My story begins in Opi (see photo, left) in the heart of what is now the Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo, Lazio e Molise (National Park of Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise). It is a lovely place of gentle wildness, not well enough known by those outside of Italy. Which is why I convey these facts.
1. The Park was founded just after World War I when (Irma’s) Opi leased 5 sq. km (not much) to a private federation to protect the land.
2. The Park grew rapidly to 300 sq. km, until the loveliness somehow threatened the Fascist regime which abolished it. Hard to figure what’s so subversive about a park, but Mussolini had his inscrutable ways.
3. In the high meadows, fields of crocus appear in late Spring. I knew they were native someplace, but the first sight of what seemed the iconic suburban flower in the wild was amazing.
4. The sweet-faced Abruzzo bears, more correctly the Marsican Brown Bears, now number about 30. They are genetically isolated and very shy.
5. Also shy, the Italian wolf well known in legend, is slowly returning.
6. Other small mammals and the elegant chamois inhabit the park. There are badgers and porcupines, but no skunks. Small aside: when my husband first saw one in California and mistook it for a cat, I had to grab his shirt-tail and hold him back from close encounters with stinkiness.
7. Abruzzo is home to a delicious simple cookie, the Brutti ma Buoni (ugly but good) which you can replicate with the recipe.
8. The park holds some of the highest mountains in Italy, lush valleys, quiet towns and fine sheep cheese.
9. A new hiking map of the Park winds you past abbeys, streams, mills, castles, museums, up and down green mountains, through beech forests and romantic medieval hill towns.
10. Abruzzo is marvelously made for cross-country skiing of every level, with resorts as fancy or rustic as you choose.