100 years of the Gran Paradiso
The Gran Paradiso National Park is 100 years old in 2022. Jane Doran takes a look at this beautiful Alpine area around the summit of the Gran Paradiso.
The Gran Paradiso National Park is a beautiful Alpine habitat of outstanding richness, covering over 70,000 hectares around the summit of the Gran Paradiso, between Piemonte and the Aosta Valley. It’s a mountainous area, ranging from 800m (2625ft) in the park’s valleys, to a heady height of 4061m (13,323ft) at the summit. The park is a truly awesome nature reserve and home to 168 species of fauna, 1124 species of flora, 59 glaciers and 183 lakes. Urban areas account for just 0.2% of the park and only 300 people live within its borders. The park itself is surrounded by 13 boroughs, rich in history and culture, and meets the Vanoise National Park at the French border. There are more than 55km (344 miles) of accessible trails meandering through the five valleys within the park (Valsavarenche, Valle di Rhêmes, Valle Soana, Valle Orco and Valle di Cogne).
In 1854 the area was declared a Royal Hunting Reserve, by King Vittorio Emanuele II, the first King of a united Italy. This declaration saved the wonderful Ibex (or Steinbock/Bouquetin), which are a species of wild goat, from extinction in their natural habitats across the entire European Alps.
In 1920 the King donated the 'Royal Hunting Reserve of Gran Paradiso' to the state, and two years later the area was declared a national park.
Since gaining national park status 100 years ago the park has been pivotal in increasing the numbers of Ibex from around 3000 to over 30,000 and re-introducing them across the Alpine ranges of Europe.
The Gran Paradiso is an Alpine wonderland. The mountains that make up the range have been chiseled by giant glaciers and ancient rivers that created the valleys we see today.
The valley floor is largely Alpine Forest with Larch, Spruce, Swiss Stone Pines and a sprinkling of Silver Fir. Around 20% of the park is forested, which provides shelter to a huge array of animals.
At the southern end of the park, there is a long-abandoned picturesque hamlet to explore, complete with houses, a schoolhouse and the village’s version of a fridge – you’ll be amazed when you see it!
Once you leave the valley floor you are greeted with glorious Alpine pastures and stunning lakes, rich with flora and fauna. But at high altitude, the landscape changes completely and you enter a world of rock, glaciers and snow-capped peaks.
The Gran Paradiso’s mountain trails often follow the ancient hunting routes and are used by hikers and bikers in the summer (from June until the end of September) and for ski-ing and snowshoeing during the winter.
The variety of routes allows visitors with different walking abilities to explore and learn from the information the park provides along the way. The Alpine Ibex Trail is nearly 40km (25 miles) and showcases the variety of terrain as well as the Ibex – the park’s symbol – in their habitat.
The multi-day trek of the traverse of the Gran Paradiso (or Alta Via 2) is a remote and beautiful trek taking you 130km (81 miles) from Chardonney to Courmayeur. It takes around 8 to 12 days to walk and has an accumulation of 9000m height gain, making it a super challenge for seasoned mountain walkers.
This high-mountain trail is only available to hikers in July and August who enjoy staying in the authentic and welcoming Italian mountain huts (refugios) along the trail.
The Gran Paradiso National Park is well serviced with varied accommodation. From dormitories to hotels with spas, alpine mountain huts with gorgeous views, and local guesthouses.
There is accommodation to suit lone hikers looking for fellow travellers to relax with at the end of the day, for families and for groups who have come to enjoy all that the park has to offer.
A veritable jewel among Europe’s national parks, Gran Paradiso is the perfect destination to connect with nature on every level – even in winter. Its trails are less busy than the more well-known Alpine walking routes. And the variety of the park, coupled with the warm Italian welcome of the accommodation providers, makes it wonderfully inviting to explore.
For more information on the area and trek ideas see the video below and the Mont Blanc Trek website.
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