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Tuscany is, in so many ways, the veryessence of Italy. The name aloneconjures up the vivid images sobeloved of painters: those rollinglandscapes outlined by dark cypress treesand enlivened by vibrant splashes of redpoppies, the whole bathed in thatwonderful light seemingly peculiar to Italy.Olive groves, vineyards and magnificenthill-top towns nestle alongside some of themost famous artistic and cultural treasuresin Europe. The modern Italian languagewas born here from the famous works ofDante and Boccaccio, whilst the regionalso witnessed the birth of the greatRenaissance period. The centre of it allwas Florence, where important works of art testify to the genius of the likes ofLeonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.Tuscany is also home to such othercultural gems as the medieval cities ofSiena and Pisa and the smaller SanGimignano. This fascinating and uniquetour will enable us to combine some ofthese wonders with the rich natural history of the region.We begin our holiday with a flight to Pisa,from where we will head south-westtowards the coastal strip and inland hills ofMaremma, our base for the next fivenights. En route we will stop at thestunning little medieval town of SanGimignano. Perched on a hill, with itsfamous towers silhouetted against the sky,it resists all efforts to bring it into themodern world. The hills and coastline ofour destination are protected within theRegional Park of Maremma, which claimsto be the last virgin coastal landscape onthe Italian peninsula. Stunning countrysidecombines coastal marshland, cliffs andpristine sandy beaches backed by standsof Umbrella Pines, Mediterranean maquisand forested hills. Herds of the region'scelebrated white cattle and wild Maremmahorses graze amongst picturesque farms,pastureland and olive groves. The flora istypically Mediterranean and speciesinclude Narrow-leaved and Grey Cistus,Strawberry Tree, Tree Medick and a varietyof heathers, whilst on the sandy beachesCatchfly (Silene littorea), Crucianellamaritimaand Chamomile (Anthemismaritimus) are found. Such varied habitatssupport a wide selection of birds, includingsuch species as Purple Heron, YelkouanShearwater, Short-toed Eagle, Montagu'sHarrier, Peregrine Falcon, Scops Owl,Stone Curlew, Great-spotted Cuckoo,Roller, Hoopoe, Subalpine and DartfordWarbler and Zitting Cisticola. Travelling through rolling hills, scatteredwith small medieval towns and castles, wewill visit a variety of fine sites for flora andfauna during our stay in the region. Thesewill include WWF reserves at Orbetello,Bosco di Patanella and Bosco Rocconi.Orbetello Lagoon is a Ramsar Site, onaccount of its strategic importance duringbird migration, and at the time of our visitsuch species as Greater Flamingo, GlossyIbis, Little Bittern, Squacco Heron, GreatWhite Egret, Whiskered Tern, GoldenOriole and Great Reed Warbler may all beseen. The reserves also hold numerousbutterflies, amongst them Swallowtail,Scarce Swallowtail, Southern Festoon (athreatened species in Tuscany), Two-tailedPasha and a variety of coppers, blues,fritillaries and skippers, whilst such orchidsas Pink Butterfly, Bog, Yellow Ophrys,Ophrys saratoiand Monkey Orchid arefound here. Surrounded by crystal clearwaters, the main attraction of picturesqueGiglio Island is its colony of Audouin'sGulls, one of the rarest gull species in theworld and a Mediterranean endemic. Herewe will also hope to see Cory's andYelkouan Shearwater, Peregrine Falconand Blue Rock Thrush. Mouflon, theendemic butterfly Elban Heath and manyplant species, such as Linaria caprariaandthe Sea Lavender Limonium sommierianum(both endemics of the Tuscan archipelago)also occur on the island.The botanists in our party will relish timespent on the Argentario promontory, anarea second only to the GarganoPeninsula when it comes to abundance oforchids within Italy. Some 42 species havebeen recorded here, amongst which areYellow Ophrys, Ophrys saratoi, Small-flowered Tongue, Naked Man, Green-winged, Pink Butterfly, Dense-flowered,Man and Monkey Orchids. We will alsohope to find flowering gladioli, Asphodelusaestivus,Anemone hortensisand Star ofBethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum)amongst other species. Next we will travel to the National Park ofForeste Casentinesi, stopping en route toexplore Siena, one of the greatestmedieval towns in Europe and a treasure-house of Gothic architecture and artmasterpieces. Casentino is an area of firand beech forests in which we will bebased for our final two nights. Here we will search for woodland wildlife and, whilst Wolves do occur in the forest, they are elusive and rarely seen. Our tourconcludes with a short visit to Florence(flight times permitting), where we willwander over the shop-lined Ponte Vecchio and soak in the sights of themagnificent buildings dominated by thebreathtaking dome of the great cathedral.One of the most beautiful and famouscities in the world, Cradle of theRenaissance and home of the Medici,Florence is overwhelming. TUSCANY TYRRHENIAN SEA PISA FLORENCE SAN GIMIGNANO CASENTINOSIENA GROSSETO RISPESCIA GIGLIO ORBETELLO ISLAND REGIONAL PARK OF MAREMMA ELBA 86Call now or visit www.naturetrek.co.ukfor your free Trip ItineraryOutline itineraryDay 1Fly Pisa; transfer toMaremma.Day 2/5A daily programme ofnatural history walksfrom our base atMaremma.Day 6/7Siena and Casentino.Day 8Florence, then flyLondon.AccommodationComfortable hotels with privatefacilities.FoodAll included in the price.GradingDay walks only. Grade A/B.FocusPlants, birds and butterflies, plusthe chance to enjoy a little of Italy'sfine cuisine, Renaissance art andarchitecture. LeaderPaul Harmes. Single room supplement£160.ExtensionsExtra nights in Florence or Pisaarranged on request.Web quick search: ITA09Tuscany in SpringAn 8-day exploration of the natural history and cultural treasures of Tuscany.Thursday 2nd May - Thursday 9th May Cost: £1,395The Duomo, FlorenceLarge CopperAudouin's Gull

Stretching the length of Italy, theApennine Mountains provide arefuge for much of Italy's mostinteresting natural history. Ancient forestsand flower-filled meadows are abuzz withinsect-life and birds, whilst mammalsinclude healthy populations of both BrownBear and Wolf. Although typically elusiveand rarely seen, our groups in each of thelast four years have enjoyed wonderfulsightings of Brown Bear, with Wolf alsoseen in 2008 and 2010. We hope forsimilar success in 2012! This is very mucha working rural landscape of rolling hillsand traditional sheep farming, madespecial by its wealth of atmosphericmedieval villages, traditional cuisine andaromatic local wines, all of which combineto make this holiday a well-rounded andenjoyable Italian experience. Set in the heart of the Apennines is theAbruzzo National Park, established by royaldecree in 1923 and today protecting an areaof 400 square kilometres. This park is thefocus of our single-centre holiday, duringwhich we will be based in a comfortable,family-run hotel, set in a quiet location at theedge of the large village of Pescasseroli, inthe foothills of the Apennines. Delicious andwholesome Italian cuisine, a garden which ishome to Redstarts, Firecrests, CollaredFlycatchers and Red Squirrels, and thenearby and interesting medieval quarter addfurther to the attractions of this village base,from which we will set out each day -sometimes walking straight out from thegarden into the surrounding countryside -to enjoy a series of natural history walksamongst the delightful valleys and peaks ofthis pleasant rural region, exploring themeadows, majestic old beech forests andhigh alpine pastures (usually within a 20-kilometre radius of our hotel). Our aim is notto focus too intently on any particular wildlifeaspect but rather to enjoy the wealth of localflora, birdlife, butterflies and mammals,including Chamois and perhaps even aglimpse of an endemic Marsican BrownBear or Apennine Wolf for which the park isrenowned. The area's geology is calcareousand this feature, together with the widerange of habitats and altitudes (from 700 to2,200 metres) within the park, are the mainreasons for the outstanding flora, whichincludes a large variety of bellflowers,saxifrages and orchids. We will also providetime to soak in the region's atmosphere,enjoying the culture and history found inabundance in the Apennine villages, andperhaps sampling and slipping home someof the delicious, locally produced honey,truffles and cheeses for which the area isjustly renowned.At the Camosciara, a dramatic dolomiticamphitheatre, we will search for such plantsas Swallow-wort, Glaucous Spurge, KidneyVetch, Spiny Restharrow, Nice Milkwort andthe rare and beautiful Lady's Slipper Orchid.Nearby, amongst the forests and clearingsof this area, we will listen for Firecrests,Coal Tits, Serins, Crossbills and, with luck,the elusive Black Woodpecker. Towards thetop of the Camosciara, the views of thesurrounding mountains are quitespectacular and, as well as a wealth offlowers here, we will also enjoy theabundance of butterflies that they attract (ifthe sun is out!). Golden Eagles regularlynest nearby and we will keep an eye out forthem and other mountain birds. On another day we will focus on the ValFondillo, ascending a trail throughpastures and small wetlands whereAdenostyles glabraand such orchids asMan, Toothed, Lady, Early Spider andHeath Spotted may be found. Later, as wereach the forest, we may come acrossMezereon, Martagon Lily and StinkingHellebore beneath ancient and statelyBeech trees. Birdwatching here is alsogood, with Redstarts, all of the region's sixspecies of Woodpecker (Green, Black, White-backed, Lesser, Middle and GreatSpotted) and Western Bonelli's Warblerchoosing to breed in these forests. The Vallone Pesco di Lordo, which risesgently through meadows andbeechwoods, will occupy another of ourdays. A range of butterflies are to beenjoyed here, while plants may includesuch woodland species as Coralroot(Cardamine bulbifera), Herb Paris (Parisquadrifolia) and the prized endemicMarsican Iris (Iris marsica). Later we willretrace our steps and travel to the'landslip', north of Pescasseroli. Althoughthe landslide occurred several years ago,the soil has not been cleared from theroad and remains a feature of the area.Here we will revisit a meadow which wescan for Bears at dawn and dusk, this timefocusing on the rich variety of orchidspecies it holds, including Lady, Burnt,Toothed, Fragrant and a form of EarlyPurple Orchid. Amongst the highlights each day will bethe selection of a scenic spot at which tobreak our walk with a leisurely anddelicious lunch made from local produce.This will be a time to relax amongst anabundance of Apennine flowers andattendant butterflies, to scan the slopesaround us for Red Deer, Chamois,Peregrine, Golden Eagle, Chough andAlpine Chough - perhaps even aMarsican Brown Bear! - and to reflect onthe many charms of this attractive regionof rural Italy.The Apennines: Italy'sAbruzzo National ParkAn 8-day natural history holiday looking at the alpine and Mediterranean plants, birds and butterflies of theAbruzzo National Park, in the central Apennines, home of the endemic Marsican Brown Bear and Apennine Wolf.Thursday 23rd May - Thursday 30th May Cost: £1,295Thursday 30th May - Thursday 6th June Cost: £1,295Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationABRUZZO NATIONAL PARK PESCARA FROM/TOROMEPESCASSEROLI ADRIATIC SEA ITALY Outline itineraryDay 1Fly Rome and transferto Pescasseroli.Day 2/7Wildlife walks in theAbruzzo National Parkfrom Pescasseroli.Day 8Transfer to Rome and flyLondon. AccommodationA single-centre holiday based in acomfortable, family-run hotel; allrooms have private facilities. FoodAll included in the price.GradingGrade B. All walks are optional daywalks, some of them on quite steepand rocky terrain.FocusPlants, birds, mammals andbutterflies. LeadersJessica Turner (botanist) and LeeMorgan (ornithologist).Single room supplement£160.ExtensionsExtra nights in Rome, forsightseeing, available on request.Web quick search: ITA0687Abruzzo National ParkSouthern FestoonHeath Spotted Orchid