All the fascination of mountain flora and fauna without endless hours of climbing. This environmental rarity with a microclimate that is unique in Europe is a true natural refrigerator. You don’t need crampons to admire edelweisses and gentians in the Valle del Freddo: normally you would only see them on trails at more than 1,700 metres above sea level, but here you can find them just 360 metres above sea level in the area around Solto Collina. Environmental features and alpine temperatures are the perfect combination for this summer nature adventure… but bring a warm sweatshirt!
After the glacier receded 20,000 years ago, this area near Lake Gaiano is a remarkable mountain habitat at low altitude. This fascinating location with its delicate alpine microclimate can be visited every year from May to July by following a path through hornbeams and hazels.
Here in Valle del Freddo, there is no need to turn on the air conditioner even in mid-August. A unique climatic condition is created here: in summer, currents of air at temperatures of 2°-4° emerge from holes in the valley floor, cooled by their passage through the large masses of ice that are created underground in winter.
The valley was discovered thanks to an edelweiss. In 1939, botanist Guido Isnenghi found it by following directions given by a hunter who wore the freshly-picked flower on his hat without climbing to high altitudes.
Gentian, heather and globularia are some of the other flower species that can be admired along with the innumerable colours of the spontaneous orchids that grow in the valley: fuchsia, brown, white, and the intense green of the common twayblade (Listera ovata), a species that reaches up to 60 centimetres in height.
If you are quiet enough during your visit, there will also be foxes, squirrels, weasels and hares to keep you company. And looking up, you can see finches, robins, hoopoes and great tits: even if they prefer to stay hidden in the foliage, you will always hear them singing while you enjoy the cool… without boots and hiking poles!
FOR VISITS AND BOOKINGS – 3487596650
OPENING TIMES 2020: from 6 June, admission without booking on Saturdays from 1.30 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 12 noon and from 1.30 p.m. to 6 p.m.
The visit lasts about 90 minutes.
Some information on Valle del Freddo
Apparently just a simple basin located in Upper Val Cavallina in the territory of the municipality of Solto Collina, 360 metres above sea level, the Valle del Freddo valley nevertheless conceals something extraordinary. Botanist Guido Isnenghi was the first to realise this, when in 1939, passing through Piangaiano, he noticed an edelweiss (typical of altitudes above 1,700 metres) on the hat of a hunter, who said that he had picked it in the area where the reserve is now located. The botanist was sceptical, but visited the area and was able to ascertain the presence of a number of other botanical species typical of high-altitude habitats. From that moment on, numerous researchers and experts began studying this natural feature.
The natural phenomenon
The reserve is home to an unusual microclimatic mechanism that allows the growth of typical high-altitude mountain flora at relatively low heights. This is caused by the very cold air (2°-4° C) emerging from a number of “cold holes” or “mouths”.
An unusual subsoil structure means that in winter when it rains and snows, water and snow penetrate underground and come into contact with cold gravel, becoming ice. The detritus keeps the temperature of the air flowing underground rather low, and then the air escapes through the vents.
The Valle del Freddo valley is therefore distinctive for two types of climate: an overall climate and the “microclimate” present in the microthermal zone, near where the cold air emanates. This determines the presence of four different environments: the Coppice Wood consisting of broad-leaved trees such as hazel, manna ash and hornbeam, the Pine Forest consisting of Scots pine, the Dry Grasslands with species living on shallow, arid soils, and the Water Meadows, with sweet william (Saponaria), heart-leaved oxeye (Telekia speciosa), spikemoss (Selaginella elvetiva) and oxford rampion (Phyteuma scheuchzeri).
Measurements made by scholar Luigi Fenaroli in 1962 recorded a temperature difference of as much as 27°C between the atmosphere in the valley and the air coming from these openings!
Flowers from the cold
Thirty-two plant species typical of an alpine climate, such as edelweiss, glacier buttercup, mountain avens and alpine butterwort, have been found at the bottom of the valley. Shrubs such as rhododendrons, dwarf mountain pines and large-leaved willow are widespread.
In spring, the valley’s slopes are covered with extensive blossoms of gentian, heather, thyme and globularia. Further up, the snowy mespilus and hawthorn are in flower; you may see the rare and beautiful wild peony, while cyclamen and red valerian are more common. Finally, another noteworthy plant is the common twayblade (Listera ovata), a 30-60 cm tall orchid, distinctive for its small greenish-yellow flowers.
The vegetation offers sanctuary to numerous species of animals: hares, weasels, foxes and badgers. Edible dormice, hazel dormice and squirrels make their nests in the hollows of old trees. The forest also has an extensive bird population: blackbirds, great tits, finches, shrikes and greenfinches. Less common are the jay, hoopoe and cuckoo.
Nocturnal birds of prey include the little owl and the long-eared owl, while the blue rock thrush is a truly rare sighting.
Reptiles also populate the Valle del Freddo in large numbers: vipers, grass snakes, smooth snakes and Aesculapian snakes.
The Valle del Freddo can be visited during the months of May, June and July, following a prepared path that it is prohibited to leave.
Access to the Reserve is regulated by Regional Council Resolution n° 7/19213 of 29.10.2014, which lists the following prohibitions:
- Collecting, removing or damaging wild flora;
- Lighting fires in the open air;
- Disturbing, damaging, capturing or killing wild animals, collecting or destroying their nests, burrows or lairs, damaging or destroying their environment;
- Hunting activities;
- Grazing livestock;
- Bringing dogs into the area;
- Introducing non-native animal or plant species;
- Performing advertising activities, organising folklore or sporting events, camping;
- Transit with motorised vehicles;
- In areas of particular significance identified in the regulations, straying from the official path;
- Performing studies or research that involve taking biological samples or contravening prohibitions in other ways;
- Performing any other activities, even of a temporary nature, as indicated in the regulations, that involve alterations to the quality of the environment that are incompatible with the objectives defined for the Reserve.
In addition to the regulations listed above, the current management plan also specifies the following requirements:
Cold Zone (Zone A) – Microthermal Process Zone (Zone B)
- Access forbidden;
- Prohibition to leave the marked and prepared paths;
Regulations for visits
- Visits by the general public are permitted in zones A and B only on foot, accompanied by authorised personnel, in groups of no more than 15 persons and for a maximum number of 100 visitors per day during the months of May, June and July on the following days and times:
– Saturday from 1.30 p.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday from 9 a.m. to 12 noon and from 1.30 p.m. to 6 p.m.;
– From Monday to Friday, visitors are required to book their visit at the offices of the Comunità Montana Alto Sebino (Upper Sebino Valley Mountain Community) Reserve management organisation
- Access to the other areas of the reserve, C and D, is permitted all year round, on foot only;
- The Reserve’s regulations must be followed during the visit; in the event of infringements, the respective individuals, in addition to incurring the prescribed penalties, will be expelled from the Reserve;
- Visits to the Cold Zone for scientific reasons are granted, subject to a motivated request to be submitted at least two months in advance to the Director of the Reserve who, following the assent of the Permanent Advisory Commission, will give an irrevocable response.