High in the Apennine mountains of Sicily is one of the most incredible parks in Italy: Madonie Park.
Madonie regional park, near the northern coast of the island, is a treasure that covers more than 60 square miles of terrain between the cities of Palermo and Cefalù. The park is a haven for birds, rare butterflies, and wild orchids, and is home to the critically endangered Sicilian fir tree, which was thought to be extinct until it was discovered here in 1957.
If you’ve ever wanted to take the beauty of a national park home with you, you’re in luck! Agricola Filippone is a farm producing beautiful herbs within the Madonie border. Their crops include laurel (aka bay leaves), lavender, thyme, fennel, and rosemary, all of which flourish in the high altitude and pristine soil of the park. With its hot southern climate and salty sea air, Mediterranean herbs thrive all across Sicily, where the heat of the sun concentrates their aromatic oils to deliver more flavor than you thought imaginable. Madonie is also the only place to savor manna from the local ash trees, a sugary sap that is mentioned in the Bible and is used today to flavor baked goods and in skincare.
Filippone’s most famous product is the oregano that grows spontaneously in abundance throughout the park. One of the most important herbs in Italian cuisine, oregano is essential to pizzas, tomato sauce, and more. Filippone’s oregano is so flavorful, it’s revered as a secret ingredient for New York chefs and acclaimed pizza restaurants that want to capture the essence of this Italian flavor.
Visitors from the U.S., where our national parks are mostly untouched wilderness, may be surprised to come across inhabited villages and businesses right within the borders of a nature preserve. But in a country with as much history as Italy, there is evidence of human habitation in most parts of the country! Madonie park was established in 1989, and its boundaries were drawn to include some 15 villages that date back to the medieval era.
As you might imagine, operating a farm within a nature preserve means you have to take the utmost care of the earth. The father-and-son team that runs Filippone ensures their products are all organically grown and harvested with minimal impact to protect the natural beauty of the park and preserve it for future generations. These aren’t new ideas; they use simple, traditional methods for all of the operations of their farm, from transplantation to weeding, harvesting, and packaging. They rotate their crops to keep the soil’s natural nutrients balanced, and never use chemical pesticides or fertilizers.
In addition to the roads that connect its small towns, Madonie park is criss-crossed with hiking trails. Reach the top of Pizzo Carbonara, the second-highest peak in Sicily after Mount Etna, to look out toward the Aeolian islands and north toward mainland Italy. The Mediterranean breezes blowing the scent of rosemary, lavender, and oregano over the hills will remind you that you are in a park like no other.