The Pollino National Park is the largest protected area in Italy. It was established in 1993 and extends between the Basilicata and Calabria regions, along the Southern Apennines of Calabria and Lucania. The Loricate pine, an endemic species, characteristic of the area, is the park's symbol. The park area stretches from the Tyrrhenian Sea to the Ionian Sea, from Cozzo del Pellegrino to Serra Dolcedorme, from the Plains of Campolongo, Novacco and Lanzo to the Piani di Pollino, from the Argentino and Abatemarco rivers to the gorges of Lao and Raganello, to the Peschiera and Frido streams. The territory hosts rare and exceptional animals, like the golden eagle and the roebuck.
Places of archaeological and palaeontological importance - the first going back to ancient Greek colonizations and the second taking the name of Grotta del Romito (Romito cave) and Valle del Mercuri (Mercuri valley) - are an added attraction among the natural sites, created by the fusion of the Dolomite rocks and an unpolluted flora. In Pollino Park visitors will find suggestive mountain walks as well as savoury and strong flavours at the table.
Before talking about the local flora and fauna, in fact, a hint to the cuisine, based on meat and river fish, is a must. Particularly good is the hand-made pasta, like orecchiette and fusilli, the salted meats, like sausage, soppressata, bacon and capocollo, all rigorously Dop, and njuda, salted meat made with a mixture of lean and fat meat and with a lot of chilli pepper. Doc wines that characterize the park territory are named Pollino, Cirò and Donnici. Considering the vastness of the territory, the vegetation in the park is quite varied. There are holm-oaks, junipers, myrtles and minor maples. Junipers in certain areas are present up to 900 metres elevation, whereas, thanks to the capacity of the rocks of accumulating heat, above this height there are usually different varieties of oaks, among which the Neapolitan alder. On the Ionic side, more precisely on Mount Sparviere, there are maple woods in which cohabit five maple species, whereas on lower heights there are beeches and hollies.
But what makes the high mountain vegetation of Pollino unique is its emblem, the longeval and majestic Loricate pine, whose name derives from the plates that form on its trunk, called loricas. This pine takes root on inaccessible crests - it can be found up to 2200 metres - exposed to the inclemency of the weather and to the most boisterous winds. The Park also has grasslands, covered with snow in winter and offering a show of brightly coloured flowers in spring, that extend on the plateaux. The grasslands are made precious by the presence of officinal plants like major gentian, common juniper, belladonna and Sicilian stregonia, the latter with known haemostatic properties. This richness in plants and grasslands has favoured stock farming. In fact, the activity is disseminated over the territory and the cheese products are unique for scent, taste and flavour as a logical consequence of the nourishment at the disposal of the herds.
Where there are herds, there are wolves. The Pollino wolf has survived the indiscriminate hunt of man. For this reason a project for taking a census of the wolf population and to study the relative habitat has been designed. The same problem and the same project concern the native roebuck of Orsomarso and the otter. In general, the whole protected area is rich in an uncommon biodiversity, always in precarious balance.
Birds are equally abundant. In fact, with the ban on shooting that has accompanied the opening of the national park, many birds have returned to the area and have proliferated. The progressive reduction of bird hunting has enabled the visitors and the inhabitants of these areas to fully enjoy the natural concert, offered free, by the Coturnix (quail), the black woodpecker, the green woodpecker and the red pied woodpecker and the five Italian species of skylarks. As usual, the preservation of some species has attracted to the same area other animals such as, on the southern slope, among the high altitude pines, several birds of prey like the golden eagle, the royal kite and the pilgrim; on the other hand on the oriental slope, characterized by a dryer climate and rich in rocky walls nest the always threatened lanari hawks and the small capovaccai vultures. The luckiest and most attentive tourists might even meet the great horned owl during their walks. Besides the wolf, there are other mammals like the wild cat, the polecat and the otter living and reproducing in the watercourses of this area. There are also groups of wild boars and limited numbers of driomio, a small Italic rodent. In the woods there squirrels, dormice, European or from the Apennines, various species of hares, as well as bats that find a favourable habitat in the caves present on the territory.
The local population has characterized the inhabited places with free and fascinating architectures. In the small villages there are still active laboratories of local handicraft, whereas in the local inns one can taste the typical dishes of the territory. Cooking is based both on meat and on river fish. It is possible to taste first courses like buttered spaghetti baked in paper and tagliatelle with Porcino mushrooms. Second courses include grilled lamb, beef cooked with Porcino mushrooms, fish assortments, salmon and/or trout with pink peppercorns, stockfish in every kind of sauce. Desserts range from rustic nut cakes to limoncello mousse with sweet pear sauce.