Laguna di Marano and Grado
Italy's second largest lagoon complex is a major staging point on the migratory route between Western and Central Europe. Loads of birds, a few otters and some unique water grasses thrive in the World Wildlife Fund's oasis. By car, take the A4 from Venice to the Latisana exit, then follow SS14 east to Muzzano, then the local road to Marano. By train to Latisana or Cervignano. More information about the park is online here. For boat excursions to the oasis (Nov. 1-March 31 only), contact the WWF. Small boats tour the lagoon from Grado, leaving several times a day.
Po River Delta
One of the most unique places in Italy, these enormous wetlands offer an opportunity to see a lifestyle that has not changed in decades, along with several different natural habitats, resting place for thousands of migrating birds. For information about guided birdwatching excursions, contact LIPU. You can also join flat-bottom boat excursions in summer, leaving from various spots on the Delta. Contact Pro Loco del Delta Padana. The area is easily accessible from Padua, Ferrara, Rovigo and Ravenna, by car (SS309 or A14), train or bus. Click here for a selection of places to stay in the area.
A hiker's paradise is this lofty promontory that juts out over the Adriatic south of Pesaro. Views range from dense forests to transparent seas, rugged ravines, wave-battered rocky shores, minuscule sandy coves and soaring limestone "steeples." Two well-marked trails depart from the Hotel Internazionale in Portonovo. Get there by car on the A14 (Loreto or Ancona Sud exits) or SS16, by train to Ancona, Osimo or Porto Recanati or by bus from Ancona.
When the former owner donated this beautiful piece of Tuscan shore to the WWF in 1962, it became the first privately founded nature reserve in Italy. Today it is officially considered a wetland of international importance, visited year-round by a multitude of birds, who relax in its calm lakes, flowering dunes, silent pine groves, ancient cypress groves and thick Mediterranean undergrowth. Open Fridays, 9-12 and 2-4:30; also on the 1st and 3rd Saturday of the month Oct 15-April 15. Email first before going!
This nature park includes 9 miles of original coastline and traditional Tuscan shore, offering an unforgettably picturesque combination of sand dunes, umbrella pine forests, marshlands and scrub. Access is strictly controlled. No cars are allowed. To spend a day at the beach here, and we highly recommend you do, go to the park center, located on the main square in Alberese (tel. 0564/407-098). Buses leave on the hour to take you to the park; tickets cost about 4 Euro. The pristine public beach at Marina di Alberese is accessible by car and is always open.
This lovely promontory harbors the largest lagoon on the Tyrrhenian Sea as well as one of Italy's most important bird sanctuaries. About halfway between Rome and Florence, it makes a wonderful choice for birdwatchers because of the plentiful accommodations in nearby Porto Santo Stefano, Porto Ercole, Capalbio and Ansedonia. Take a guided tour of the WWF oases at Orbetello (open Sept. 1-April 30) and Burano (open Aug. 1-May 31) at 10 am and 2 pm on Thursdays and Sundays. Or you can go on your own: for Orbetello drive along the southern edge of the promontory (called Tombola di Feniglia); for Burano Lake take the northern shore road and then walk along the dunes. Or take the 4-hour walk around the coast from Feniglia to Burano.
This nature park halfway between Rome and Naples is undeservedly overlooked. It has an unusual history: it was actually created in 1934 as almost the only marshland not drained by Mussolini's vast anti-malaria project, which eradicated the disease that had plagued this area for millennia. The town of Sabaudia was designed and built from scratch to serve as the park's center. The most prominent feature of the park is Monte Circeo, a mountain that juts straight up from the otherwise flat terrain. Its name derives from the popular belief that this was the Isle of Circe Homer wrote about in his Odyssey. The park is a lovely mixture of cedar stands, rolling dunes, rocky precipices, Roman ruins and exceedingly clear water. A great way to explore it on foot is the gently sloping Via Mediana. For information, stop in at the Tourist Office, Piazza del Comune 18, Sabaudia, tel. 0773/55046. Get there from Rome by car (SS148 to Latina, then the provincial road to Capo Portiere and Sabaudia), by train to Priverno, then Terracina, or by ACOTRAL bus from Rome EUR. (tel. 06/57531). For accommodations, stay at one of our favorite hotels in Italy.
This newly formed nature park occupies a picturesque promontory south of Naples. Far from the beaten track, it is wild and wonderful, featuring crystal-clear waters to swim, snorkel and dive in, a coastline studded with spectacular grottos, dramatic rock walls and white limestone crests, quiet fishing villages and ancient hill towns, and rolling fields where wild goats feast. Get there by car on the A3, then veer off onto SS267, SS447 and SS562 to drive along the coast. This is a great area for campers, with year-round campgrounds at Agropoli (tel. 0974/824-885), Caprioli (0974/976-079), Castellabate (0974/965-013) and Punta degli Infreschi (0974/932-230, 0931-391, or 0932-338). If you'd like more creature comforts at very reasonable prices, try Agropoli Villa Hotel.
The magnificent headlands between Trapani and Castellamare were saved from certain destruction in 1980, when a multitude of Sicilians demonstrated against a road project. Today the five miles of coastline are an oasis of solitude and silence, characterized mainly by vertiginous cliffs looming above tiny coves and shingle beaches. Lots of birds nest on the precipitous rocks, including some who have escaped the exotic bird markets in northern Africa. They feel right at home amidst the forests of dwarf palm, Europe's only indigenous palm. Get there from Palermo by car (A19 to Castellamare del Golfo, then SS187 to Scopello), by train to Castellamare del Golfo, or by bus. Birdwatching excursions are organized by LIPU, Via Ugo Manno 71, Alcamo (tel. 0924/20542). After your unforgettable day of nature, relax by the sea with a scrumptious dinner and sweet dreams at Sicilian Beachside Resort, set right on a long, wide sandy beach.
Anyone interested in birdwatching, wild animals, hiking, climbing or trekking should purchase Tim Jepson's Wild Italy before leaving home. Published by the Sierra Club, it is fascinating and authoritative, and we use it as a reliable guide whenever we stray into the wilderness.