We all know Italy to be a haven for hardcore foodies and history buffs, home to amazing man-made wonders such as the marinara pizza and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. What we might not be as familiar with, are Italy's surprisingly-abundant natural wonders. Although not the largest country, Italy has an incredibly diverse landscape and terrain that encompasses everything from snowy mountains to tropical beaches.
Boasting a total of 24 national parks, five percent of Italy's landscapes are protected by law, guaranteeing virtually endless ways of enjoying its untouched scenery and wildlife. No matter what season you decide to visit, the Boot's outdoor wonders are available year-round. So forget about the 7 Wonders of the World – here are the seven natural wonders of Italy.
Fjords aren't a common feature in Italy's natural geography, which makes the dramatic Furore Fjord a rare treat. Bright turquoise waters lap against the shores of a small pebble beach along a relatively undiscovered stretch of the famous Amalfi coast. A string of fishermen's houses cling to the cliffs, while the majority of Furore Village stands 300 meters above the water – including its main bridge, where the International Diving Championships are held each year.
Gran Paradiso National Park
Named after the glorious Gran Paradiso mountain, Grand Paradiso National Park is found in the Graian Alps of northern Italy and boasts striking valleys, mountain lakes, glaciers, and alpine meadows. Noted for an exceptional number of fascinating wildlife and endangered species, visitors can easily spot rarities such as the Alpine Ibex, playful red foxes, adorable chamois, and majestic eagle-owls. There's probably no better spot to go biking as well, and the Grand Paradiso region boasts more than a dozen bike routes for all types of cyclers.
The southernmost island in the stretch of volcanic islands that make up the Aeolian archipelago, Isola Vulcano is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that lies in the Tyrrhenian Sea just north of Sicily. Famous for its dramatic craters, sulfuric fumaroles, and mud baths, the island manages to fit multiple volcanic centers into a small 8 square miles of land, of which one is an active non-submarine volcano. The Romans believed these peaks to be the chimney of the god Vulcan's workshop, spewing out ash whenever he created weapons for the god of war, Mars. Spend a blissful day scaling the craters, soaking in volcanic mineral pools, scuba diving, or sailing between the caves and islands.
Cascate del Serio
The highest waterfall in Italy, the Cascate de Serio flows down the lush Seriana Valley only five times a year; while it used to flow freely year-round as the second-highest falls in all of Europe, the powerful water source became restricted by the Barbellino Dam project in 1931. Since then, the del Serio is only 'turned on' at specific release dates determined by the National Electric Energy Corporation – essentially making it the world's largest faucet. Surrounded by the Orobic Alps, this beauty is located only 62 miles outside of Milan and makes for an easily-accessible hiking trip.
Saturnia Thermal Springs
The ancient hot springs of Terme di Saturnia (sometimes called the Cascate del Mulino) are an icon of Southern Tuscany. A chain of gentle waterfalls cascade into layers upon layers of white and blue limestone pools, all held at a pleasant 37.5 degrees Celsius and filled with rich minerals. Considered a "high-flow" spring, the waters rush up from the ground at a rate of 500 litres per second, just like a jacuzzi. The experience is especially breathtaking at night, when the rising steam becomes visible against the starry night sky.
Part of a series of caves formed by centuries of waves crashing against the cliff faces of Capri, the Grotto Azzurra served as the personal swimming hole of Emperor Tiberius in Roman times. Today it is a popular spot for paddlers and rowers, especially during the morning hours when sunlight floods the cave at the perfect angle, causing the water to glow neon blue. Mark Twain himself observed the waters to be "as transparent as plate glass, and their coloring would shame the richest sky that ever bent over Italy."
Lago di Braies
Lake Braies is a true natural gem tucked away in the Dolomites mountain range within the Alps. Also known by its German name Pragser Wildsee, the lake was a transportation site for concentration camp prisoners during WWII, but holds no trace of its dark past today. While rowing on the lake's perfectly-green waters and taking in the view from the stilted wooden cabin are popular activities in warmer weather, the winter turns the area into a frozen wonderland. Skiing, hiking, and base jumping are must-dos for the adventurous, while the historic Hotel Pragser Wildsee provides lakefront views for those looking to relax.
Craving more natural beauty to feast your eyes on? Tour the jaw-dropping landscapes of Iceland: