If you are looking for a European tourist destination, consider visiting the Gran Sasso (Great Stone) mountain range in the Abruzzi region of central Italy. Depending on your interests, this beautiful area might be an ideal vacation spot. You can ski, engage in other winter sports, simply enjoy nature or much more. This area is definitely off the beaten path, despite the fact that it is fairly close to Rome. Be sure to read the companion articles in this series that present eastern and western Abruzzi.
The Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park was established in 1991 with an area of over two thousand square kilometres (about 800 square miles) of mostly mountainous terrain located only 130 kilometers (approximately 80 miles) east of Rome. The area includes many rivers that run into the Adriatic Sea, which boasts many fine resorts and relatively few non-Italian tourists. You will find winter sports facilities, not surprising when consider that Corno Grande, for example, at just under three thousand meters (more than a mile and a half), is the highest peak in the Apennines. These peaks are snow-covered for much of the year. Below the Corno Grande peak you’ll find the Calderone Glacier, the southernmost glacier in Europe. This glacier has lost more than 90% of its volume in less than a century. Some say that it will disappear by 2020.
The Gran Sasso slopes are grazed by sheep, cattle, and wild horses during most of the year. The park is home to rare species of wildlife incluing the Apennine wolf, the Marsican bear, wildcats, wild boar, and chamois. Wild flowers and birds abound.
Campo Imperatore, Gran Sasso, Abruzzi, Italy.
A hotel on the Campo Imperatore was once home to a particularly vicious snake in the grass, Italian fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini. He was imprisoned there from August until September 1943 when freed by a Nazi commando operation before meeting his end. On the other hand “The Gendarme” peak was renamed in 2005 "John Paul II Peak" to honor Pope John Paul II on what would have been his 85th birthday. He had visited the Gran Sasso many times, saying it reminded him of the mountains of his native Poland. At the southern edge of Campo Imperatore within the national park are three medieval hill towns once ruled by the Medicis: Calascio, which sits before the ancient fortress ruin of Rocca di Calascio, Santo Stefano di Sessanio, and Castel Del Monte.
The park is home to the Laboratori Nazionali del Gran Sasso (Gran Sasso National Laboratory) located below 1400 meters (almost one mile) of solid rock, and, according to many, near two major and highly active seismic faults. The laboratory employs more than 700 scientists from twenty different countries and is part of the movement to preserve the Gran Sasso environment.
Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten books on computers and the Internet, but to be honest, he would rather just drink fine Italian or other wine, accompanied by the right foods. He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario French-language community college. Visit his website www.travelitalytravel.com devoted to Italian travel with an accent on fine Italian wine and food. Visit his central wine website www.theworldwidewine.com with weekly reviews of $10 wine and columns devoted to various aspects of wine including wine and food, humor, trivia, organic and kosher wine and lots more.
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