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When one thinks of national parks in any country, the first images that come to mind are usually jagged, snowcapped mountain peaks, pine forests, and eagles or other birds of prey soaring above in the blue sky. While Italy definitely offers all of that and more in its 25 national parks, most people don’t realize that pristine land has also been protected along the country’s fantastic coastlines. Here are 3 of Italy’s best national parks by the sea to inspire your next adventure!
Cinque Terre in the Liguria Region
The pastel-colored houses that match the Ligurian sunset, the sheer cliffs that drop into a surreal turquoise sea, and the emotion that is conjured in all those who visit…there truly is no place like Cinque Terre. “Five lands” is, of course, named for the five villages of Corniglia, Manarola, Monterosso, Riomaggiore, and Vernazza.
In 1997, this coastline was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and just two years later, an Italian National Park. At just under 4,000 hectares, it is Italy’s smallest national park, but in a place of such unprecedented beauty, size holds little value.
Location: Liguria in the province of La Spezia
Activities and highlights: Hike any of the paths connecting the five villages or the sanctuaries. Caution: dress appropriately with trekking shoes and plenty of water. Check updates on route status here. Tip: Consider purchasing the Cinque Terre Trekking Card and/or the Cinque Terro Treno Card both available on the official website. Kayak in the other-worldly Golfo dei Poeti; Explore each of the five villages.
Getting here: Train to La Spezia (Pisa-Genova line) then Cinque Terre trains stop in all villages. There are also buses from La Spezia, Porto Venere, and Lerici. Driving is not recommended.
Further reading: Manarola and the Cinque Terre National Park’s official website
Tuscan Archipelago National Park
If you have heard that the region of Tuscany truly has it all, you’ve heard correctly! From the rolling vineyards in Chianti to the art cities that gave birth to the Renaissance, to the luxurious coastline from Versilia to the Argentario, this region offers everything imaginable. Few tourists are able to squeeze it all in to one vacation as there is just so much to see and do, but for those of you that have “been there and done that”, maybe it’s time to explore Tuscany’s islands known as the Arcipelago toscano.
The national park is the largest marine protected area in Europe with almost 60,000 hectares of sea. The largest and most well-known of the islands is Elba, but in total, there are eight including Capraia, Gorgona, Pianosa, Montecristo, Giglio, and Giannutri. Each island offers its own unique experience from wildlife and native plant species, to underwater diving, nightlife, and history. It all depends on the type of holiday you’re envisioning.
Location: Tuscany in the provinces of Livorno and Grosseto
Activities and highlights: Hike any of the hundreds of kilometers of paths (especially on Elba and Capraia). Visit the butterfly sanctuary on Elba. Go dolphin sighting on a boat tour (many including swimming stops in the sea and lunch). Explore the Cala Rossa sea grotto on Capraia (by boat).
Getting here: Ferries from Piombino port (Livorno) run daily throughout the entire year to Elba and Capraia. Giglio and Giannutri can be reached year-round by ferry from Porto Santo Stefano (Grosseto).
Further reading: Giglio and Giannutri Islands, Elba and the Tuscan Archipelago National Park’s official website
Maddalena Archipelago National Park
What could possibly make the already gorgeous island of Sardinia even more alluring? More islands off its coast! Just a few kilometers off the island’s northern coast (Sassari province) lies the archipelago known as La Maddalena. You have likely come across pictures of its pink sand beaches contrasting against a crystal clear, aquamarine sea.
The archipelago is made up of an unbelievable 62 tiny islands between Sardinia and Corsica with the largest (and the only one that’s inhabited) being Maddalena. The 15,000 hectares of protected marine habitat officially became a national park in 1994 but Maddalena’s shores have been leaving visitors in awe for millennia. Species include dolphins, whales, and also sea turtles among hundreds of colorful native fish species. To say that this is a scuba diving, snorkeling paradise would be an understatement!
Location: Sardinia in the province Sassari
Activities and highlights: Visit Cavaliere Beach and Pink Beach (Spiaggia Rosa) on Budelli Island (note that Spiaggia Rosa is closed to tourists and only viewable from a distance); beaches of Cala Coticciu, Cala Napoletana, and Relitto on Caprera Island; Bassa Trinita on Maddalena. Hike along Caprera Island’s 16 trails. Snorkel in the transparent waters around the archipelago and bring an underwater camera!
Getting here: Ferries from the port of Palau run daily throughout the entire year to Maddalena.
Further reading: Maddalena Archipelago and the Maddalena Archipelago National Park’s official website
We hope that this article has opened your eyes to the possibility of exploring Italy’s protected marine areas in these three unforgettable national parks by the sea. Remember, the ideal months for visiting would be May and October if you plan to hike and for swimming and beach weather as well as avoiding the masses, shoot for early June and mid to late September.