcats, and roe deer are also present in the park.
Hiking and Rafting
Most people that visit the park come to do some type of hiking and outdoor activities. It is highly recommended to consult an expert park guide which can be booked in advance.
Pollino’s 5 rivers provide fantastic white water rafting and canyoning adventures through companies like Pollino Rafting in Laino.
Another highlight for those who enjoy natural thermal baths is Grotta delle Ninfe in Cerchiara di Calabria while the Bosco Magnano spring and falls in Chiaromonte is great for kids.
As you’re planning your Pollino adventure you’ll definitely want to incorporate some of the characteristic villages that are nestled into the mountains and will provide the authentic experience most travelers are looking for. Keep in mind, these are just a few of the many fascinating mountain hamlets.
Papasidero is situated in the Lao Valley (named after the Lao river). As previously mentioned, the Grotta del Romito is located just 20 minutes by car from the village of Papasidero. This tiny hamlet of under 1,000 people is also famous for its 16th-century sanctuary, the Sanctuary of Santa Maria of Constantinople.
If you’re traveling by car and in an adventurous mood, take the short trip to the village of Avena which has been completely abandoned after an earthquake struck in the early 1980s.
At the extreme eastern edge of the park lies Cerchiara di Calabria with its Grotta delle Ninfe. In Magna Grecia, the site was known as Arponium. Highlights are the 15th-century Sanctuary of Santa Maria delle Armi as well as its bread! Made of a combination of whole wheat flour, the loaves can weigh up to 3 kg and stay soft for up to 15 days.
The best way to get around is definitely by car because it will allow you to explore these amazing locations at will and in total freedom. You can, however, take the train to Sapri (Salerno) and take bus lines from there.