In the park
of kings, a life fit for a king
by Fabrizio Carbone
is the slogan advertising the nature park of San Rossore,
a green haven between Pisa and the sea where nature rules
dunes, beaches swept by the north-west wind, luxuriant Mediterranean
scrub. Further inland, pine forests alternating with coppices.
system of canals brings water to the cultivated fields.
the background, the Apuan Alps, brilliant white like the precious
treasure they still hold, much in demand throughout the world.
coastline from the mouth of the Arno northwards to the Lake
of Massacciuccoli is still a place of absolute natural beauty.
Thanks to a series of favourable coincidences, this part of
Maremma is still largely intact - and has been so for eight
first, in the Middle Ages, because of the malaria that drove
peasants and fishermen to flee to the hills, leaving the flat
ground to become swamps, the reign of curlews, cranes and
wild geese. Later,
thanks to the Medici family, who chose to make the whole area
along the coast their private game preserve.
the Medici, the land revived under the Grand Dukes of Tuscany,
who were expert in drainage and canalisation. The coastal
plains became animal farming land and pastures for cattle
and Maremma horses, as well as being a well-stocked game preserve
with an inexhaustible supply of boar, deer, fallow deer, roe
deer and all kinds of migratory birds.
estate of Migliarino San Rossore changed hands many times
until it became a holiday residence of the House of Savoy,
the family of the Kings of Italy. When the monarchy was over,
the estate was assigned to the Presidency of the Republic
of Italy. Villa
del Gombo, a stone’s throw from the sea, became the residence
of Italian heads of state who for decades came to spend their
holidays on the estate, inviting illustrious guests, hunting
for boar or fishing in the numerous small lakes full of pike.
first turning point came in 1979: the entire area free of
property speculation became a nature reserve.
protected area included Migliarino San Rossore, the estates
of Coltano and Tombolo, the so-called Lucca scrub and the
Lake of Massacciuccoli, once famous for its wild geese hunts
and for the villa of Torre del Lago, where the great opera
composer Giacomo Puccini lived.
1995 another turning point: the region of Tuscany committed
itself to running the entire park for a ten-year period and
signed an agreement with the Presidency of the Republic.
2000 the park was restored and opened to the public. The Gombo,
now the official headquarters of the region of Tuscany, was
inaugurated by illustrious guests - Tony Blair and his family.
British Prime Minister left a comment in Italian: “Many thanks
for the kind hospitality, the bicycles were marvellous and
the children were proud to have been the first to use them.”
of projects came into being, referring to the Casale della
Sterpaia, the visitors’ centre of an area of almost 25,000
first floor of the Casale, located beside the imposing stables
of the House of Savoy, was given over to congresses and exhibitions.
On the second floor a series of rooms with two to six beds
can be booked for holiday periods.
was made accessible to the general public, who was given the
opportunity to enjoy the presence, especially in spring and
autumn, of a great number of migratory birds. All this in
the immediate surroundings of a town like Pisa, rich in art
and history, thus presenting the city with a sensational,
unique green area.
In recent years
the Migliarino San Rossore park has acquired accommodation
facilities that make it possible for school children to spend
take nature trips here. “In
the park of kings, a life fit for a king” is the slogan launched
by the people who run the nature reserve, who have set up
an important services network. Guided tours of the park take
place six days a week from Tuesdays, and visits by carriage,
in great demand, can be booked at the Sterpaia visitors centre.
latest development is a little train that runs along a 30
kilometre long route through the park’s principal points of
scale reproduction of a German nineteenth-century model, it
functions with an eco-diesel, low-pollution engine and can
carry up to 30 people.
and large herds of fallow deer are still among the park’s
most characteristic animals.
the migration period, especially from October to March, species
that are rare for Italy frequent the flooded fields: oyster
catchers, lesser curlews, ospreys, cranes and wild geese.
kinds of herons, as well as kingfishers and great bitterns,
live in the Lake of Massacciuccoli, a wildlife reserve run
by LIPU (the Italian League for the Protection of Birds).
winter ends the forest wardens who work in the presidential
estate are kept busy checking on the reserve’s wildlife and
breaking in the colts.
park is a perfect training ground for “butteri” (the Maremma
equivalent of cowboys), thus reviving a profession that was
forgotten for decades but has become popular again in these
last years. Here,
and in the Maremma nature reserve, one can learn how to brand
animals and use a lasso, just like an American cowboy.
spring the sandy areas behind the dunes echo with the cries
of bee-eaters, spectacular birds who, after wintering in the
forests of Sub-Saharan Africa, migrate to central Europe.
Italy the bee-eaters’ arrival marks the beginning of the warm
season. These colourful birds (in all the hues of the rainbow)
form densely populated colonies.
nests, dug out of the more friable parts of ferrous rock or
on the sandy banks of rivers and canals, consist of an unapproachable
internal room and a gallery, up to a metre long, where these
magical, colourful birds and their young can be admired.
Lake of Massacciuccoli deserves a special mention.
take part in competitions - the winner is the one who spots
most species. Bird fans can follow routes dotted with hides
with special openings for taking photographs and observe the
birds with telescopes. Just a few metres from Giacomo Puccini’s
villa, Ecotour, a services company based in Viareggio, offers
the chance to visit the lake and its wonders on board the
addition to its fascinating ornithological species, the lake
is also interesting from the point of view of archaeology
and ancient history, represented by a great Roman villa and
baths, known locally as “Nero’s holes”.
Fabrizio Carbone, journalist and writer, expert on enviromental