The ancient caravan route
The Lao River is definitely the most important river in the Pollino National Park. It springs from Serra del Prete (2181 metres), one of the highest peaks of the Pollino massif, it crosses the whole valley of the same name to flow, after 51 km, into the Tyrrhenian Sea near Scalea. It has a lean flow of 4.5 mc per second and going down to the valley it is fed by other numerous streams such as: the Battendiero river, the Iannello river and the Argentino river. It was born with the name Mercure (linked to the events of the Basilian monks) in Vocolio, south of the village of Viggianello, in Basilicata; when it enters the region of Calabria it takes the name of Lao. With a catchment area of 601 square kilometers, the Lao is placed at the hundred and eleventh place among the Italian rivers. Going down towards the valley the river bathes the municipalities of Laino Borgo, Laino Castello, Papasidero, Orsomarso, Santa Domenica Talao, Santa Maria Del Cedro, Scalea.
After reaching the village of Laino Borgo, the watercourse flows into a large canyon about 200 meters deep. The flora present along the watercourse is composed of a splendid high and dense forest of Neapolitan alders, willows and black poplars, but also black hornbeams, downy oaks, ornaments and holm oaks that then form a dense scrub - together with mastic and phyllirea - on the pinkish and compact limestone rocks that make up the walls of the canyon.
This environment alternates with wide glades full of tamarisk and oleander bushes. Several animal species are present in the river environment considered. The observation of the animals is not easy, but you can always meet the spectacled salamander, the crayfish or brown trout in the river waters, or the peregrine falcon that rushes through the sky with powerful flight. In recent years there has also been the presence of grey herons which in springtime go up the river and then nest on the trees along the banks. Evidence of the integrity of the Lao river ecosystem is the presence of the Otter, which lives only in clean waters free of pathogenic elements. The otter belongs to the Mustelidae family of the order of carnivores, living in aquatic habitats where areas of calm water alternate with running water. It mostly feeds on fish, such as eels, but also on amphibians, crustaceans, small mammals and birds. It is currently the most endangered mammal in Italy. At one time it was common in all watercourses, but indiscriminate hunting by "otters" and the modifications made by man to its natural habitat (pollution, deforestation, gravel removal from the riverbed), have had a significant impact on its ability to survive. The Lao valley was an important inland waterway and was certainly one of the most important waterways in our region. With the advent of modern communication routes, it lost importance. The remains of an ancient communication route along the canyon are still visible today. The Lao River was an ancient caravan route. Sybarites went up the Crati River, the Cosciale, reached the Campotenese plain and then descended through the Lao Valley to the western ports. Thus the goods from the East were transported to other peoples of the Mediterranean.
The valley of the Lao river is one of the most enchanting places where you can practice rafting in Calabria.
Nature offers the visitor a thousand reasons of interest and many sporting possibilities, the canyoneer will find there very different routes, starting from the Great Gorges of the Lao, which begins 2 km downstream of the town of Laino. The Lao river is one of the favourite destinations for those who love river environments. In particular for canoeists and for those who practice rafting, it is one of the appointments not to be missed. The course is beautiful, it flows in a wild gorge, there is always water. In recent years the activity of Rafting has taken hold, which allows you to descend the river on special rafts called "raft", a suggestive and spectacular way to recover the ancient solitary way. This new solution of locomotion allows you to relive, albeit in a modern version, the exciting adventure of the descent of the river Lao on an air bubble by practicing the sport that has become famous throughout the South: rafting.