Gran Paradiso national park
Visiting the park
The Gran Paradiso national park covers an area of 70,000 hectares, in a high mountainous area, between the 800 m at the bottom of the valley and the 4,061 m of mount Gran Paradiso.
In Valle d'Aosta, the park has four visitor centres, in the villages of Cogne, Valsavarenche and Rhêmes-Notre-Dame. In the visitor centres you can learn about various aspects of nature within the protected area with the help of teaching aids.
History of the park
The history of the park is closely linked to the protection of the steinbock. In 1856, king Vittorio Emanuele II had already declared these mountains a Royal Hunting Reserve and in this way he saved the steinbock from extinction; he had also created a specialised force of guards and built a network of roads to protect the fauna and for his hunting trips.
In 1920, the king donated the reserve to the Italian State in order to create a national park and 2 years later the Gran Paradiso national park was established.
Animals in the park
The rich fauna in the park includes many Alpine species. It is almost impossible to go on a hike without catching a glimpse of the animals, sometimes verclose up.
The steinbock or ibex, the park's symbol is quite self-assured and you can often meet one grazing; the males (with long, curved horns) live in small groups, while the females (shorter horns) remain with the young. The chamois is also common, but rather more retiring and difficult to observe.
Another protagonist of the park is the marmot, a pleasant rodent which digs long tunnels to escape from danger and prepare for its winter hibernation.
Among the birdlife, there are several predators, like the golden eagle, visible as it flies over its hunting territory, and many small passerines. Recent acquisitions include: the lammergeyer or bearded vulture, a large vulture that disappeared in 1912 and has returned to the Alps thanks to an international project, and the lynx, a splendid, small predator.
The "Water and Biodiversity" visitor centre in Rovenaud, in Valsavarenche, hosts some otters in semi-freedom, especially once present in these environments and now disappeared due to persecution and environmental transformations made by man.
Flora of the park
In the woods along the valley bottom there are a number of larch trees, red spruce, Swiss stone-pines and silver fir trees. As you climb, the trees give way to alpine pastures, that are radiant with flowers in spring, then to rocks and ice glaciers.
Among the rare flowers in the park are: the Potentilla pensylvanica, in the arid pastures above 1,300 m; the Astragalus alopecurus, only found in Valle d'Aosta; the Aethionema thomasianum; the Linnaea borealis, a glacial relict in the coniferous woods; the Paradisea liliastrum, a splendid white lily which gave the name to the historical Paradisia botanical garden.
In Cogne, we recommend a visit to the Paradisia Alpine botanical garden. Especially in July, when many of its more than 1,000 species of plants are in full bloom, it's really worth a visit.