Imagine driving out of New York City at 10 am and being in Yellowstone Park before noon. If that idea appeals to you, leave Rome or Naples at 10 and you too can enjoy one of the five best National Parks in Europe (Lonely Planet Guide 2011) – the Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo, Molise and Lazio.

Wild and remote, the haunt of deer, wild boar, wolves and bear. Walk or ski or simply enjoy nature. Have lunch at il Barracone at Prati di Mezzo – only 20 minutes from the Piazza in Picinisco.

Monte Meta, at 2241 metres, has for centuries been lauded as having the most spectacular views, and the best guides were to be found in Picinisco (John Murray’s Guide to Southern Italy 1855). The same is true today.

These days, Picinisco exists as the one of the gateways to the Park, which is among modern Italy’s proudest accomplishments. A 150,000-acre protected area crossed by only one paved road (although there are countless unpaved roads for cyclists), it receives two million visitors a year. Like most of them, you should stop off at one of the park’s seven visitors centers to select maps and information about 150 marked walking itineraries of various length and difficulty.

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Two-thirds of the park’s surface is covered with huge forests of beech, pine, fir, oak, yew, ash, maple, wild oak and other trees, home to a handful of formerly endangered species: the Apennine wolf, Marsican bear, fox, mountain goat and Apennine lynx. Small groups of these animals thrive here now, alongside myriad other wild species which are occasionally supplemented by large herds of domesticated sheep. For centuries, local shepherds have practiced the custom of “transhumance,” moving their flocks down to the warmer pastures near Rome and Naples in fall and back in spring, following the same ageold tratturi (trails).