Straddling Basilicata and Calabria, the Parco Nazionale Pollino is one of Italy’s largest national parks, covering an area of nearly two thousand square kilometres. It is named for the Massiccio del Pollino, a massif in the southern Apennines that reaches a height of 2248m, offering spectacular views over pine forests, plains, limestone slopes, and beyond, to both the Tyrrhenian and Ionian seas. That, and its other major peaks such as the Serra Dolcedorme (2267m), are best explored on organized hiking excursions (see Activities in the Parco Nazionale Pollino) aimed at seeking out the park’s rare flora and fauna which include the cuirassed pine (the park’s symbol), the roe deer and the golden eagle.
The park’s lower slopes are home to nearly sixty villages, best seen by car, as public transport connections are irregular. Near the park’s eastern boundary are several settlements – Acquaformosa, Civita, San Basile, San Costantino Albanese and San Paolo Albanese among them – founded between 1470 and 1540 by Albanian refugees fleeing persecution by the Turks. Here language, costume and religious customs have a decidedly eastern flavour.
From the western side, one logical gateway is LAINO BORGO, just off the A3 autostrada, known for its Santuario delle Cappelle, fifteen chapels frescoed with scenes from the life of Christ. From here, it is a short drive to Laino Castello, an eerie medieval hamlet abandoned after an earthquake in the 1980s that holds commanding views over the Lao river valley.
The park’s limestone terrain is particularly susceptible to erosion, which gives rise to its many grottoes, including the Grotta del Romito in PAPASIDERO. Many guided excursions depart to the Pollino massif from Papasidero, though the town itself is worth a stroll for its elaborately carved portals that precede churches and palazzi nobili.