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The Parco dei Gessi Bolognesi e Calanchi dell’Abbadessa (Bologna Gypsum and Badlands of the Abbess Park) covers the lower slopes of the hills of Bologna between San Lazzaro di Savena and Ozzano dell’Emilia, with large gypsum outcrops that have created an interesting karstic complex. It’s the largest karstic park in Emilia-Romagna and it was recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for the phenomenon “Karst and caves in the evaporites of the northern Apennines“.

The Bologna gypsum outcrops are one of the region’s principle natural landmarks, with dolines, plateaus, valleys and rocky cliffs that sculpt the landscape along a strip of land that culminates in the imposing Vena del Gesso (Gypsum Vein).
To reach the heart of the park, visitors will cross through a landscape defined by rolling hills. Vast fields, vineyards, and olive groves cover the gentler slopes. The landscape is dotted by farmhouses and even noble villas and architecturally rich historical buildings surrounded by pines and cypresses.

Many marked trails run through the park:

  1. Nature Trail – The gypsum outcrops of Croara à an itinerary that explores the karstic area around Croara, where extensive gypsum outcrops create a dramatic, scientifically interesting landscape.
  2. Nature Trail – The badlands of Sant’Andrea à an itinerary that departs from the medieval town of Sant’Andrea to admire the entire badlands basin.
  3. Nature Trail – The badlands of Mount Arligo (loop route) à this itinerary crosses a small section of land and is a great introduction to the characteristics of most of the local foothills. Along the route, you’ll see the traces of old crop fields, terraced plots, and tree-lined roads that have created various interconnected ecosystems.
  4. Nature Trail – Cà de Mandorli (loop route) à an itinerary that explores part of the old quarry road system, taking advantage of the structure of the land.

For those who love bicycle tourism, the park can be visited as you pedal along the Gaibola Gypsum Outcrop Bicycle Path.
This loop route can be reached from the railway stations of San Lazzaro or Ozzano. It’s characterised by gypsum outcrops and related karstic environments dotted by dolines (large funnel-shaped depressions with the classic sinkhole cave at the bottom), woods, ex-farms and small bluffs. During the excursion, it’s possible to deviate from the loop and cross the Molino Grande WWF Fluvial Oasis, on the River Idice, or head up directly towards Gaibola, on a steep dirt track that reaches the karstic gypsum outcrops.

Adventure-seekers can even go potholing in one of the park’s caves: Grotta dalla Spipola. Reservations are required and all visitors will be accompanied by an expert guide. Along the way, you’ll get a chance to see a bit of ‘life underground’—especially bats and invertebrates. The route extends for about 700 m and is a family-friendly route suitable for all skill levels, assuming a few things are taken into account: proper dress (trekking or hiking boots, windcheaters, long trousers and a sweatshirt) and a change of clothing.

Visit the Park’s website

bar_chart Technical Info

The largest karst park in Emilia-Romagna.

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