Why do companies buy incentive travel gifts? That’s easily answered: because if you are a true leader, rather than just the office boss, you know that your top performers deserve the best and that incentive travel is a powerful motivational tool. As with all tools, there are degrees of effectiveness: picking the same destinations over and over might eventually dull the experience and take the excitement out of it. If you choose Italy as your preferred incentive travel destination, however, you need not worry about it ever becoming routine. We have taken you on virtual tours of our most beautiful cities and beaches, of our great lakes and some of our most charming architectural wonders and yet we have but scratched the surface of what Italy has to offer to the smart business traveler. If you are shopping for springtime incentive travel gifts for your employees, we suggest you consider Italy at its wildest and visit our national parks. If your top team members like being outdoors, communing with nature and enjoy taking photographic tours of beautiful natural sites, we have a few suggestions for your next journey.
Incentive travel destinations: Italian National Parks
Italian national parks: a treasured resource
Most people travel to Italy thinking of renaissance art or the vestiges of ancient Rome, wishing to visit Venice or see the Colosseum, all of which are perfectly good reasons for coming. What few international travelers know, however, is that Italy also contains 24 protected natural areas and national parks, making up an impressive 5% of our national territory. Some of them are home to rare or unique flora and fauna and constitute complex and beautiful ecosystems of their own, that the local institutions have been working to protect. Italy is a comparatively small country, and yet it presents an uncommonly wide variety of landscapes, ranging from the Maquis Shrubland that is typical of the Mediterranean shores to the crystalline beauty of the alpine woodlands, from the sweet rolling hills of Tuscany, with their mild climate and delicate mists, to the unforgiving, rough-hewn highlands of the Apennines. We selected five of our national parks, which we believe will make excellent springtime incentive travel destinations, but we definitely recommend checking out any protected area you might come across while visiting Italy: we can promise it will be worth your while.
1. Maremma Regional Park
If you visit Tuscany (and if you are going to visit Italy, you are probably going to visit Tuscany at some point), you will be aware of the sub-region known as Maremma. If you have been thinking of Tuscan hills as being mild and welcoming, Maremma will reshape your idea of the whole region. Rough ridges and steep slopes, covered in thick bushland dotted with swamps and pinewoods and descending towards the Tyrrhenian coast until they melt seamlessly into sandy beaches. The highest point of the region, on the ridge known as the Uccellina Mountains, hardly raises more than an average hill, not even reaching 1400 feet above sea level, and yet it will offer you a breath-taking view of the surrounding region. The local flora and fauna are incredibly diverse – and they are also the ultimate reason for this area being protected. Many have noted unexpected similarities between this sub-region and the American “wild west”: there’s an ancient tradition of cattle rearing on these hills and to this day the Tuscan “butteri” (that elsewhere might have been called cowboys) guard semi-wild herds in these parts. Deer and wild boars, foxes and porcupines prosper in the local woods and, if you stop by in one of the local villages, we recommend you sample the excellent local cuisine, with its ancient tradition of game and rich red wines.
2. Mount St Bartolo Park
As far as natural parks go, this can be considered a hidden treasure, as it is seldom included in tourist brochures for international travellers. Driving south along the Adriatic coast, as you are leaving Emilia Romagna behind to enter the beautiful Marche region, you will find a strip of lush, hilly land, squeezed between the sea on one side and endless fields and medieval villages on the other. This is not your average, easily approachable stretch of Adriatic coast: you will find no beaches here, but a spectacular cliff, raising dramatically from the sea, with small and ancient settlements blossoming on its peaks like oddly-shaped flowers. Mount St Bartolo Park, with its 4000 acres, might be small in comparison with most other Italian National parks, but it presents a uniquely concentrated variety of natural and archeological elements of extreme interest. Neolithic artifacts have been unearthed in the vicinity of Monte Castellaro, while ports and jetties dating back to the ancient Greek domination are still visible along its coast. The renaissance provided beautiful villas and gardens and, all along, a unique blend of diverse plant and animal species have continued to prosper in this environment, in which Mediterranean and almost Mittel-European conditions coexist.
3. Majella national park
We are still in central Italy, on the rugged mountains of Abruzzo. You will be able to explore the Apennine Mountains at their wildest in this park, and you will be well advised to follow the local guide’s instructions if you intend to venture through its vast and impressive canyon-like formations. Bears and wolves are the true kings of this region, as they are protected and loved, despite periodical suggestions of culls being put forward, only to be met with vibrant protests. Human presence on this mountains is scarce and it consists mainly of sparse medieval settlements, monasteries and hermitages: the unmistakable signs of small groups of humans wanting to be apart from society, either for military protection or spiritual contemplation. The incredible biodiversity in this region is another key factor in the pull the Majella park exerts on many visitors: one third of all the species of plants in the whole of Italy can be found in this area. About half of the protected area is covered in forests of oak- and beech-trees, with slender birch-trees occasionally poking their heads amid the wooden giants that dominate the local vegetation. The rest of the mountain is covered in shrubland, providing an ideal habitat for hundreds of species of birds, as well as deer and chamois. The local farmers and shepherds have learnt ways of allowing cattle to coexist with the wild fauna, despite the population of large predators. In this incredible park, Man and Nature seem to have found the kind of ideal balance that it is lost to most human societies.
4. Cinque Terre National Park
Liguria is a beautiful region, rich in history and astonishing natural features, but none so popular as the area known as Cinque Terre. The National Park by the same name has been a UNESCO listed site since 1999 and it will make a perfect spring incentive gift. It offers everything you might want from your trip to Italy: nature and culture, excellent food and plenty of opportunities for outdoors activities (which you will likely need to feel less guilty about indulging in the local cuisine). Tiny, secret beaches alternate with sheer and precipitous cliffs, while ancient villages emerge among the uncontaminated wilderness. Most of this area bears traces of human intervention, particularly in the characteristic terrace system that has permitted agriculture to flourish in this steep and hilly region, but this is one of those rare examples of humans learning to exist in their environment enhancing it and respecting it, rather than forcing it into unnatural shapes to fit their needs. This is first and foremost a maritime park, strongly focused on preserving the quality of the maritime environment, both over and under the water, as well as the ancient traditions that have defined the region’s identity. As a result, this is one of the most interesting and diverse destinations in Italy.
5. Gran Paradiso National Park
A favourite of tourists from central and northern Europe, the Gran Paradiso National Park is one of the earliest examples of protected natural areas in Italy, dating back to 1922. Its territory comprises parts of Piedmont and Valle d’Aosta, in the north-western part of the Country If you have a soft spot for wild alpine landscapes, this is most definitely the place to be. The thick alpine woodland will open up suddenly and reveal pastures and meadows, which will be exploding with flowers in full bloom in springtime, while the perennial snowfields and glaciers on the nearby peaks tower over them, reminding visitors that the mountain is following its own ancient and eternal cycle. If you like hiking, there are few places in the world that will make you happier than this fairy-tale-like mountain park, home to eagles, vulture, lynxes, groundhogs and mountain goats. Many of this species had to be reintroduced over the last 30 years, as the well-meaning founders of the park (King Vittorio Emanuele III among them), had no notion of what a balanced ecosystem should look like and offered incentives for the hunting of large predators and birds of prey.
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