Reserve provides a natural oasis within the chaotic region of Naples
August 27, 2015
It’s midmorning on a Sunday near Naples, Italy, and the leaves are rustling in the breeze. Frogs murmur from the shallows while birds cry out as they lift themselves over a glassy blue lake.
Welcome to Astroni Crater Nature Reserve, an oasis of beauty tucked within a region better known for chaos. Located about 35 minutes from the Navy’s support site base in Gricignano, Astroni is a weekend retreat for anyone feeling overwhelmed by urban living.
Spanning more than 600 acres, the reserve is cradled within a large, extinct crater formed during a surge of volcanic activity 3,600 years ago. The ancient Romans knew Astroni for its thermal springs. Naples’ former French and Spanish rulers would later preserve its forested grounds for hunting.
Italy’s unification in the 19th century opened Astroni to all, bringing outside pressures from visitors and the surrounding community of Agnano, a town once famed for its thermal resort. The concrete sprawl of surrounding Agnano reached as far as the crater exterior, which is now dotted with small homes and terraced gardens.
Agnano’s sprawl fortunately ends at Astroni’s gates. Italy declared the interior a reserve in 1987 and handed management to the World Wildlife Fund, ruling out future encroachment and restricting access. An entry fee (6 euros) and tight hours keep visitor numbers limited today.
And so Astroni’s interior hums along mostly on its own, largely closed off to the outside, save the workers who maintain its trails, some nature classes and birdwatchers.
That’s for the best, I decided on my recent visit. Following the main trail down to the crater floor, I quickly left the traffic and graffiti behind to enter a self-contained ecosystem.
Here the only roads are the well-maintained walking trails that circle and bisect the crater floor. Instead of concrete, there are oaks, maples and brush thickets; instead of feral dogs, lizards and birds skitter from your advancing footsteps.
The perimeter trail leads to the Lago Grande, or the great lake, where a rickety wooden blind sits at one end of the water. The view takes in mallards, kingfishers and the occasional hawk working overhead. Frogs cruise nearby lily pads.
Exploring is the best plan for Astroni, and it’s even better with a pair of binoculars, a packed lunch and plenty of water. Maps and guides are available at the reserve ticket office.
One of the few places in Naples where it feels possible to be alone, the reserve is a natural oasis in a city otherwise ruled by concrete.