A placid pond high in the Graian Alps mirrors the snow-crowned peaks of Gran Paradiso—the oldest protected area in a country known more for culture than for conservation.
A placid pond high in the Graian Alps mirrors the snow-crowned peaks of Gran Paradiso—the oldest protected area in a country known more for culture than for conservation.

Paradise Found

Once a royal hunting retreat, Gran Paradiso National Park preserves a wild side of Italy.

On a crisp summer morning in Degioz, a slate-roofed village in northern Italy, Luigino Jocollè is sharing the local news. He and four other gray-haired men are sitting in a tiny café, sipping cappuccino as espresso machines whir and pastry sugar perfumes the air. But they’re not discussing sports or politics.

“Three nests!” exclaims Jocollè. His friends murmur and nod. “Three nests in a single kilometer! Extraordinary.”

They’re talking about their neighbors. A pair of bearded vultures—breeding again in the wild a hundred years after the last one vanished from the Alps—has taken up residence near two pairs of golden eagles. The return of a majestic species, and the sight of two top predators living so close together, might be cheered in many places. But in Gran Paradiso National Park, where wilderness and culture live in careful balance, it’s a matter of daily consequence.

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