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Italy is a country home to some amazing landscapes and national parks, a total of 25 to be exact. In this article, we’ll be taking you to the largest wilderness area in the entire country, the Val Grande National Park in the northern Piedmont region.
About the Park
Val Grande is 15,000 hectares of protected wilderness just an hour and a half from Milan and just northwest of Lake Maggiore. The territory was the very first Alpine landscape to be protected in Italy in the late 1960s and was officially made a national park in 1992.
Metamorphic rock masses (marble) characterize its geology and include the striking mountains of Pedum, Proman, Corni di Nibbio, and Cima Sasso. They were once part of the deep continental crust from 35 to 50 km below the earth’s surface! Some of the marble used to construct Milan’s Duomo was actually mined here.
Wildlife and Fauna
Wildlife species include birds of prey such as the golden eagle, and peregrine falcon, as well as mammals like the roe deer, beavers, badgers, and weasels.
Being so close to Lake Maggiore, the park’s climate and vegetation is highly influenced by the humid environment the lake provides. Beech and chestnut woods are the most common as well as spruce and white fir. In the higher-elevation alpine pastures, you’ll find amazing plant species including arnica, mountain tulip, and alpine columbine.
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Activities in the Park
If you love the outdoors, then the possibilities in Val Grande are truly endless! The most popular activity is definitely hiking the park’s numerous trails geared for every level of expertise, from “tourist” to “expert”. If you prefer, you can also book a park guide for your adventure. Trails are also further distinguished by interest such as panoramic, historical, and geological. Pogallo da Cicogna is an easy hike from the town of Verbania with amazing views and a waterfall along the Pogallo River. Another major water source that flows through the entire park is the Rio Val Grande with its crystal clear water and falls.
Bike rental is available as well in the towns of Trontano, Rovegro, and Aurano.
Planning Your Trip
There are numerous towns and villages located within the park including Cossogno which has a Roman bridge and a museum as well as a visitors’ center. Other options for overnight stays include the towns of Cicogna (the unofficial park entrance and a great starting point for hikes), Vogogna, Malesco, and finally, Santa Maria Maggiore. There are also bivouacs which are very rudimentary, unattended shelters that are available to hikers on a first-come-first-serve basis (only recommended for expert hikers during the summertime). Refuges, on the other hand, include more modern conveniences. More information can be found here (in Italian only).
While trains and buses are available, the most convenient way to visit is by car because it will give you the freedom to explore the park on your own schedule.
The best time of year to visit is from late spring through early fall as winters can be harsh and conditions within the park, including roads, are still somewhat primitive. Cell phone signals can also be very weak!
So if you’re looking for an adventure in a part of Italy that is still basically untouched by man yet close to the modern world, look no further than Val Grande National Park.
More details available on the park’s official website