Rewilding and regenerative tourism: Rewilding Apennines buys the first owned land to bring benefits to nature and people

February 17, 2023

In the coexistence corridor between the Monte Genzana Alto Gizio Nature Reserve and the Maiella National Park, Rewilding Apennines and the entrepreneur Eugenio Vitto Massei have embarked on a new collaboration aimed at connecting people to nature and involving them in rewilding actions in the central Apennines.

Wildlife observation in the Monte Genzana Alto Gizio Nature Reserve towards the ecological corridor directed to the Maiella National Park.
Bruno D'Amicis

In the territory of the Bear Smart Community Genzana, in an unprotected area and in the ecological corridor that connects the Monte Genzana Alto Gizio Nature Reserve to the Maiella National Park, there is a place with an evocative name, Valle e Vallocchia dell’Orso. Owned by the Vitto Massei family, this 1.5-hectare land at 1,150 m a.s.l. in the Municipality of Pettorano sul Gizio was once used for the production of coal, the prevalent economic activity for the inhabitants in the past centuries. Those who worked in that area could not ignore the presence of the bear’s tracks, hence the toponym which is still evidence of the presence of the bear today.

Eugenio Vitto Massei, a man of culture and a history buff, grew up in Naples, but a few years ago, after a period spent in companies operating in the logistics sector, he moved permanently to Pettorano sul Gizio, the place of origin of his family, where he used to spend his holidays. Here he is co-owner of the historic family home, Palazzo Vitto Massei, which he is making increasingly welcoming to visitors and tourists. Eugenio is also a rewilding enthusiast, which he approached in 2020, enthusiastically participating in the Rewilding Economy Seminar organized by Rewilding Apennines right in Pettorano sul Gizio.

The historical building of Palazzo Vitto Massei in Pettorano sul Gizio.
Eugenio Vitto Massei

Since then, collaborations in rewilding events and initiatives have not been lacking and attendance at Palazzo Vitto Massei has been constant: training courses, hospitality and welcome – amongt all the dinner with the Dutch royals, supporters of the rewilding movement and of Rewilding Europe -, services (the Rewilding Apennines office is located in the Vitto Massei building), visits to the historic residence, cultural events and much more. However, both Eugenio and Rewilding Apennines wanted to go beyond the shared initiatives in the historic center and aim to give value together to the ecological corridors.

Rewilding Apennines’ idea of buying the land in Valle e Vallocchia dell’Orso stems from the creation of an attractive destination, outside protected areas but within an ecological corridor of great importance for wildlife, where to implement some good practices for the improvement of bear habitat. In fact, 34 fruit trees have already been planted thanks to the Rewilding Apennines team, Salviamo l’Orso and the volunteers. Furthermore, the aim is to bring tourists and visitors for an immersive experience on the rewilding practices adopted in the Central Apennines, on the conservation efforts of the bear and other key species, on the ecosystem restoration actions and on the meeting of a local community that has become the first Bear Smart Community thanks to the path undertaken for a long-term coexistence with the Marsican bear.

Eugenio Vitto Massei helps planting new fruit trees on Valle e Valloccchia dell’Orso land, together with Rewilding Apennines, Salviamo l’Orso and the volunteers.
Valerio Reale

“The transfer of ownership of Valle e Vallocchia dell’Orso is the stage in a journey that has seen Rewilding Apennines and our family find ever greater moments of collaboration through which to realize the common vision of a tourism attentive to both local economic needs and necessity to preserve the territory in which it operates”, says Eugenio Vitto Massei.

In this place where nature has spontaneously regenerated, we want to accompany those people who, after being warmly welcomed in the lodgings of Palazzo Vitto Massei, also want to regenerate themselves by reconnecting with that wild nature which is able to inspire, make travel the mind, relax the body and give a psychophysical wellbeing that no other modern medicine is able to offer. It is no coincidence that even the famous Dutch artist Maurits Cornelis Escher had found in Pettorano and the surrounding landscape places of great charm and inspiration for his works.

The village of Pettorano sul Gizio from the Escher’s viewpoint.
Angela Tavone

The first tour that will stop in Valle e Vallocchia dell’Orso embracing this intention will be held in the spring, thanks to the partnership between Rewilding Apennines and Exodus Travels, the English low-impact tourism agency that has decided to invest in rewilding in the Apennines, supporting both the conservation and restoration of the Marsican bear habitat in the ecological corridors and the initiatives of small local entrepreneurs who include rewilding in their work. In 2022 Exodus Travels launched a new travel program called “Rewilding the Apennines”, during which visitors, in addition to exploring the wild nature of the Central Apennines, can get to know the Rewilding Apennines initiatives up close and concretely support conservation actions of the Marsican bear, because the package includes a donation to the Bear Fund. In 2023 these experiences will also be carried out in collaboration with friends of Wildlife Adventures and the new land of Rewilding Apennines will be one of the trip destinations.

Umberto Esposito, mountain guide and CEO at Wildlife Adventures, partner of Rewilding Europe and Rewilding Apennines, showing bear rub-tree while leading a group for a bearwatching excursion.
Bruno D'Amicis

“Imagining new forms of tourism and giving more visibility to lesser-known routes is one of the objectives of the Rewilding Apennines strategy,” says Valerio Reale, Enterprise Officer of the organization. “Actively involving tourists in concrete actions to protect our ecosystems is today a must for anyone who wants to deal with sustainable tourism. In fact, the design of new tourism products must incorporate concrete actions to support the restoration of valuable habitats, as we can learn from the new forms of regenerative tourism, known above all in English as regenerative tourism. The Bear Smart Community is characterized by this approach, where those who visit a place also contribute to its protection”.

In Pettorano sul Gizio, the rewilding process began in the 1960s, following the massive abandonment of land intended for agriculture and livestock, even in high mountain areas. Following the crisis of the rural economy and the strong impulse of emigration that has invested all of central-southern Italy, towns such as Pettorano, especially in the historic center, have emptied themselves of their inhabitants, greatly easing the pressure on natural resources. Subsequently, the establishment of the Monte Genzana Alto Gizio Regional Nature Reserve in 1996 ensured that the spontaneous regeneration of mountain ecosystems continued undisturbed, guaranteeing diversity and richness of species and environments. To date, the Reserve boasts the stable presence of several specimens of Marsican bear and for some years the area has been a constant destination for visitors and nature lovers.

The new land of Rewilding Apennines in Valle e Vallocchia dell’Orso aims to be the first of other pieces with which the ambition is to build a mosaic of experiences and good practices for the benefit of nature and people, as well as to contribute to the growth of rewilding culture in Italy and Europe.

The terraced garden in the Palazzo Vitto Massei with the view on the ecological corridor towards the Maiella National Park.
Eugenio Vitto Massei