Eighty-two hundred hectares of mountainous terrain located at the southernmost tip of the province of Alessandria are within short reach of the Genoa-Voltri road system and only a matter of kilometres from the sea. Such is the protected environment of the Capanne di Marcarolo Natural Park which still preserves features of wilderness and wildlife, especially during the winter months. Although it is in the proximity of densely populated areas like Genoa, the zone remains almost unpopulated with its forty-some inhabitants who live in the nucleus of the hamlet of Capanne and in some nearby scattered farmsteads. The orographical features of the park are represented by a series of ridges at modest altitudes, like Mount Colma, Pracaban and Poggio that crown the squat pyramid of Mount Tobbio, which lies almost at the centre of the territory, towering over the entire area. The mountainous range of the Figne (the highest peak at 1,172 metres), Taccone and Leco rises in the east. These mountains are geographically considered part of the Apennine range but geologically speaking, belong almost entirely to the rocky formation known as “the Voltri group or the green rocks” which has typically alpine characteristics. The local appearance of less metamorphosised reddish rocks and carbonatic rocks that characterise the Apennine structure makes the park zone the meeting point between the Alps and the Apennines (the Sestri-Voltaggio line). The considerable vicinity to the sea of these ridges, which form a barrier between the Mediterranean Sea and the Padana Lowland area, results in a strong condensation of marine humidity and consequently produces a bountiful rainfall which annually reaches and exceeds 2,000 millimetres at the summit. This abundance of water in the high valley of the Gorzente Torrent, whose winding course forms the central axis of the protected territory, is collected into artificial lakes and used by the Deferrari Galliera Company of Genoa for potable water uses. Built at the beginning of the century these lakes, harmoniously inserted among the surrounding ridges, form a scenic element of magnificent charm. In the past a small number of auriferous deposits were identified inside the park; traces of ancient mineral infrastructures found in a number of mostly caved in tunnels can be found at the south of the artificial basin of the Lavagnina Lakes.
2. Vegetation and Flora
As the territory of the Park is situated entirely below the altitudinal limit of arboreal vegetation, at some point in the remote past it certainly must have been almost entirely covered by forests. However, over the centuries, human activity has modified the original structure of the woods (mixed fir at lower altitudes and beech wood at higher altitudes) propagating the cultivation of the chestnut and governing the coppice woods. Large surfaces have also been deforested to make grasslands, above all for the shipbuilding needs of the nearby Marine Republic of Genoa. Today these mountains are an alternation of arid and rocky zones, especially at higher altitudes, with uplands and valleys rich in grasslands and vast expanses of mixed copses of oak and chestnut; here and there the beech gives testimony to the ancient beech woods, to be noted in particular at the entrance of the nucleus of Capanne, in the area called “i Foi”. Present in particular around the artificial lakes are the coniferous woods, primarily of black pine, a result of reforestation begun at the start of the century; these woods include the forest complex called “Fir wood of Mount Leco” which stands out for its Nordic characteristics, above all in the winter season when it is covered by rime. Due to a concurrence of a series of climatic, geological and geographic conditions the flora of the park is very rich with roughly a sixth of the total number of Italian species and above all, is truly varied with rare species as well. On these mountains which border different climatic zones, merge Mediterranean elements like the yellow flax along with other strictly alpine flowers like the alpine star of Mount Tobbio. Mount Tobbio is one of the few Apennine stations and the only one located in Piedmont. The dominance of the serpentine substratum, which offers particularly difficult living conditions for plants, has also favoured the differentiation of new species like the violet of Bertoloni which is exclusive to the Voltri Group and whose blooming is often associated with that of the perfumed daphne flower. On the slopes of Mount Tobbio it is also possible to observe the blooming of the wild tulip (or mountain tulip) in May as well as the small but colourful alpine rose; in the more open zones and grasslands there are plentiful specimens of phantom and dactylorhiza orchids and above all spotted orchids. In addition, both the proximity to the sea, which produces the aforementioned orographic effect with persistent fog for long periods of time even in the summer season, and the presence of numerous torrents which create small peat-bog areas allow the survival of species typical of higher altitudes and latitudes like the carnivorous round-leaved sundew plant and the late-blooming marsh gentian.
3. The Fauna
The roe deer is one of the hoofed animals found here that returned following the spontaneous population expansion in the Savona area. At one time present in its autochthonous form, then extinct in the XIX century, the boar has returned to populate our woods because of reforestation and the arrival of subjects originating from Eastern Europe for hunting purposes and often crossbred with the pig. The wolf, regularly present in the Borbera Valley sporadically can be found in the park. Carnivores like the fox, weasel, marten, badger and skunk are difficult to encounter because of their nocturnal habits. The otter, which could still be sighted at the end of the seventies, has become extinct. The overview of avifauna, especially that of the predators, is of greater interest. Besides the more common species like the buzzard and the kestrel which are both currently resident and nest builders, it is possible to sight two magnificent migratory birds inside the park during the reproduction period: the honey-buzzard, probably a nest builder, and the short-toed eagle, the symbol of the park, which is certainly a nest builder with at least two resident couples. As a confirmation that the food chains still function, this picture is completed with the presence of predators like the agile sparrow hawk, the powerful goshawk, and nocturnal predators like the common owl. We also find elements that confirm the interaction of Mediterranean elements with other strictly alpine ones in the avifauna world. In fact, species of birds like the whitethroat that are commonly found in warmer zones cohabitate with others like the tufted titmouse which are more typically found in alpine zones. In the higher altitude grasslands it is also possible to see the nuptial parades of the rock thrush, a colourful migratory trans-Saharan passerine, and hear the harmonious singing of both the tree pipit and the tawny pipit. Reptiles, the basic food diet of the short-toed eagle (which is considered one of the most specialised predators in Italy) have a notable presence with the rat-snake, the Aesculapian snake, the Austrian ground snake, the Asp viper, and in the more humid zones, the ring-necked snake. Among amphibians the spotted salamander along with a subspecies of alpine newt, the apuan newt, can be found; this is well-differentiated from the species typical of the Alps. Finally, among the invertebrate fauna and still at the study phase, the lepidopters are of great interest and include the colourful swallowtail butterfly which is noted for its spectacular beauty but short life span.
4. History and Anthropy
Straddled between the Ligurian Sea and the Padana Lowland, the park has always been the transit point for both men and goods despite its impervious and wild appearance. In Roman times it was transited by important communication roads like the Postumia which followed the valley tracks. The start of the second millennium witnessed the first attempts of colonisation by the Benedictines (Prior of the Benedicta-XI century) and Cistercians (Monasteries of Tiglieto and Banno), who are credited with the first agrarian systems. Throughout the Middle Ages, on the crest of commercial expansion of nearby Genoa, the zone was crossed by different salt roads which, abandoning the Roman tracks of the valley floor, chose safer summit routes. One of these, “the Cabanera Road”, was later equipped with salt deposits, guard posts and inns including “the Olmi” which, built in 1500, is still in business today. Starting from this period, exploitation of the forest for the shipbuilding needs of the Marine Republic, favoured the settlement of new farmers-woodcutters in the area giving life to a system of a few scattered homes (Cassine) connected by numerous paths and tracks which remained active until the beginning of this century. From the 1930s, following the decline in importance of the woods along with the cancer of the chestnut, many homes were abandoned and during the twenty months of the Resistance they became partisan barracks. The ancient Benedictine monastery of the “Benedicta” became the protagonist of a sad page in recent Italian history with the massacre of 97 young partisans in April 1944. To this day some families remain in the century-old farmsteads and continue to manage woods and grasslands with techniques and systems handed down through the generations. One of the goals of the park is to protect and stimulate the survival of this important cultural heritage.
5. Access Points
The Capanne di Marcarolo Natural Park, on the south-western extremity of Piedmont, lies 150 kilometres from Turin, 130 kilometres from Milan and 30 kilometres from Genoa. The main access points by road are the Voltri-Sempione (A26) and Genoa -Milan (A7) motorways. Those taking the first motorway can exit at the Ovada tollbooth and continue on the provincial road for Belforte, Lerma, Casaleggio, Boiro, Mornese and Bosio with secondary roads for the Shrine of the Benedicta and Capanne di Marcarolo. The tourist route passes through the medieval hamlets of High Monferrato and crosses the entire park with a scenic view of the Gorzente Valley. The road remains closed to traffic from Eremiti to Capanne in winter in the presence of snow. It is possible to exit the A26 motorway at Masone and continue on to Campo Ligure where after crossing the town it is possible to continue following signs for the Capanne di Marcarolo -Piani di Praglia (km 10) road which is always open during the winter period. If travelling on the A7, exit at Vignole Borbera; a short distance before the residential area of Serravalle, turn for Gavi-Voltaggio and at the entrance to the village follow directions for Capanne di Marcarolo. Access from the maritime side, with the exit at Bolzaneto, is reached by crossing Campomorone and Praglia.
6. Structures and Services
The Park Authority is available to cater to the different needs of visitors, at the following contact points:
Administrative headquarters, via Umberto 1, 32/A 15060 Bosio (AL) – Tel and fax. 0143 684777 Internet site: www.parcocapanne.it
Operating headquarters, via G. B.Baldo, 29 15070 Lerma (AL) Tel and fax 0143-877825-826
Centre of Documentation for history and local culture Palazzo Gazzolo – 15060 Voltaggio (AL)- Tel and fax 0143 684777
Tourist information point at Capanne di Marcarolo 15060 Bosio (AL) Tel and fax. 0143-684035
It is possible to book overnight lodging inside the Park at the travellers’ shelter “Il nido del Biancone” in the hamlet of Capanne di Marcarolo. To book, call 393 99 15 484
The nearby villages offer accommodation with small guesthouses and inns. For information consult the website: www.parcocapanne.it or contact the authority by phone.
The dense network of paths and cattle tracks used in historical times by the residents of the area make it possible to enter various environments of the park. Considering the modest altitudes and the small amount of unlevel territory, no particular equipment is required for excursions although it is always necessary to be prudent. Fog and sudden changes in weather require the most common safety rules; suggested equipment includes hiking boots, wind jacket, rainproof cloak, geographical map, and in summer, plenty of drinking water. These rules are valid in particular if the most difficult itinerary – the climb to Mount Tobbio (1092 metres) – is chosen. Departing from Eremiti the summit can be reached in approximately two hours. At the summit a church dedicated to Our Lady of Caravaggio offers a simple shelter with its two rooms. From the peak on a particularly clear day it is possible to enjoy a spectacular panoramic view that ranges from the Alps to the Ligurian sea to the more distant island of Corsica.
8. Rules of behavior
The natural environment of the park is entrusted to the good sense and manners of its visitors: we remind you that many of the ecosystems are extremely fragile and can be harmed, even seriously, due to small interventions by man. For this reason, in compliance with national and regional legislation, it is forbidden to:
– light fires or barbecues outside of the designated areas, which contain appropriate stone structures.
– pick, damage or keep flowers (protected by R.L. n°. 32 dated 2.11.1982) or other parts of the herbaceous or shrubby flora.
– practise off-road driving on cattle ways or paths with motorised means, park in fields, transit on unsurfaced roads and routes marked with appropriate ‘no entry’ signs.
– collect or keep rocks and minerals. Exceptions to this are research activities and collection for scientific purposes upon park authorisation.
– abandon, even temporarily, refuse of any kind
– pollute the water with soap and detergent
– Mushroom-picking must be done in compliance with regulations concerning the quantity and methods of picking without the use of rakes, hooks and plastic bags. It is also necessary to be in possession of the appropriate card issued by the Comunità Montana Alta Val Lemme Alto Ovadese (Mountain Community of High Lemme Valley and Ovada Highland)
– Dogs must always be kept on a leash and can be walked only on asphalt roads and routes marked by appropriate signs. Dogs used in pastoral activities and those within farmsteads are exempt.
– Day camping is always allowed but without a tent. Free camping is not allowed. It is possible to pitch a tent from 4 pm to 8 pm, only at altitudes over 900 metres.
– It is necessary to use radios and tape recorders at a volume that does not interfere with the natural environment and other visitors.
THE ECOMUSEUM OF CASCINA MOGLIONI
The Ecomuseum of Cascina Maglioni is housed in a typically characteristic construction of Capanne di Marcarolo, surrounded by meadows, beech woods, century-old chestnuts and numerous varieties of fruit trees. The Ecomuseum offers visitors an opportunity to come into contact with the traditions, lifestyle and economy of an ancient community that has kept its characteristics intact over time.
At the Ecomuseum it is possible to see the stable, hay barn, workshop with work tools, wood oven and roof in wood shingles or ‘pisanin’ (flat tiles in terracotta).
The multimedia presentation route, documentaries and exhibition of themed photographs are sure to please even the youngest visitors. The Ecomuseum located at the centre of the Capanne di Marcarolo Natural Park is an ideal departure point for historical-cultural and nature itineraries.
What is an Ecomuseum?
An Ecomuseum is a museum that studies, protects and popularises the collective memory of a small-sized geographically restricted community. With the involvement of the local population it works to foster the sustainable economic development of the territory. The Ecomuseum, therefore, is not only a collection of past artefacts but implemented within the reality it represents. Its wide- ranging goals can be summarised as follows: – environmental protection – protection of the sites of historical and cultural interest – direct involvement of the local population – study and research on the cultural heritage (dialect, recipes, stories, beliefs, old trades, and working techniques). – promotion of traditional sustainable economic activities – development of ecotourism with the sale of local products
Ecomuseum opening times: Monday to Friday 10 a.m.-1 p.m. and 1.30 p.m. to 4.30 p.m. (all year) Saturday, Sunday and bank holidays 10 a.m.-1 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. (spring and summer)
Internet address: www.parcocapanne.it Tel. Ecomuseum 0143 684066 / Tel. Park site 0143 684777 It is possible to book overnight lodging inside the Park at the travellers’ shelter “Il nido del Biancone” in the hamlet of Capanne di Marcarolo. To book, call 393 99 15 484
How to reach the Ecomuseum
A26 Sempione Genoa-Voltri – To reach the north area of the park; exit at Ovada and continue for Lerma-Mornese-Capanne di Marcarolo – For the central area of the Park; exit at Masone and continue for Campo Ligure-Capanne di Marcarolo A7 Milan-Genoa – To reach the east side of the Park : exit at Vignole Borbera and continue for Gavi-Voltaggio-Capanne di Marcarolo – For the south side of the Park; exit at Bolzaneto and continue for Campo Morone – Praglia-Capanne di Marcarolo
Follow road signs for directions after leaving the motorway.