Exploring the National Park
The Porto Conte State Forest
In the heart of the National Park, you can experience a fascinating natural history trail in the Porto Conte State Forest, within the nature reserve managed by the Sardinian Forestry Commission that is commonly referred to as “Noah’s Ark” (“Arca di Noè”).
This nature reserve, which is encompassed by the promontory of Capo Caccia, is also known as “Le Prigionette” (Little Prisons) because it forms part of what was once a penal colony. The zone, which has a surface area of 12 km, has been defined as a permanent nature reserve and forms part of the National Park.
The entire area has considerable value as a site of natural beauty, not only for its stunning landscapes but also for its plethora of flora and fauna.
To visit the nature reserve, you must register at the Forestry Commission’s offices, where you can also consult maps and access literature on routes.
Encounters along the routes of the Ark
«Look, Daddy, I just saw them go past…they’re running fast, there are
at least five of them…».
I spin round and manage to catch a glimpse, in the middle of the clearing,
of the small herd of wild brown ponies as they gallop freely along the ridge,
driven forward by the wind…
We follow their footsteps and the small furrows they plough in the soil, walking lightly and silently…we can make out the black snout of a boar hiding behind a mastic bush and scrabbling around in the earth in search of the odd root or two…
We are shown the way by one of the Ark’s guides, who takes us along a path awash with cistus scrub and strawberry trees…he knows where we can get up close and personal with the special breed of donkey that originally came from the island of Asinara…there’s no way we can leave the nature reserve without my son Mario getting to see them, he’s been waiting for this moment for months!
And after a short while, low and behold they start to appear… I am moved to see my son’s eyes light up with joy as he strokes the white fur of one of these quadrupeds.
It’s my wife who’s the botanical expert. She confidently points out a rounded bush in the middle of the rocks and exclaims: «Centaurea horrida…that’s its scientific name, but everyone knows it by its more common name – thorny knapweed.
Did you know that this plant is an endemism, a true living fossil that grows only in Sardinia?»
An intense aroma assails us, a perfumed mixture of resin and wild flowers that is unleashed into the clear morning air, impregnating itself under our skin and into our hearts. The air is heavy with mastic, cistus and rosemary, and with the aromatic notes coming from the pine and juniper woods.
All the colours of the Ark. I want to go home laden with the emotional memory of this adventure in the nature reserve, so that I can savour it nostalgically further down the line. The zoom on my camera is ready. One shot, then another, then another…
Delicate white cistus blossom, vermillion berries of mastic and strawberry tree,
blue blossom of rosemary, yellow broom, the pink of the blooming oleander, the shadowy green of shrubs and bushes, brown juniper fruits: the magic of nature,
to be treasured among my most precious memories.
In front of us we see the sheer cliff, imposing and majestic.
We hear the noisy, white foaming of the waves crashing against the rocks,
way down below.
Higher up, between the sky and the clouds, soars the griffon vulture, with its wings spread wide as it returns to its nest among the crags of Punta Cristallo.
I am overcome by an intense desire for freedom and lightness…
Tramariglio is a decommissioned penetentiary, at the heart of what was a large penal colony created in 1940s. It served as a small, self-sufficient town, with a church, management buildings and warehouses.
Today, Tramariglio plays host to “Porto Conte Ricerche“, a modern complex for European research into biology and agro-informatics.
La Casa del Parco (The House in the Park)
The House in the Park is located at the entrance to the former penetentiary in Tramariglio. It occupies the large Neo-classical building that was once the headquarters of the prison.
Within the park, the “Sustainable energy laboratory“, which has been created in partnership with Legambiente (the Italian Environment League), is very much worth a visit.
This unique environmental education facility cum interactive museum affords visitors the opportunity to learn about the greenhouse effect and the uses of renewable energies by playing with simulations of hydroelectric, solar, wind and hydrogen plants.
The Capo Caccia promontory
The breathtaking promontory of Capo Caccia owes its name (which roughly translates as “Hunt Head”) to the great abundance of game that transformed it, during the period of judicial government, into a destination of choice for hunters.
The promontory is included in a number of major international protection programmes: as well as being a Site of Community Importance, it is also a member of “Rete Natura 2000” (Nature Network 2000) and a part of the Mediterranean Cetecean Sanctuary, which is a project geared towards the safeguarding of marine mammals.
Capo Caccia is located in a truly exceptional position, between stunning landscapes and seascapes. All around, the lush vegetation is dominated by the compact greenery of Phoenician juniper and euphorbia arborea.
Beyond the small beach of Dragunara, the coast rises up high, becoming rocky and exposed to the open sea for several miles. Making your way along the beach on the right, a road takes you in just a few minutes to a panoramic viewpoint known as “Belvedere”, from where you can see not only the western coast but also the island of Foradada, the imposing limestone rock that rises skyward to a height of 130 metres above sea level.
The road comes to an end rather abruptly when it reaches a large square. A narrow isthmus allows you to take in both sides of the sea below and the cliffs that tower above…it really is impossible not to be humbled by such imposing majesty.
The square is the starting point for a challenging flight of steps, the Escala del Cabirol, which contains more than 600 steps and leads down the sheer rock all the way to the entrance to the famous Neptune’s Caves.