The Apennine Mountains stretch the length of Italy and provide a refuge for much of Italy’s most interesting natural history. The Abruzzo National Park, in the heart of the central Apennines, was created in 1923, in recognition of the wildlife importance of the area, where extensive Beech forests harbour healthy populations of Marsican Brown Bear and Apennine Wolf, along with Wild Boar, Red and Roe Deer, while Abruzzo Chamois inhabit the higher mountain slopes. Here, the limestone peaks tower above valleys with fast-flowing streams, and attractive medieval villages cling to the hillsides. It is a working rural landscape of traditional sheep and cattle farming, where the local indigenous Maremma sheepdogs still protect the flocks (often in the absence of shepherds).
This new September holiday builds on the knowledge we have gleaned from our successful May tours to the Abruzzo National Park. This fascinating area and its wildlife will be our focus for this singlecentre holiday, based for seven nights at a quiet family-run hotel on the edge of the village of Pescasseroli, in the valley of the River Sangro. May and September are considered the best months for viewing mammals and, while wildlife sightings can never be guaranteed, we will immerse ourselves in the beautiful surroundings, especially at dawn and dusk, to maximise our wildlife-viewing opportunities. By September, the potential of spring has given way to the fruitfulness of autumn, and the mammals and birds will be feasting on nature’s bounty prior to the harsh winter season ahead. For the Marsican Brown Bears, Alpine Buckthorn (Rhamnus alpinus) is a particular treat, and in early September they seek out these bushes to gorge on the berries. A highlight of this tour will be an afternoon and evening excursion to the Rifugio d’Iorio, above Pescasseroli to look for Bears. Local guides will lead us on a walk above the tree-line, on paths closed to the general public. Walking a short distance along the ridge, we will make ourselves comfortable, and then scan the slopes for these secretive mammals until darkness falls. Following a candle-lit supper of local fare in the Rifugio, we descend by the light of the stars and our torches. We hope to repeat this memorable experience on a second evening during our stay.
The woods at this time of year are generally quiet, apart from vociferous Nuthatch families, and migrant species will be departing. Resident round the hotel, however, are Tree Sparrow, Italian Sparrow, Serin, Black Redstart and Firecrest, as well as the chocolate-brown Red Squirrels. Nearby forests hold Goshawk, Common Crossbill and the rare Lilford’s subspecies of White-backed Woodpecker, whilst the mountainous areas are home to Golden Eagle, Alpine Accentor and Red-billed Chough. On one day we will visit the Sirente-Velino Natural Park, where we will search for Rock Partridge and hope to see the reintroduced Griffon Vulture amongst a variety of other raptors. As well as the profusion of fruiting trees and shrubs here, a scattering of late-flowering plants may include Fringed Gentian (Gentiana ciliata), Autumn Crocus (Colchicum autumnale) and Ivy-leaved Sowbread (Cyclamen hederifolium), and we shall look out for butterflies such as Apollo, Great Banded and Tree Graylings, Sooty Copper and Clouded Yellow.
This holiday involves more walking than on our May visits to this area, as we will be ascending stony paths to enjoy the views across the mountains. We will walk through Camosciara, with its dramatic natural dolomitic amphitheatre, climbing to the Belvedere viewpoint above the river gorge. On another day, our climb will take us through the Val di Rose, above the treeline, to search for Abruzzo Chamois on the rocky slopes and alpine grassland. Another excursion, involving a little more driving, will take us to the ancient town of Scanno, with its narrow alleyways and little squares, where women still often wear traditional dress. We will also explore the spectacular Gole di Sagittario, a deep limestone gorge; we may be too early for Wallcreeper, which is commoner in winter, but we will scan the rock faces nevertheless. Peregrine, Rock Bunting and Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush are other possibilities, while Dippers and Grey Wagtails patrol the river.
We will be based for the duration of the tour at the comfortable Albergo Paradiso, a family-run hotel on the edge of Pescasseroli, where Geraldine and Marco offer the warmest of welcomes, and a blend of Scottish and Abruzzese hospitality. Traditional cuisine and aromatic local wines contribute to making this holiday a thoroughly well-rounded and enjoyable Italian experience with, we hope, sightings of some of Europe’s most sought-after mammals to boot!