The territory of the Matese area is made of a mainly calcareous mountain chain situated between Molise and Campania. It is a territory rich in wild places, populated by Wolves and Golden Eagles, gentle landscapes with blue-water lakes where the peak of the mountains reflect themselves, original and well-preserved historical town centers, a lot of history also made by the tense relationship between the Romans and the Samnites, genuine, unique and tasty local products.
The Park covers an area of 33,326.53 hectares, along a north-east/south-west axis which from the valleys of the rivers Lete and Sava runs for about 50 km until it reaches the Valley of the River Tammaro, in the province of Benevento. This alignment is also followed by the main mountains: the Mountains Miletto, Gallinola and Mutria. It affects the climatic features of the territory which, in the mountain areas, represents the last bulwark of continental climate, while the lowest areas, exposed to the warm winds coming from the Mediterranean coasts of Campania, are characterized by the presence of Mediterranean landscapes with olive groves, ilex and cypress groves, and Mediterranean maquis. The geographical proximity of two different climatic areas makes this territory one of the richest places in biodiversity of the southern Apennines. The richness of the pastures, in particular, allowed the development of stock rearing which, together with agriculture and wood exploitation, represented in the past the main source of income for the local population.
The mountain chain of Matese represents the first snout of the southern
Apennines, with the summit of Mt. Miletto, which is situated on the
slope of Molise and is the highest peak with its 2,050 meters above sea
level. However, the mountain chain is scattered by many other summits,
even if lower summits (La Gallinola, Monte Mutria, Monte Pranzaturo,
etc.), basins and karstic lakes like the Lake of Matese situated at
1,011 meters above sea level, the highest karstic lake in Italy.
Moreover, there are several artificial basins: the Mortine, on
Volturno, the Lake of Gallo, the Lake of Letino.
The karstic territory is, like all karstic territories, rich in dolines, gorges, caves, swallow-holes with watercourses sinking and reappearing on the surface, streams deriving from the several drippings of water coming from the rock fissures.
The Matese area emerged from the sea, a nephrite and warm sea, more
than one hundred million years ago. The long domination of the sea is
witnessed by the presence of very rich fossil deposits.
As a matter of fact, among the naturalistic aspects it also numbers Pietraroja geo-paleontological site (province of Benevento) in which traces of past life dating back to 110 million years ago have been preserved, together with a unique heritage of vertebrate fossils like fish, amphibians, reptiles, crustacea, and a young specimen of carnivorous dinosaur probably belonging to the evolution line of the most specialized Velociraptor and Tyrannosaurus.
The whole area presents an exceptional naturalistic value: the
mountains are covered by beech tree woods on the slopes of the highest
altitudes, above all on the eastern slope.
At lower altitudes, the mixed wood dominates by alternating with the chestnut tree woods shaped by man, and with the ilex groves growing from the foot of the massif to the hottest quadrants of the area.
The dominating essences are therefore the Downy Oak (Quercus pubescens), the Turkey oak (Quercus cerris), the Hop hornbeam (Ostrya carpinifolia), the Chestnut tree (Castanea sativa), and on the sunniest slopes the Mediterranean maquis. The undergrowth is characterized by the blooming of several Wild Orchids belonging to the genus "Orchis".
The cliffs, and in particular the top cliffs, house an interesting flora rich in endemic plants and rare species. They are usually species having affinities with the populations of the pastures and of the high cliffs of the Central Apennines, like the Saxifrages, among with the rare Saxifraga porophylla, the Bear's ear (Primula auricola), the Violets of the rocky pastures (V. pseudo gracilis, V. eugeniae, V. aetnensis ssp. splendida), the Grassy bells (Edraeanthus sp.), the Solenanthus apenninus, the Pedicularis sp., the Rhinanthus wettsteinii and R. personatus, and the Mulleins (Verbascum sp.) just to quote the most showy ones.
On the Massif the mountain pastures and the dry grasslands are represented, and they often house interesting Mediterranean floristic entities finding here their northern limit of expansion.
Finally, of particular interest the presence in the Municipality of Fontegreca of a large spontaneous cypress grove, with trees reaching the 30 meters of height, and crossing the course of the River Sava.
The faunistic heritage is extraordinary: the reliefs are populated by the Wolf (Canis lupus) and by the Wild Cat (Felis silvestris); at the lowest altitudes dominated by the mixed woods it is possible to find Goshawks (Accipiter gentilis), Sparrow hawks (A. nisus), Woodpigeons (Columba palumbus), and Buzzards (Buteo buteo), which frequently reach the rocky walls, the realm of birds of prey like the Lanner (Falco biarmicus), the Golden Eagle (Aquila chirysaetos), and other rock species like the Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax), the Rock Thrush (Monticola saxatilis), the Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe), and the Water Pipit (Anthus spinoletta).
In the woods the Greated spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos minor) is particularly frequent. The birds flying over these places in spring are, among the others, the Red kite (Milvus milvus) and the Peregrine (Falco peregrinus).
The presence of stretches of water gives the opportunity to practice birdwatching because of the presence of nesting birds like the Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus), the Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus), the Ferruginous Duck (Aythya niroca), and the Mallard (Anas platyrhinchos). During the passages you can also sight the White Heron (Casmerodius albus), the White and the Black Stork (Ciconia ciconia, C.nigra), the Marsh harrier (Circus aeruginosus), the Ruff (Philomacus pugnax), and the Garganey (Anas querquedula). In winter, several duck species seek shelter among the clearings of the canebrakes.
Finally, we must mention the presence of the Spectacled Salamander (Salamandrina terdigitata) and, among the Reptiles, the very rare Slow worm (Anguis fragilis).
The Matese area also represents an important heritage of history,
traditions, and legends, many of which still survive as an expression
of local folklore, strictly linked to the daily life of farmers and
In the perfectly preserved villages, where it is still possible to live in a condition of great calm and peacefulness, but at the same time to feel the harshness, the difficulties, and the loneliness of the mountain life, it is possible to walk on foot along stone roads rich in history: the history of transhumance, of brigandage after the Unity of Italy, the history made by the nature cycles.