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As early as 1856 the Gran Paradisomountains in the Italian Alps wereafforded protection as a wildlifereserve by Italy's King Vittorio Emmanuel IIto protect their herds of Ibex. By 1922 thereserve had become Italy's first nationalpark, and today it covers 720 squarekilometres. On the creation of theadjoining Vanoise National Park by theFrench in 1963, the largest protected areain Western Europe was formed. On this 2-centre holiday we aim to enjoy dailynatural history walks amongst the beautifulAlpine valleys, forests and high peaks ofthis spectacular region, focusing on theiralpine flora, birdlife, butterflies and, ofcourse, such mammals as Ibex, Chamoisand Alpine Marmots. The area's geology isalso very varied, one of the reasons for theoutstanding flora which includes suchspecial 'alpines' as the pink-floweredAethionema thomasianum, an endemic ofthe Aosta Alps growing on calcareousscrees; Astragalus centralpinus, the centralAlpine milk vetch found in the high alpinemeadows; Campanula alpestris(Large-flowered Bellflower), to be found onlimestone rocks and screes, and Saxifragaretusa, a compact saxifrage with pinkflowers favouring acid rocks. Many otheralpine species of saxifrages, sedums,vetches, composites, campanulas and ofcourse various gentians and orchids also occur here.We will be based for our first three nightsin Cogne, a small and friendly Italian townin the Val di Cogne, high above the AostaValley and surrounded by gentle greenmeadows and towering, glacier-coveredmountains. The region is both Italian andFrench speaking, though each valley tendsto have its own dialect, and the area isnoted for its Valdostane cuisine, whichincludes plenty of Chamois, venison,excellent local cheeses and Valle d'Aostawines. We will then cross the border tospend our last four nights at Lanslevillard,a French village near Mount Cenis, one ofthe finest sites for Alpine flowers. Fromboth these bases we will explore the trailsof the Gran Paradiso and Vanoise NationalParks, and enjoy the exceptional variety ofbirds, plants and butterflies of the region. On one day we will walk from Valnontey, asmall village in the Gran Paradiso, alongthe beautiful valley of the Torrent Valnontey,towards the impressive glaciers that capthe park. A wayside botanical gardenintroduces us to many of the alpine plantsthat we hope to find during the week. In thedelightful forests of beech, larch, spruceand Arolla Pine above, we will look forFirecrests, Coal Tits, Serins, Citril Finches,Crossbills and, with luck, Bonelli's Warblersand the elusive Black Woodpecker, beforewe reach the alpine meadows above thetreeline where Choughs, Alpine Choughs, Lammergeiers, Golden Eagles and otherbirds of prey may all be seen overhead,and Wheatears, Ring Ouzels, Dippers,Black Redstarts, Rock Buntings and WaterPipits all breed. On other days we willexplore further valleys and also themeadows and screes of the Col de Petit St.Bernard where we look for Alpine and SmallWhite Orchid, the various prostrate willowssuch as Salix breviserrata, S. reticulata, S.serpyllifoliaand S. herbacea, Alpenrose andCreeping Azalea. Typically, at the high pointof each day's walk, we will break the daywith a leisurely and delicious picnic lunch;a time to appreciate the abundance ofalpine flowers and the clouds of attendantbutterflies, and scan the slopes around usfor views of Ibex and Chamois . and noisyAlpine Marmots. We will also look out forPeregrine, Golden Eagle and Lammergeier,as well as two specialities of the highestslopes, Snowfinch and Alpine Accentor. Next we cross into France to spend ourlast four nights in the Vanoise NationalPark. France's first national park lies in theHaute Savoie, just to the south of lordlyMont Blanc, and also holds an impressivediversity of wildlife. Chamois, Alpine Ibexand Alpine Marmots are all found here,whilst amongst 125 species of breedingbirds are Lammergeier and the enigmaticWallcreeper. It is, however, the flora that ismost spectacular and, in the alpinemeadows, we will look for such plantspecialities as Mount Cenis Restharrow(Ononis cristata), Edelweiss(Leontopodium alpinum), Erigeronuniflorus, and both Primula pedemontanaand Primula hirsuta. Alpine specialities ofthe screes and rocks include Blunt-leavedRock Jasmine (Androsace obtusifolia),Hairy Rock Jasmine (Androsacepubescens), Androsace alpina,Phyteumaglobulariifolium, the Glacier Buttercup(Ranunculus glacialis), Petrocallispyrenaicaand Mount Cenis Bellflower(Campanula cenisia).To complete our week we will visit the area of Mount Cenis, renowned for itsalpine flora. Amongst the species we willlook for here are the two mountainpansies, Viola calcarataand Viola cenisi;the yellow-flowered Erysimum helveticumand pink-flowered Androsace carneafound in the rocky crevices, whilst thescrees hold Mount Baldo Anemone(Anemone baldensis). Other plants we will look for are Alpine Pasque Flower(Pulsatillas alpina), many species ofgentian, including the diminutive SnowGentian (G. nivalis), various campanulasand rampions, the handsome False WhiteHelleborine (Veratrum album), and Frogand Alpine Orchids.The Italian & French AlpsAn 8-day holiday focusing on the Alpine plants, birds, mammals and butterflies of Italy'sGran Paradiso National Park and the adjoining Vanoise National Park in France.Wednesday 26th June - Wednesday 3rd July Cost: £1,295 Outline itineraryDay 1Fly Turin and transfer toCogne.Day 2/3Botanical andbirdwatching walks inthe Gran ParadisoNational Park, fromCogne.Day 4/7Botanical andbirdwatching walks inthe Vanoise NationalPark, from Lanslevillard.Day 8Transfer to Turin and flyLondon. AccommodationA 2-centre holiday based incomfortable, family-run hotels; allrooms have private facilities. FoodAll included in the price.GradingGrade B. Day walks only, some onsteep ground. All walks areoptional. FocusAlpine plants, birds, mammals andbutterflies. LeaderPhil Thompson.Single room supplement£160.ExtensionsCity breaks in Turin available onrequest.Web quick search: ITA0790Call now or visit www.naturetrek.co.ukfor your free Trip ItineraryGULF OF GENOA SWITZERLAND ITALY FRANCE TURIN LANSLEVILLARDVANOISE NATIONAL PARK COGNE GRAN PARADISO NATIONAL PARK Sempervivum arachnoideumValnontey

The dramatic peaks of the ItalianDolomites are renowned for theirmagnificent walks and alpine flora,but it is less well known that they are alsoone of Europe's top butterfly hotspots. The sheltered valleys provide a warmmicroclimate at a southern latitude, whilstthe range of altitudes accessible providesa diversity unimaginable in Britain. 'TheDistribution Atlas of European Butterflies'(Kudrna, 2002) shows over 150 speciesthat are to be found within 50 kilometres of our base in the Val di Fassa. Indeed thevalley is something of a secret refuge, for not only does it hold its own endemic flora but it is also home to the Ladinpeople, their traditions and their uniquelanguage with its Latin roots, quitedifferent from Italian. This relaxing week is set amongst themountains but does not involve anystrenuous mountaineering. Strolling gentlythrough the alpine meadows, we will seewaves of fritillaries, not only the familiarSilver-washed, Dark Green and Pearl-bordered but also Titania's and MountainFritillaries. Amongst the tall meadowgrasses the Mazarine Blue flies in goodnumbers, and a flash of gold will lead usto Scarce Coppers, a reminder of whatBritain has lost with the extinction of theLarge Copper. Clouds of day-flying mothswill be stirred up at our feet - another sign of the sheer diversity of nature allaround us. The Val di San Nicolo is thefirst of several side valleys we will visit, its open meadows separated by a gushing river, and with wooded sides and the steep slopes that bring suchvaried habitats into one delightful area.Our hotel is situated on a shoulder abovethe main Val di Fassa, nicely off thebeaten track, and with a wonderful view inall directions. A friendly, family-runestablishment with a Tyrolean atmosphere,it provides a superb breakfast buffet as anexcellent starting point for our day trips.The early evening is a good time to findroosting butterflies whilst strolling near thehotel, and in this way both Amanda's Blueand an unusual form of the Marsh Fritillary(E. aurinia debilis) were found by recentgroups. It is certainly a necessity to returnto the hotel at the end of each day with ahearty appetite, for the evening meal isalways a treat! After enjoying it, there isthe prospect of running a moth trap in thewoods behind the hotel for those with aninterest in moths.There may be some patches of whiteamongst the distant peaks but the snowwill be long gone from the ski slopesabove Canazei, which by early summerhave become the Bindelweg along whichFarrer found such a variety of alpine flora.We will drive up to the Sella Pass (at 2,213metres) to walk two routes where we hopeto find a selection of ringlets, blues,skippers and fritillaries at home above thetreeline, together with Edelweiss.The domain of 'King Lauren's RoseGarden' sits on a terrace high above ourhotel, and is accessible by cable car or byshuttle bus. It is like a natural rock garden,stretching up to a mountain refuge lunch-stop with an impressive view back to thesheltered high alpine pasture where we willspend the afternoon looking for butterflies,amongst them Shepherd's Fritillaries, SilkyRinglets and a multitude of more familiarskippers and marbled whites.A short drive south will bring us into theextensive Panevéggio National Park, withits own range of mountains, rivers, forestsand pastures. We can expect to find theArran Brown, the Sooty Ringlet and theCommon Brassy Ringlet, as well as themore easily identified Alpine Blues andWarren's Skippers. With luck, we willexperience scores of fritillaries driftingaround us in sheltered glades - a trulymemorable encounter. There will be plentyof opportunities for photography; thelonger we stay, the longer our species listwill grow, and digital images will certainlyhelp us to keep track of our sightings.On one day we will descend to lower levels to extend the range of species onthe wing. Swallowtails, Scarce Swallowtailsand White Admirals are all to be found,and have a habit of popping up atunexpected moments. On a previous trip,the only Purple Emperor we saw settled atour feet at lunchtime!If you enjoy entrancing scenery, freshmountain air, and a rich diversity ofwildlife, all coupled with Italian wine andcooking, this is the trip for you. If you arealso a butterfly enthusiast, prepare to beimpressed!Butterflies of the Dolomites An 8-day holiday in search of the butterflies of the spectacular Dolomites Mountains in north-eastern Italy. Sunday 30th June - Sunday 7th July Cost: £1,295LIECHTENSTEIN SWITZERLAND AUSTRIA CATINACCIO PORDOI PASS MARMOLADAVIGO DI FASSA HOTEL VAL DI FASSA ROLLE PASS NATIONAL PARK OF PANEVEGGIO BRENTA GROUP TRENTO FROM/TOVERONA/VENICETHE ITALIAN DOLOMITES Outline itineraryDay 1Fly to Venice andtransfer to the FassaValley.Day 2/7A daily programme ofalpine walks in searchof butterflies from ourbase in the Fassa Valley. Day 8Fly London. AccommodationA friendly and comfortable family-run hotel (with private facilities),with fine views over the FassaValley.FoodAll included in the price.GradingDay walks only. Grade B.FocusButterflies and other natural history. LeaderAlan Miller.Single room supplement £160.ExtensionsAvailable on request, with orwithout car rental.Web quick search: ITA01Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking Information91Val di Fassa, Dolomites10% DONATIONTOAlpine BlueTitania's Fritillary