Sicily Nature Parks and Reserves
Sicily maintains numerous nature reserves and green areas. These, scattered throughout the nine provinces, have remarkably increased in number in the last half century.
The Botanic Garden in Palermo, stretching over an area of 10 hectares, is a real green lung and an important sanctuary for various plant species. It also contains busts dedicated to historical figures.
The Entella Grotto Nature Reserve, in the Palermo area, offers a splendid environment that includes a man-made lake. It is close to archaeological-historical cities Elima and Entellina and provides a critical habitat for a rich wildlife, among which is the falco peregrinus.
On a small island some 15km off the Palermo coast, is the Isola delle Femmine (Island of Women) Nature Reserve with its lush vegetation and a natural patrimony represented by leguminosae, graminaceous and composite species; varieties of flowers like nigella, reeds, romulea and Iris; numerous animal communities such as the mediterranean gull, the crested lark and the heron. Remnants of Punic and Roman amphoras were unearthed on the island.
The Sugherata Reserve, stretching over an area of 3,000 hectares in the territory of Niscemi, Caltanissetta, is mostly composed of holm-oaks, evergreens and shrubs.
The Monte Pellegrino Oriented Nature Reserve, in the Palermo province, now entrusted to the Associazione Nazionale Rangers D’Italia, is home to over a thousand plant and wildlife communities, the latter also including a reptile group. The Favorita Park, within the reserve boundries, was used as a royal hunting lodge at the time of Ferdinand III of Bourbon. Many amazing sites can be found there, such as the Valle del Porco, largely covered with rock-plants and holm-oaks. The local fauna mainly consists of raptors like the buzzard, the falco peregrinus and the stone-chat.
In the Gela area, is the Nature Reserve of the Bievere Lake, housing a variety of submerged and sheltering plants, such as orchids, the rare white-broom and the corn-flower. This is most recommended for nature lovers and birdwatchers, it being home to duck species like the porchard and the widgeon, and to many migrators. Several mammal species also inhabit the reserve such as the fox and the weasel, and raptors like the duck-hawk and the marsh-herrier.
The Grotta Conza Reserve, in the territory of Palermo, extends over an area of 4 hectares largely populated by the Mediterranean bush. The presence of limestone carbonate rocks gives this grotto-reserve a geological importance.
The LIPU oasis of the Montallegro Lake, Agrigento, covering an area of 500,000 sqm, is a crucial stopping place for migratory birds. Its scanty vegetation enhances birdwatching.
The Reserve of Platani and Capo Bianco rivers, in the Agrigento area, stretches on a rocky promontory with long beaches. The promontory, once home to greek colonies – among which was Heraclea Minoa – is an interesting archaeological park most characterized by fine wooded stretches inhabited by foxes, weasels and duck-hawks.
The Regional Nature Reserve Torre Salsa, in the Stella Mount district, east of Siculiana Marittima, comprises the mouth of the Salso river and a small sandy beach. Its pristine coastal environment is a major attraction for ecotourists.
The Etna Park offers a wide choice of spots; among these is the Valle del Bove (Oxen Valley), a sunken area (hence called valley) with great crevasses and chasms. Photography and nature lovers can enjoy amazing sites and landscapes, such as Bocca Nuova, Monte Zuccolaro or the Grotta delle Vannette. The Etna volcano has always been regarded as a major symbol of Sicily. Today rising over 3,000m, it began to form about 500,000 years ago. Its vegetation varies according to altitude, ranging from pistachio and holm-oaks on the western side, to bay-oaks, oaks, black hornbeams and chestnut woods on the eastern side. Higher up are the remnants of ancient woods which have been largely replaced by pastures and endemic plants.
The Bosco di Santo Pietro, in the proximity of Caltagirone, in the southern side of the Erei Mountains, has a richest flora composed of over 300 species, among which cork- and holm-oaks dominate. The fauna is mostly represented by winged animals and migrators. Such spots as the Cava Cannizzolo, the Cava Vaccarizzo and the Cava Imboscata are a must-see.
The area between Trapani and Paceco houses a fine nature reserve with splendid naturalistic attractions and major stopping place for migratory birds. Especially renowned are its salt pans, re-thriving of late, after a period of decline.
The Valle del Sosio, Agrigento, is particularly interesting, with numerous fine spots and large areas of holm-oaks, walnuts, strawberry-trees. Many fossils, today preserved at the Museum Geologico Gemellaro in Palermo, were recovered across its territory.
Along the coast south of Siracusa is the beautiful Vendicari nature reserve, a major rest place for the migratory avifauna. The Southernmost of all Italian reserves, it is comprised of three large marshy areas with several outlets to the sea. The site known as Calamosche, covering its northern stretch, provides with a beautiful environment with a richest marine wildlife and unspoilt sea floors. A variety of flora inhabited the reserve, dominated by the mediterranean bush and other plants such as the sea-fennel and the spiny chicory. The local fauna includes the water-hen and several communities of migratory birds. The site boasts an important history, having been a Phoenician port and still housing such interesting archaeological specimens as a necropolis and a church from the Byzantine age. A Swabian watch-tower, referred to as the Castello di Vendicari, is situated there near a tuna-fishery.
In the Belice’s lower valley there is a gorgeous green area, alas not protected by environmental laws; the site is known as the Riserva del Castello della Pietra, deriving its name from a ruined Norman fortification there located. Covered with a short vegetation, natural bonsai species, capers and dwarf fan palms, it also houses remnants from the Greek, Arab, Roman and Norman epochs.
In the Messina province is the Valle degli Eremiti (the valley of the hermits), a naturalistic site deriving its name from a neighboring hill, once a refuge for hermits. A monastery, now reduced to ruins, was erected here by the Carmelitani Friars in the 1500s. The valley provides impressing spots for excursions on foot.
The Parco Minerario Floristella Grottacalda, in the Enna province, was an important mining area providing a livelyhood for thousands of workers. Today, it represents a fine specimen of industrial archaeology, combined with naturalistic spots, where visitors can still smell the acrid scent of sulphur. The highly injured Palazzo Pennisi, at Floristella, once the residence of the owners and the headquarter of the mining business, is supposed to be soon restored to house a Labour Museum.
The Sambughetti-Campanito Oriented Nature Reserve, Enna, covers a large area of mediterranean bush. Oaks, holm- and bay-oaks dominate the landscape. The reserve includes the Sambughetti Mount (1508m), with remains of an ancient beech-wood, and several small lakes.
The Altesina Mount Oriented Nature Reserve, Enna, is a major tourism attraction. Populated by pines, eucalyptuses and beech-woods, it is home to a richest wildlife. A fine archaeological site and the Nicoletti Park further enriches the Reserve.
Between Vittoria and Camarina, Ragusa, the Aleppo Pine Oriented Reserve is a sanctuary for some of the last remaining specimens of kermes oaks. The local fauna includes such species as the owl and the jay.
The Oriented Nature Reserve of the Irminio River’s mouth, Ragusa, offers a rich vegetation composed of a great variety of communities such as the prickly juniper and the lentisk; on the riverside are marsh-reeds, tamerisks and reeds. The fauna includes, among the others, the marsh turtle, the coleopter and the nightingale.
A most interesting and noted naturalistic area stretches from the Lauro Mount to the Sicily Channel, still in the Ragusa district. This provides a critical habitat for a variety of animals and plants. It is divided into three large zones: the Dirillo riverside, the Cava di Bocampello and the Cava Biddieni.
The district of the Alcantara river is a major tourism resort, designated a reserve as to preserve its precious resources and environment. Rose in the Nebrodi mountains, the Alcantara river – one of the four main rivers in Sicily – flows into the Ionian Sea, after bathing several cities between Messina and Catania. First just a little creek, it grows in size as it approaches the Etna volcano. Its gradual erosion has created spectacular gorges, today most crowded by tourists. The flora is mostly composed of citrus grove, vineyard, oak wood, varieties of flowers, corn poppy and myrtle. A richest wildlife, including communities of raptors and migratory birds, inhabits the area.
The Madonie Park comprises a range of impressing naturalistic places.
Tracts of rich Mediterranean bush stretches in the vicinity of Polizzi Generosa, near Palermo. The area is scattered with farmhouses and cave-dwellings where innumerable relics have been discovered. Nearby is a fine site known as Padella, with splendid landscapes and spots including a botanic garden.
A site of high naturalistic and archaeological value is that bordered by the San Calogero Mount and the valleys of the Torto and San Leonardo rivers. Here stood the ancient Himera. A dam on the San Leonardo river is today a major attraction for tourists.
The Oriented Nature Reserve of Favara and Granza woods is a vast land covered with trees like cork-oaks, holm-oaks and shrubs. It is home to a rich fauna including the fox, the marten, reptiles, amphibians and birds.
The vast area of the Sicani Mountains, in the Palermo province, offers as much appreciated sites as those in the Nebrodi. With several lakes – that of Prizzi is particularly interesting – and naturalistic sites, it provides an ideal habitat for migratory birds and other communities.
The nature reserves of Monte Carcaci, a paradise of endemic plants, and Monte Genuardo, covered by woods and a dense undergrowth inhabited by rare raptors and mammals are also worth-mentioning. Here also stands an Abbey, dedicated to Santa Maria del Bosco, dating from the late 1500s.
The Oriented Nature Reserve Bagni di Cefalà Diana e Pizzo Chiaristella is especially noted for its Arab thermal baths.
The Nature Reserve Pizzo Cane, Pizzo Trigna and Grotta Mazzamuto, one of the largest in the province, features a mostly inaccessible territory comprised of densest woods. It protect rare raptors such as the royal eagle and the red kite.
Palermo’s reserve of Serre di Ciminna, with its uncontaminated landscapes, is of high geological value, dating from the Miocene.
The Integral Nature Reserve Grotta di Carburangeli is characterized by interesting karst phenomenons. Rare specimens of stalagmites and stalactites were created throughout the centuries by the constant dripping of the water. A rare group of bats inhabits the Reserve, what contributed to enhance its scientific importance.
The Oriented Nature Reserve Capo Rama stretches on the coast facing the Golfo di Castellammare and Terrasini. It provides with a striking sea landscape with rocky strips, grassy vegetation, shrubs, dwarf fan palms and other species.
The Integral Natural Geological Reserve of Contrada Scaleri, in the province of Caltanissetta, is splitted into two areas. Of high scientific value for geomorfologic researches, this is the first reserve being destined for mostly scientific research.
Of geoligical value is also the Integral Nature Reserve Lago Sfondato thanks to the presence of sulphur and gypsum rocks and karst phenomenons. The landscape sees a predominance of orchids and grassy vegetation. The lake, on the slopes of the Monte Pestichino, has a karstic origin, formed by the collapse of gypsum deposits.
The Nebrodi Mountains, stretching along the thyrrenian coast of Sicily, are characterized by densely wooded areas. The twenty-one municipalities comprised in the territory retain much of their historical heritage, with precious specimens of old fortifications and constructions. Amazing lakes, valleys and peaks dominate the landscape; the richest flora and fauna has been protected since the establishment of the outstanding Parco Naturale Regionale dei Nebrodi. Here live the tortois, the porcupin, the ousel, the hawk, the falcos peregrinus, the owl, horses and many other animal communities. Several villages in this area go back to the period of the Greek decline in Sicily, founded by refugees who evaquated their threatened cities and moved inland up the course of the main rivers. Relics of fortified cities and hamlets contribute to the tourism importance of the Park. Especially worth-seeing are the small cities of Ficarra, San Fratello, Montalbano Elicona, S. Marco D’Alunzio, Mistretta, Roccella Valdemone.
The Pergusa Lake district, in the Enna province, stretched, in ancient times, over a vast territory populated by richest fauna, today rarer and rarer. The decline, started under the Roman domination responsible for a massive deforastation, continued throughout the centuries notably due to the establishment of the landowning system. The situation has only recently improved thanks to environmental measures and restrictions (hunting was forbidden several years ago). Remains of a necropolis and other relics were recovered from the Monte Cozzo Matrice, one of the tallest peaks in the district.
Near Sperlinga, amidst a densely wooded area flows the Salso river, salted, since it crosses some salt works on its course, and surrounded by oaks and a rich fauna.
The Altesina Mount, the tallest in the Erei Mountains, is home to archaeologic relics and to an uncontaminated environment where bay-oaks, holm-oaks, pines, eucalyptuses, poplars and mediterranean bush dominate the landscape. A natural habitat for apennine fauna is here provided.
Worth-mentioning is the area known as Vallone di Piano della Corte, with abundant precipitations throughout the year and impressing gorges.
The mouth of the Belice River, declared as a Nature Reserve in 1984, protects an endangered African landscape, with plenty of sandy dunes and water courses. This area, running between Marinella di Selinunte and Porto Palo, includes two fine coastal strips with aquatic and marshy vegetation. It is a highly windy area with a sub-tropical climate, covered by bushes and abundant grassy vegetation. Wildlife includes the heron, the kingfisher, reptiles, the marine turtle and other communities.
The Gorgo Lake area, near Montallegro, is one of several green oasises scattered around the Agrigento province. Albeit not largest, it is considered a real ornithologic paradise. Interventions by both WWF and LIPU have helped protect the area from poachers and pollution.
In the Enna province are the Bosco di Rossomanno, between Aidone and Piazza Armerina, well-endowed with natural resources and a rich flora, the Bosco della Baronessa, which is a state property, and the Vallone Strazzavertole, with abundant vegetation mostly composed of oaks and holm-oaks.
The Grotte della Gulfa, at a few distance from Alia, Palermo, is a complex of caves and grottoes dug into a cliff, once used as a storehouse by local peasants. Very characteristic is the Tholos, a wide circular space of uncertain origin, inside the grotto, believed to date from before the this was dug.
The Montagna Grande Natural Park is a cherished jewel on Pantelleria island, mostly covered with pines, holm-oaks and shrubs like the prickly pear cactus, the wild broom, the lentisk and graminaceous species.
SICILY’S STATE FOREST PROPERTIES
The tour through Sicily’s naturalistic riches comprises several of what are referred to as Aree Attrezzate, several equipped state forests and areas.
In the Palermo province are:
Casaboli, covered by pines, aleppo pines, holm-oaks and bushes, and protecting a fauna composed by the wild rabbit, sparrow communities and more; Renda-Aglisotto, reafforested with Mediterranean, Canarian and black pines, cypresses, holm-oaks and maples; the Gradara Mount, in a mountainous landscape dominated by woods of pines and cypresses; the Montagna Longa-Santa Venera; Santa Caterina, a wood at some 900m above sea level providing with a beautiful panorama; the Piano Zucchi, in the heart of the Madonie mountains, with a profusion of black pines, holm-oaks, cypresses and maples.
The Trapani province includes a number of state forest areas:
Erice Vetta, in the proximity of Erice, a natural area mostly covered with holm-oaks and bay-oaks; the Monte Erice, with mediterranean pines and eucalyptuses, and a man-made lake inhabited by ducks and gooses; the Finestrelle, with an interesting Agri-Forestry museum accessible with authorization by the local forest office; the Inici, highly damaged by a fire but still offering a breathtaking coastal view between Castellammare and Balestrate,
The Cammarata Mount, comprising a densely wooded area of conifers; Monte Sara, a 4 hectares wooded area of mediterranean pines and dwarf fan palms; the Arancio Lake, rich in pines and eucalyptuses.
The province of Caltanissetta comprises four equipped areas:
The Parco Attrezzato Comunelli, covered with eucalyptuses and Mediterranean pines, and comprising the Comunelli dam; Alzacuda and Raffo Rosso, both rich in eucaliptyses and picturesque trails; Mustogarufi, with fine trails most frequented by tourists.
Over 48,000 hectares of woods, mostly composed of conifers, surround the Etna volcano.
Monte Boiardo, a wooded area with a predominance of poplars, maples and pines; the Camisa, falling in Demanio Forestale Flascio (State property), covered with plopars, cypresses, pines, bay-oaks and with a dense undergrowth. Motorized vehicles are not allowed here. Nature lovers can enjoy hikes along many beautiful trails; the Demanio Granvilla, a state property with plenty of pines, cypresses, eucalyptuses and a dense undergrowth; the Di Ganzaria district, a wood that offers opportunity for amazing excursions and walks amidst mediterranean pines, bay-oaks, cypresses, eucalyptuses, cork-oaks and a rich undergrowth.
The Enna territory comprises:
The Ronza, covered with pines, eucalyptuses, false acacias, hosting a rich fauna including birds, fallow-deers and wild-boars. Provided with developed accommodation facilities, this is much frequented by tourists; Selsa Perugina, accessible not far from the Pergusa Lake; the Casale, covered by chestnut and cherry trees.
The state forests in the province of Messina are mainly scattered in the Nebrodi and Peloritani Mountains. The vegetation here is that typical of the mountainside spanning beeches, turkey-oaks, pines, chestnut-trees. Several well-equipped areas have grown to remarkable tourism resorts frequented all the year round; the Piano Margi, covered with mediterranean pines and chestnuts, and home to an artificial hilly lake and a towering rock called the Castello di Margi.
Then there are: the Madonnuzza, deriving its name from a church dedicated to the Virgin of Camaro, largely composed by bay-oaks, pines and chestnuts; the Crupi, with a nice pine-wood and accommodation facilities; the Pantano, covered with pines and eucalyptuses, and only accessible on foot; the Camaro, in the Peloritani Mountains, consisting of an ancient forest in a highly panoramic position, dominated by pines and acacias; the Erbe Verdi, with mediterranean and black pines.
Finally is the Demanio Forestale Savoca, also known as Cavagna. This, accessible through a wood of oaks and chestnuts, offers dramatic views of the Misitano creek and the Etna volcano and is particularly renowned for its delicious porcini mushrooms.
The Ragusa province also counts a quantity of woods and forests often alternating with fields zig-zagged by the typical dry-stone walls:
Calaforno, covered with mediterranean pines and oriental planes, and inhabited by deers and wild-boars; the Bosco Arcibressi, accessible by a mountainous densely wooded tract, with accommodation facilities, a fauna including fallow-deers, tibetan goats and birds, and a lake inhabited by gooses and ducks; the Canalazzo, a wood of most oaks, holm oaks and bay-oaks.
The Monte Cofano, in the Trapani province, with its rich flora of most endemic plants and dwarf fan palms closes the list.