Living in Europe, nature is often much closer than we think. Less than two hours’ drive from the cafes and colonnades of Rome is a land that is both wild and wondrous; the Central Apennines.
We want to make sure we have the best experience in this area, so we travel with Umberto, our guide in Italy.
Umberto has been passionate about nature since he was a child. “I had the opportunity to discover the beauties of the Central Apennines thanks to the first excursions with my childhood friends, retracing only the footprints and stories of my maternal grandfather. Today at the age of 38, an introverted, solitary, thoughtful character, I try to descend my days by letting myself be inspired by the rhythm of the forests and the innocence of my two children.”
At the end of his studies and after the first years of work in a small family hotel, Umberto felt the strong need for an outdoor life. Above all, he chose a nature oriented profession because of the possibility of communicating messages of approach, respect and environmental protection through the different programs.
What he likes most about his profession, is the possibility of being able to leave a critical but at the same time positive imprint. Sharing experiences in nature as a guide allows him to tune in to each individual participant. The bursting beauty of nature, its mysteries and the charm of discovery represent a very powerful tool, a key capable of opening people's minds, which one must be able to manage constructively.
When Umberto is in nature, he enjoys many things. The footprint of a mammal, the song of a bird, the renewal of the forest, a different light on the top of the mountains. “Despite having frequented the same paths for a long time, and having returned hundreds of times to the same peaks, I continue to be pleasantly surprised by the small events. In short, my work of observation of nature is never monotonous."
When people visit this area, it is important to offer them the best experience possible. Many people arrive in the Central Apennines with the hope of being able to photograph a wolf or observe a bear at dusk.
“We have the task of satisfying these requests, but also of making it clear that the protection of our forests and our mountains is not only a choice based on purely aesthetic or scientific values, but in fact essential for human survival itself!"
In Abruzzo, one third of the territory is bound by protected areas: three national parks, a regional park and over thirty natural reserves. A strong, forward-looking choice of those who made the environment their first resource. There are quite some managerial and political problems, and not everything works as they would like. Fortunately however, within its borders, this region still concentrates a variety of natural environments that is not reflected elsewhere in Europe, in an equally man-made territory.
For Umberto and his team, the principle of respect for places applies above all. They are aware that while following all the directives imposed by the authorities, their activities can create disturbance. Therefore, in their programming they try to dilute the activities over longer periods so as not to create excessive pressure on the environment.
“We filter reservations and prefer to confirm initiatives with small groups of people for a more genuine experience.” Finally, it is necessary that everyone works on the message that the close and breathtaking images that are shared from the experiences, cannot be replicated every day and for everyone.
"Ecotourism is tourism that fully involves the local communities. Knowing how to create fascinating experiences respecting the rhythms and spaces of nature is not enough. It is necessary, and it is one of our aspirations, to involve all local entrepreneurs, from the farmer to the owner of the hotel.“
Nature tourism has brought enormous benefits to small local communities and allowed many people not to abandon their inhabited centers, starting virtuous initiatives. In the past, the mountains were frequented only for economic necessity (intensive hunting, cutting of wood, sheep farming). Today, forests and mountains are a source of recreation and inspiration.
Some of those activities still exist, but human pressure has decreased and above all respect for wildlife has increased. For years now, thanks also to the phenomenon of rewilding and therefore of the connection between fragmented areas, the number of deer, chamois, wolves, golden eagles and many other species has increased exponentially.