Rich in natural heritage of rare beauty, the Aosta Valley also appeals to the most contemplative minds. Created in 1922 the first and oldest Italian national park – Grand Paradiso- is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Home to 59 glaciers, covering 70,000 hectares (173,000 acres), between 800 meters above sea level at the bottom of the valley and 4,061 meters to the summit of Gran Paradiso, the park is also home to superb cycling, hiking and climbing opportunities. Here are five reasons why this place of exceptional natural beauty should be added to the top of the list for your next outdoors adventure:
- Gran Paradiso is the only mountain massif that rises over 13.123 entirely in the Italian territory. The park includes five valleys: Val di Rhèmes, Val di Cogne, Valsavarenche, Valle dell’Orco, and Val Soana. The limit of perennial snow is located at about 9.842 ft above sea level.
- Its history is linked to the protection of the ibex: in 1856, King Victor Emmanuel II declared these mountains a Royal Hunting Reserve, to save the ibex threatened with extinction. He also created a specialized guardhouse and had wildlife corridors and hiking trails built. In 1920, the king donated the reserve to the Italian state for the creation of a national park. It was then in 1922 that the Gran Paradiso National Park was created.
- The park is rich in lakes including Nivolet Lakes – the largest and most evocative, located in the area surrounding Colle del Nivolet – Lake Pellaud in Val di Rhêmes, Lake Lauson and Lake Loie, in Val di Cogne, as well as streams and waterfalls (the most spectacular are those of Lillaz, a hamlet of Cogne).
- The rich fauna of the park includes many alpine species and it is rare to hike without encountering animals. The ibex, symbol of the park, of a fairly confident nature, is often found in the pastures; males (with long curved horns) live in small groups while females (with shorter horns) stay with their offspring. Other residents of the park include the chamois and the groundhog. Birds of prey such as the bearded vulture, the largest bird in Europe, can be seen flying over the hunting grounds and other species include buzzards, woodpeckers, tits, ptarmigans, choughs, sparrow hawks, goshawks, owls and golden eagles.
- Among the most valuable flower species, there are martagon lilies (Lilium martagon), typical of the wood, orange lilies (Lilium croceum), mostly in the sunny meadows, and the poisonous monk’s hood (Aconitum napellus) along the waterways. Other rare flowers include: Potentilla pensylvanica which grows among dry grasses above 1,300 meters; Astragalus alopecurus, a species endemic to the Aosta Valley; Aethionema thomasianum; Linnaea borealis, a glacial remnant (in coniferous woods) and the Paradisea liliastrum, a splendid white lily from which the historic Paradisia garden takes its name.