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Hiking in Italy: Five favorite destinations
Walking and hiking in Italy can be a holiday in itself or a wonderful way to spend mornings before a long Italian lunch and an afternoon wine tasting or seeing amazing art and architecture. There are hikes of every length and difficulty in Italy – for details of some of my favorite hikes in Italy check out the interactive map. Italians are serious hikers and the country is covered in trails, many of which are organized and marked by the Club Alpino Italiano. But with so many wonderful options for hiking in Italy, how to narrow it down? Below are details about some of Italy’s most famous hiking destinations.
Hiking in Cinque Terre
When I worked as a guide hiking in the Cinque Terre in the ’90s, we practically had the trails to ourselves. The trails have gotten busier over the years but they are popular for a reason. Hike between the five (cinque) towns (terre) of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore in a day, with time left over to explore the towns themselves and go for a dip. The Cinque Terre is a great hiking destination for travelers of all ability levels because travelers who want to skip the more difficult hikes can take a boat or a train or a bus to the same destination. The local pesto, focaccia, shellfish and wine are fantastic, and while you can’t visit the Cinque Terre on a day trip from Florence, it’s not that hard to get there. The trails run along a somewhat steep cliff and will close if there are mudslides so before heading off, check that the trails are open.
Just an hour or so up the coast from the Cinque Terre, the national park of Portofino also has wonderful hiking trails, including one to visit the Abbey of San Fruttuoso. Small seaside villages like Camogli or Rapallo are a great base for an Italy hiking trip and have wonderful hotels and restaurants. The area is also a great vacation for anyone who enjoys scuba diving or fishing or white water rafting. For some longer or more challenging hiking, walk from the Cinque Terre to Portovenere and explore the Gulf of the Poets.
If you’re going hiking in Italy in the spring or autumn, the Cinque Terre and the Ligurian coast is a great destination. In the winter it can be chilly and in the summer very hot and crowded.
Hiking in the Dolomites
Italy’s Dolomite mountains are in the northeast corner of the country, north of Venice, and stretch west beyond the town of Bolzano. If you are looking for family-friendly hiking, go hiking in the Dolomites. The trails are extremely well-marked, and are of every level of difficulty. There are mountain restaurants with playgrounds, serving hot food from a la carte menus and offering extensive wine lists. Small alpine towns line the valleys, and ski lifts run in the summertime, taking hikers up the mountain to trails. If you are hiking in Italy in the height of summer and don’t love the heat, hiking in the Dolomites is a great option because it’s at altitude. No need to check whether your hotel has air conditioning: it probably won’t, but you won’t need it. After your day of hiking, there’s plenty to do: the Ladino culture in the Dolomites is different from anywhere else in Italy.
The Dolomites is a great place for hiking a Via Ferrata or Iron Way trail: one decked out with bridges, ropes, and ladders. These trails are usually for more experienced hikers with climbing experience, but if you hire a local guide, they can take you on an easy Via Ferrata trail that the kids will love. It’s also a perfect destination for hut-to-hut hiking: set off with just a small backpack for a few days, and sleep in mountain huts or rifugi, which are evenly scattered throughout the mountains at 3-hour hiking intervals.
Hiking in the Italian Lakes
What is more beautiful than hiking with a lake and mountain backdrop? Hiking Lake Como is ideal for anyone who also enjoys villas with gardens or wants to explore the beautiful towns of Bellagio, Varenna or Tremezzo, or go for tea at the iconic Villa D’Este. Hiking Lake Maggiore is more off the beaten path, with high-end hotels at the Swiss end of the lake, and convenient access to Milan’s Malpensa airport at the southern end. Hiking Lake Lugano can be accomplished from a base on either Lake Como or Lake Maggiore as the Swiss lake lies between the two. Hiking Lake Garda means you see some of those iconic Dolomites as this lake is closer to Venice than Milan. Lake Garda is a big lake, with fantastic hiking trails for lake-and-mountain lovers in addition to small towns, local wines, and a boating culture. Stay in small lakeside towns and walk or take cable cars up for gorgeous views.
Trails in the Lakes districts may not be as well-marked as those in the Dolomites, and not as busy as those in the Cinque Terre, so either hire a local hiking guide or get a good map and compass. Bring food and water because you cannot depend on arriving at a hillside restaurants every few hours, though if you plan for it you can include a hot lunch on your route.
For travelers planning an Italy hiking trip in the spring, summer or fall, the Italian Lakes are a great destination. In the hotter months, the breeze off the lake will keep hikers cool, and you can swim or boat on the lake.
Hiking in Sicily
Sicily offers off-the-beaten-track everything, and hiking in Sicily is no exception. There are not one but two options to hike up an active volcano: climb Mount Etna near Taormina, or take a ferry to the volcanic island of Stromboli and book a hiking tour up the volcano. For hikers who prefer forested trails, both the Madonie and Nebrodi parks are criss-crossed with trails, though I recommend hiring a local guide as many of the paths are not well-marked. Some of the prettiest trails in southeastern Sicily are in the flat and easy Vendicari Nature reserve along the coast. The nearby Pantalica Gorge offers hikers an archaeological experience in addition to pretty trails. If your Sicily itinerary includes Palermo, take a day or two and hike the one-way 3-hour seaside trail in the Zingaro Reserve.
If you are hiking in Italy in the spring or autumn, Sicily is a wonderful hiking destination, though mountainous areas such as Mount Etna and the Madonie and Nebrodi mountains are chillier at the top — a great thing in the heat of the summer, but shoulder season travelers should bring extra layers. Hiking the Stromboli volcano depends on the ferries, so schedule it between about April and October.
Hiking in Tuscany
If you’re going to Italy and want to get a little off the beaten track but not too much, then spending some time hiking in Tuscany is ideal. If you want to do some hiking near Florence, the Renaissance Ring trail that circles the city is ideal. Or for a wine-themed itinerary, walk between medieval villages in Chianti or on hiking trails in the UNESCO World Heritage area the Val D’Orcia, in the Crete Senesi. If you’ve got a rental car and are looking for hiking trails in Tuscany on your way from Rome, pick one of the many wonderful hiking trails in the Maremma Park or walk the Etruscan Via delle Cave. Or, if you are heading from Florence to the Cinque Terre or Lucca, spend some time hiking near Lucca in the mountains near Pistoia or in the gorgeous mountainous Garfagnana.
If you are hiking in Italy in the summertime, Tuscany is not ideal. It gets hot, and there aren’t mountain or seaside or lakeside breezes to keep you cool. But, it depends on your definition of hot: if you are okay hiking in 90 degree weather then you might be happy hiking in Tuscany in July. But if you are hiking in Italy in the spring or fall, both are wonderful times of year to go hiking in Tuscany. In the autumn, just check the sunset time before you set off.
Let Italy Beyond the Obvious Plan your Italy Hiking Trip
If you’re reading this and already starting to stress with information overload, contact us. We’ll plan your entire trip for you: soup to nuts, route instructions and maps for your hikes, a written Italy itinerary, and on-trip support. See our list of Italy Trip Planning Services here.