Hiking to the “Garden of Gods” in Basilicata

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The road was bumpy. It was more of a wide dirt track with potholes, huge lumps of drying mud and deep puddles of greenish water. Only a few cows, goats, sheep, tractors and off-road monsters like ours could get through. For almost two hours, we were thrown up and down, left and right. Giuliano, the driver, kept telling us jokes and promising that we will arrive any minute now. Finally, the car stopped and we jumped on the solid ground feeling unsteady, like sailors after a long rough sea voyage. Not wasting time, we set off for a brisk 50-minute hike to the Grande Porta in the Pollino National park. Our guide Salvatore told us that it was easy to get lost in that part of the Pollino: there are no signs, no phone coverage, only trees, birds and many paths going in different directions. After 30 minutes of walking we met a man sitting in a tree shade while a small stud of horses was grazing nearby. It was the first human we met since leaving our base in Calabria almost three hours ago, so our “Buongiorno” greeting to him was especially warm and heartfelt. We were in the wild, going up a mountain that none of us has ever stepped on before. We felt like pioneers heading in to the unknown.

pines1

The descent was not very steep but once we came out of the forested area we slowed down taking in the views. All around us, on mountain slopes at a distance we started noticing majestic silhouettes of Bosnian pines (“pino loricato” in Italian), the symbol of the Pollino. They were the reason we came there. A few more minutes and the stunning Grande Porta del Pollino, the most spectacular place to admire the Bosnian pine, was in front of us. It is a passage way from Calabria to Basilicata, surrounded by the mountain ranges Serra di Crispo, Dolcedorme and Pollino. Some people call this place “the garden of gods”. At 2000 metres above sea level, we were certainly closer to gods and the views were divine indeed: mountain ranges stretching into horizon, sharp blue sky, white rocky slopes with elegant centuries-old silvery-green pines, so elegant in their outline that they look almost like sculptures.

The Bosnian pine (Pinus leucodermis) is a rare tree. It grows in small groups high in the mountains within the Pollino National park in Basilicata and Calabria, as well as a few places in the Balkans. The tree can be up to 35 metres high and 2 metres in trunk diameter. They live for hundreds of years and even when they collapse from the age, they keep their splendour: bleached by sun, rain and snow their pale chiselled trunks prostrated on the ground look patrician and somehow alive.

pinesThe oldest tree that was said to be 1000 years was burnt here by vandals in 1993. However, there is another patriarch surviving near the summit of the Mount Pollino that is, according to recent studies, can be around 1000 years old.

I was mesmerised by the thick furrowed bark of the pine. It felt rough and warm to touch. Leaning on one of the trees I felt calm and safe in its stately shadow. The Bosnian pine is tough: it withstands strong wind, heavy snow, very low temperatures, as well as droughts, ozone pollution, and some nasty pests. However, it is in the Red list of threatened species as its populations are fragmented and limited, mainly due to forest fires and over-grazing, problems common in the Mediterranean, particularly in Italy. Scientists are worried about the genetic diversity of the Italian pine population and say that it is rapidly decreasing.

Practical information:

The Pollino National Park can be accessed all year around. There are a few qualified guides in Calabria and Basilicata that can bring nature tourists to see Bosnian pine sites. Some of them speak basic English.

Nino Larocca, tel. 3497966734, email: pinoloricato1965@libero.it, web: www.marsilia.eu

Mario Salerno, tel. 3476993880, , email: mario_salerno@hotmail.com

Salvatore  Martorano, tel. 3477506851, email: ecotour1@gmail.com, web: https://sites.google.com/site/ecotourpollino.

Pasquale Larocca, tel. 3497561374, emal: info@pollinoadventure.com, web: http://www.pollinoadventure.com

Emanuele Pisarra tel. 333. 87 32 829, email: info@acalandrostour.it

 

 

3 Comments

  1. Pingback: 10 Favorite Reads on Italy this week: Oct 10, 2014 - BrowsingItaly

  2. Basilicata is one of the regions that I would like to know better. Matera is the only place that I have visited there but a hike like this sounds fascinating. Thank you, I am bookmarking it for my next trip.

    • Thank you, Amy! Basilicata is a beautiful region with very few foreign tourists. Unfortunately, it is not easy to move round by public transport, so, to see the best of Basilicata, you would need a car.

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