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Introducing Parco Nazionale del Pollino

Italy’s largest national park, the Pollino National Park (www.parcopollino.it), straddling Basilicata and Calabria, acts like a rocky curtain separating the region from the rest of Italy. It has the richest repository of flora and fauna in the south, and covers 1960 sq km.

The park’s most spectacular areas are the central Pollino Massif (2267m), and the Monti di Orsomarso (1987m), in the southwest (in Calabria). These sheer mountains, often snowbound, are blanketed by forests of oak, alder, maple, beech, pine and fir which filter the harsh southern sun and protect the delicately budding peonies and orchids that set the land ablaze after the snow melts. The park is most famous, however, for its ancient pino loricato trees, which are only found here and in the Balkans. The oldest specimens reach 40m in height and their scaly, grey trunks look like sculptures against the huge bald rocks.

Walkers in the park can enjoy varied landscapes, from deep river canyons to alpine meadows, and the park still protects a rare stock of roe deer, wild cats, wolves, birds of prey including the golden eagle and Egyptian vulture, and the endangered otter, Lutra lutra.

The SS653 cuts across the park and is the best route if you want to explore unique Albanian villages such as San Paolo Albanese and San Costantino Albanese. These isolated and unspoilt communities fiercely maintain their mountain culture and the Greek liturgy is retained in the main churches. They’re a great place to buy rare local handicrafts – wooden crafts in Terranova di Pollino, alabaster in Latronico and wrought iron in Sant’Arcangelo.