May 9, 2016

Summer in the Parco Nazionale Gran Paradiso Hero The Colle del Nivolet – Image by Flickr user Soumei Baba

When choosing where to spend my summer break I often look to France’s peaceful lakes, try to find a good mountain hike or even a spot on a wild beach somewhere. It wasn’t until recently that I decided to look a little further afield to Italy, and its stunning Parco Nazionale Gran Paradiso.

Tor des Geants
Witness stunning natural lakes in the Gran Paradiso park. © Flickr user Tor des Geants

Located in northern Italy and part of Europe’s magnificent Graian Alps, this national park is Italy’s oldest, founded in 1922 when King Victor Emmanuel III donated 21 kilometres of his land to protect the area’s wildlife.

As well as great hiking routes, cycling paths and wildlife-spotting opportunities, prepare to see lots of high mountains – the Gran Paradiso peak is 4,601 metres high! In summer, the park comes alive, so check out my guide to the perfect summer in the Parco Nazionale Gran Paradiso.

Summer wildlife

Alpine ibex

In the summer months, the previously endangered alpine ibex come down from their mountain hideouts to the warmth of the valleys below. A type of wild goat, the ibex are beautiful creatures with vast horns, which can be seen foraging for mosses, grasses and flowers to eat.

The beautiful ibex
The beautiful ibex, which is native to the park. © Flickr user Fulvio Spada
Chamois

Similar to the ibex, chamois are timid mammals that look somewhat like antelopes. You can find them grazing in the valleys of the national park at dawn and dusk.

Birds

Look to the skies when you’re exploring the park and see if you can find some of the rare birds of prey that live there, such as golden eagles and the Eurasian eagle-owl. When trekking through the park’s thick woods, listen out for nutcrackers and woodpeckers.

Cogne

If you need a starting point to your exploration of the park, I’d suggest Cogne. With a population of just 1,500, Cogne is a historical trading town and today it’s a popular spot with visitors. It’s simply beautiful, with its colourful buildings dotted throughout the valley and the Roman bridge which stands as a reminder of its turbulent history.

Cogne
The valley, with Cogne beneath. © Flickr user chiesADlbeinasco

Summer here is wonderful, with the snow-capped hillsides giving way to green meadows and wildflowers. If you visit between June and August, you can use the camping facilities in town, which are great fun if you’re travelling with kids. Personally, I love using Cogne as a base from which I can explore the nearby mountains, going rock climbing and horseback riding.

Hiking

There are countless hiking opportunities in the park, whether you’re exploring the Nivolet Pass on foot via the commune of Valsavarenche, or you’re trekking through the park’s thick woods and forests. Hiking or walking in the park is an unmatched experience. It’s perfectly unspoilt and you really get a sense of being in the wild.

If you want a challenging hike, check out the Alta Via 2 path. This route will take you from Lillaz to Rhemes-Notre-Dame, which is about 35 miles. A high-altitude walk at times, you’ll need to bring the correct gear for this one.

Alternatively, at just under 7 miles long, the trail from Pont to Col del Nivolet rewards your efforts with sweeping views of the park, and while challengingly steep in parts, it’s worth the effort.

Dog walking

Summer is a great time to take your furry friend on holiday with you, especially as dog walking is allowed in the park – although there are a few rules. Between 15th July and 31st August, you can enjoy fantastic routes with your dog, stopping by some of the park’s prettiest towns and villages along the way.

One of my favourite routes starts at the commune of Valnontey, southwest of Cogne. A winding walk, you’ll eventually end up at the Vittorio Sella Refuge to the west, having seen some of the prettiest parts of the park. It’s important to remember that in most places, you can’t let your dog off the lead, as you risk disturbing the local wildlife. 

Inspired to explore Italy’s Parco Nazionale Gran Paradiso?

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