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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

In recent years we have been verypleased to introduce some of Italy'slesser-known wildlife reserves to a widerNaturetrek audience. We are proud tocontinue this tradition by the inclusion inour programme of an 8-day tour focusingon the magnificent scenery andoutstanding natural history attributes ofSibillini National Park. Situated in theprovince of Marche which, together withneighbouring Umbria, is known as thegreen heartland of Italy, the protectedlandscape of the national park embracesmore than 20 peaks over 2,000 metres inheight. In addition to these pristinemontane habitats there are extensive tractsof forest, rolling pastoral hills and superbflower-filled meadows creating a naturalhistory paradise. Our base for explorationof the park is a charming family-run hotel,situated in the most unspoilt area of the eastern Apennines, a region steeped inhistory and legend. From the hotel we canenjoy spectacular views of the picturesquetown of Amandola below us and thesurrounding mountains.We fly first to the city of Ancona and thencomplete a 90-minute road transfer to ouraccommodation, passing by hilltop castlesand towers that give an indication of thecolourful history of this region. Once at the hotel, we can begin to savour themagic of the area by a short walk in searchof local orchids such as Orchis fragrans,Ophrys tetraloniaeand Ophrys fuciflorassp.gracilis. After a morning of travel, a moreappealing alternative may be relaxation inthe grounds of the hotel listening to thesoporific buzzing of bees and the flutywhistles of Golden Orioles, which add thebrilliance of their yellow and black plumageto the green of the canopy.For the next six days we undertake dailyexcursions to explore the many facets ofthe national park, an odyssey that will takeus to high alpine meadows filled with wildflowers, marshes, wetlands and aspectacular mountain gorge. Each habitatabounds with interesting natural history andsuperlative scenery. The montane elementsare provided by the peaks of Monte Sibillaand Monte Vettore. Each has its ownmystique and legends; the soothsayer Sibylwas alleged to live in a cave on the formerand it is said that Pontius Pilate was buriedon Monte Vettore. Of more relevance to ourholiday, the fairly steep walks to reach thehigher elevations are rewarded by carpetsof gentians, Edelweiss and other alpinefavourites whilst the lower slopes are abotanist's dream containing variousspecies of orchid, Martagon Lily, AlpineBuckthorn and many other much prizedspecies. With such an abundance offlowers it is no surprise that butterflies arealso much in evidence, a variety thatincludes Eastern Large Heath, SootyRinglet, Amanda's Blue and a host ofpuzzling fritillaries to test our identificationskills. Noisy flocks of Alpine Chough will nodoubt put in an appearance as we near thesummits and a sweet musical song mayreveal an Alpine Accentor amongst theboulders. Snow Finches also inhabit thesepeaks whilst inhabitants of the Beechwoods on the lower slopes include dapperCollared Flycatchers, Bonelli's Warblersand Short-toed Tree-creepers.During our week we will also visit thereedbeds and marshes at Colfiorito, whichprovide an unexpected contrast to themountains. This little-known wetland is setamid an area of open plains and arablefields where traditional farming practiceshave ensured that many of the arable'weeds' such as Cornflower, CornButtercups and Corn Cleavers still flourish.Corn Buntings pour out their jangling songfrom every telephone wire and the fieldsprovide cover for Montagu's Harriers andQuail to raise their young. As we approachthe reeds we will hear the raucous chatterof Great Reed Warblers, whilst other birdsfound here include Bearded Reedling,Marsh Harrier, Penduline Tit and Bittern.Once a glacial lake, the Piano Grande isnow a vast upland plain 1,250 metresabove sea level. We spend a day hereamong carpets of wild flowers whichinclude poppies, wild tulips (Tulipaaustralis), fritillaries and alpine exotics suchas Carex bauxbaumiiand Cerastiumscaranii. This is a magnificent wild placewhere the songs of countless Skylarkscombine to provide a backgroundsymphony to our walks. One final treat awaits as we visit La Goladell'Infernaccio (Hell's Gorge), arguably themost impressive limestone gorge in theApennine range. Once again the scenery iswonderful and a wide range of flora,butterflies and birds will contribute to amemorable day. Away from the better-known tourist magnets in other parts ofItaly, this unexplored national park atop themythical kingdom of Sibilla Cumana holdsa wealth of natural history treasuresawaiting discovery.View towards Monte VettoreMARCHEADRIATIC SEAANCONASARNANOPARCO NAZIONALEDEI MONTI SIBILLINIMT. SIBILLAAMANDOLA88Call now or visit your free Trip ItineraryOutline itineraryDay 1Fly Ancona.Day 2/7A daily programme ofnatural history walksfrom our base nearAmandola.Day 8Fly Stansted. AccommodationA comfortable family-run hotel; allrooms have private facilities.FoodAll included in the cost. GradingGrade B. All walks are optional daywalks, some of them on steepground.FocusPlants, birds, mammals andbutterflies. LeaderPhil Thompson.Single room supplement£140.Web quick search: ITA04Italy's SibilliniMountains An 8-day natural history tour to one of Italy's least-visited and most spectacularregions - the majestic Sibillini Mountains in the province of Marche.Wednesday 5th June - Wednesday 12th June Cost: £1,295Pearly HeathLate Spider Orchid