The history of the National Park of Gran Paradiso is bound to the Savoia family’s one. Under the King Vittorio Emanuele II it became the “Royal Game Reserve” in 1856 and this contributed to the saving of the ibex from extinction, its surface was wider than the present national park. It’s the same animal that appears on the emblem of the oldest park of Italy that was founded in 1922 with the decree signed by the King Vittorio Emanuele III. The establishment of the royal reserve enabled the valleys and the mule tracks that connected the villages with the hunting lodges to develop and the king and his court could easily move around the reserve and the routes that still shape the park. The valleys, the forests, the glaciers, the streams, the rivers, the lakes, the waterfalls, the green fields feature this amazing mosaic of the Alpes where the only Italian mountain higher than 4000 metres is set.
The five valleys
The Soana valley and the Orco valley in Piedmont and the Cogne valley, the Rhêmes valley and the Valsavarenche in the Aosta Valley are the five valleys of the National Park of Gran Paradiso. There are hardwood forests, several tiny churches, chapels among which there is also the famous sanctuary of san Besso – there are the lakes in the Soana valley among which the Serrù, there are peatlands and marshes in the Orco valley, there are waterfalls mainly the Lillaz and amazing views of the glaciers in the Cogne valley. The Rhêmes valley’s lowland is full of tracks while the Valsavarenche is featured by wild landscapes an many alpine huts. All these valleys are featured by rocky peaks and eternal glaciers. From the highest peak (4.061 metres) you can go down and reach the peaks of the Grivola, a bit less than 4000 metres high and the Herbètet (3778 metres). On the Piedmont side the Ciarforon stands out against the sky, it’s 3.642 metres high, the Tresenda, a bit higher than 3.600 metres and the Becca of Monciair which is 3.544 metres high. Then there’s the Torre del Gran San Pietro (Tower of the Great Saint Peter), the Becchi della Tribolazione, Punta Galisia, Tre Levanne, the Granta Parey, the main landmark of the Rhêmes valley, Punta Lavina and La Rosa dei Bianchi, all higher than 3 thousand metres.
Villages with a view
There are six municipalities belonging to the park in Piedmont and seven to the Aosta Valley. The upper Orco valley widely belongs to the municipality of Ceresole, it’s a perfect environment for the excursions, for the hiking activities, the cross-country skiing, the skiing and the climbing. Ronco is the main village of the Soana valley, it is featured by a beautiful historical centre by the right shore of the Soana river and it’s surrounded by fir woods and beech woods. Cogne, the heart of the valley is surrounded by wide meadows, there are many restaurants, handicraft products, traditional food and breathless views over the glaciers and the starting point of many excursions. Rhêmes- Notre-Dame in the upper Rhêmes valley is the perfect destination for the lovers of the Nordic skiing. It’s a highly appreciated destination because of its unspoilt landscapes and the conservation of its artistic heritage. The Valsavarenche is the paradise of hikers crossed by the High route n° 2 of the Aosta Valley.
There are more than 500 kilometres of tracks in the park, there are routes for everyone and different levels of difficulty. The Gran Paradiso Park-tour is one of the most beaten tracks that run across the royal hunting roads that were built in the 19th century by the Savoia family, the High Canavesana Route, the ring with 12 stops that starts and finishes in Pont Canavese and the ibex track which is an amazing 40 kilometres route across the woods, the meadows, the bogs and the stone quarries. It’s an ideal place to relax and see the ibex, the groundhog and the eagles. This network of tracks is also enriched with the cycle routes among which there is the Ingria ring in the Soana valley, the amazing ring of lake Ceresole in the Orco valley, the route of the Nivolet hill on the border with Piedmont and Aosta Valley and the one in Valsavarenche. The National Park of Gran Paradiso is one of the best tourist areas of the Alpes thanks to its trekking, cycling, hiking facilities as well as the several excursions you can chose with the support of a skilled guide.
The most served dish is the polenta, it is made in many different ways either in the valleys of the Canavese area or in the Aosta valley. One of the most typical recipes is the polenta concia, covered in butter and fontina cheese, the typical Dop cheese of this valley; you can match this dish with one of the best wines from this area, the Enfer d’Arvier. The salami that are served in the alpine huts and in the restaurants are very good too, you can taste the mocetta, the potatoes salame from the canavese area and the boudin, the sausage made with the pork’s blood, the boiled potatoes, the turnips or the red sugar beet, the bacon, the salt , the black pepper, the garlic, the cinnamon, the nutmeg, the sage, the rosemary and the juniper berries. The tegole (tiles) are good sweets to be tasted, they are the typical biscuits from the Aosta Valley, they are made of wheat flour, egg white, nuts, sweet and bitter almonds then there is the mecoulin, the bread raisin that is made in the sweetshops of Cogne and you can’t miss the Nivolet cake, you can buy it in the valleys of the Canavese area, it’s made of flour, starch, butter, sugar, eggs, chocolate and génépy.