Hiking in Italy | Italy's Best Hikes

08 Sep 2021

Walking holidays in Italy always reward you for your effort. Wherever you go, whether it's rolling hills or jagged mountains, serene lake shores or rugged coastlines, lush forests or the bare lunar landscape of an active volcano, you'll find beautiful scenery. And all over Italy, trails link pretty hilltop villages with timeless cities, agritourism businesses, and ancient landmarks, making it easy to experience the rich culture and history as you travel at your own pace. Plus, there is always a fantastic meal waiting for you at any point in your adventure.

Here's our guide to the best hiking regions in Italy and some of the routes you can follow.

Ligurian coast

Catch this view of Vernazza yourself when you walk the route along the five towns of the Cinque Terre

Liguria's mountains stop abruptly at the Mediterranean, and this forms a magnificent coastline where pastel-coloured villages cling precariously to the land. Olive trees and agave plants line the dusty clifftop paths that provide some of the best hikes in Italy if you’re looking for 1000 views of captivating seascapes.

The region is home to the famous Cinque Terre, five villages surrounded by the Cinque Terre National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can walk between the villages along the 15-kilometre Sentiero Azurro (Blue Trail), and it should take 3-4 hours to cover the full distance from Monterosso al Mare to Riomaggiore.

From Monterosso, the trail leads to Vernazza, a village in a small cove backed by steep, terraced hills, where you can swim in the harbour or refuel at one of the many cafés. Next, hike from Vernazza to Corniglia, home to plenty of restaurants where you can tuck into an al fresco lunch. When you reach Riomaggiore, you have the option of staying overnight, then continuing along the coast on the Infinite Path, a 14-kilometre route to Portovenere. Be warned, there are nearly 400 stairs to climb on the way to Corniglia, but the views and a well-earned glass of cold white wine are worth it.

 

The Dolomites

The Dolomites

These limestone mountains in northeastern Italy feature distinctive outcrops, glacial lakes, meadows, and forests. Perhaps the most recognisable landmark is Tre Cime di Lavaredo, three adjacent peaks whose summits are almost 3000 metres above sea level. One of the best walks in the Dolomites is the moderately challenging 10-kilometre circular route around the three peaks. It begins at Rifugio Auronzo, about 40 minutes' drive from the resort of Cortina d'Ampezzo. From the refuge, which has a bar, a restaurant, and a car park, the trail cuts across scree-covered slopes and boulder-strewn alpine meadows, offering grandstand views of Tre Cime and the surrounding majestic peaks.

The path continues to Rifugio Lavaredo, then climbs up to Forcella di Lavaredo, on the border of the South Tyrol and Veneto regions, from where there are side-on views of the Tre Cime. It then continues north to another restaurant, Rifugio Locatelli, for more views of the peaks and a couple of nearby lakes, before heading round the western side of the Tre Cime to complete the loop. Allow 3-4 hours for the walk itself, and plenty more time for photo stops.

 

Amalfi Coast

The Path of the Gods, Amalfi

Situated on the sunny southern side of the mountainous Sorrentine Peninsula, the Amalfi Coast is a famously beautiful stretch of coastline full of rocky outcrops and pockets of woodland. There are plenty of hiking routes, perhaps the best being the 8-kilometre Sentiero degli Dei, the Path of the Gods, an easy-to-moderate walk that should take a couple of hours to complete. This old mule trail runs high up on the slopes of the Lattari mountains, among terraced hillsides, lemon trees, and evergreen oaks, and offers incredible views down to the sparkling Mediterranean.

The community of Bomerano, above Praiano, is a good place to begin the walk. You can catch a bus up to the start, then walk gradually downhill to the finish in the village of Nocelle near Positano, plus you’ll also get magnificent views along the coast to the distant island of Capri. When you reach Nocelle, you can continue down a flight of 1500 steps to Arienzo, where you can cool off with a dip in the sea.

 

Sardinia

With a wild, mountainous interior and a rugged coast that's punctuated by beautiful beaches, Sardinia is packed with stunning scenery, and is the perfect destination to explore on foot. The island is home to arguably Italy's toughest hiking route, the Selvaggio Blu (Wild Blue), a 50-kilometre route that requires some climbing and abseiling, as well as the occasional stretch of via ferrata. Even if you have mountaineering experience, it's not the easiest route to follow, so it's best to go with a guide, and the full journey requires about a week to complete.

Your reward is the chance to get close to nature on this isolated coastline. The route passes through the National Park of the Gulf of Orosei and Gennargentu, where cliffs reaching 800 metres tower above the Mediterranean, and you pass deep gorges, tiny sandy coves, and woodland as you follow shepherd's paths. Look out for wildlife including wildcats, foxes, eagles, and falcons along the way.

 

Tuscany

Iconic cypress trees and rolling hills make Tuscan views something special

There are some amazing opportunities to go hiking in Tuscany, a region full of rolling countryside, woodland, mountains, and historic towns and cities. If you're visiting Florence, you don't have to travel very far to find some impressive walks. The Renaissance Loop is a 250-kilometre trail that consists of a main route that circles the city and is divided into eight sections, each ranging 12-20 kilometres in length. There are also several additional paths that branch off from the loop.

You'll discover rural churches, historic villages, olive groves, vineyards, forests, hills, and much more. A popular place to start and finish the loop is Calenzano Castle, a stunning Medieval hilltop castle to the northwest of central Florence. Another of the many highlights of the route is the town of Fiesole, home to Renaissance villas, cypress-lined lanes, a Romanesque cathedral, the ruins of a Roman theatre, and some great views over Florence.

Difficulty levels vary; there are sections containing plenty of steep hills, while there are also easy, flat sections, such as the one that follows the Arno River out of the centre of Florence.

 

Sicily

Climb an active volcano in Stromboli

Sicily’s spectacular hilly landscape is dotted with farms, ancient ruins, and pretty villages, and is ideal for exploring on foot. But perhaps its most dramatic hike lies offshore of the main island, on the small Aeolian Island of Stromboli. That's because Stromboli is home to a permanently active volcano, which you can climb. It takes about three hours to reach the summit — 900 metres above sea level — along a steep and moderately challenging trail leading from the village of San Vicenzo. You must hire a guide if you want to go beyond 400 metres, but it's worth it, as you'll learn about the island's geology and history as you go. Guided treks can be organised in San Vicenzo.

You're likely to feel the volcano rumbling under your feet and see steam rising around you as you climb. The view from the edge of the crater down to the Mediterranean is stunning, and on a clear day you can see as far as Mount Etna. You can even make an evening ascent to catch the sunset and see glowing lava.

 

Northwestern Italy

Italy's smallest region, the Valle d’Aosta, is in the corner of the country where Italy, France, and Switzerland meet. It's home to high alpine peaks, including the Graian Alps, where you’ll find the Gran Paradiso National Park, whose crowning glory is the 4061-metre Gran Paradiso.
A great way to explore the area is via the 20-kilometre Sella-Herbetet Traverse, which starts and finishes in the village of Valnontey. This is a strenuous one-day hike with over 1000 metres of climb, and it rewards you with pristine lakes, lush forests, and wildlife including ibex and marmots (if you don’t see the latter, you should at least hear them chirping).

From Valnontey, take the old mule trail uphill through meadows and forested valleys to Rifugio Sella, a former royal hunting lodge 2588 metres above sea level, then head south to the end of the stunning valley beneath Gran Paradiso and its neighbouring snowy peaks. You'll need a head for heights for some small sections, so make the walk on a clear day for the safest conditions — and best views. From the head of the valley, it's a pleasant downhill walk back to Valnontey alongside a stream.

 

Central Apennines

Corno Grande

Abruzzo is not one of the most famous Italian regions as far as tourism goes, but it's home to some stunning sections of the central Apennines Mountains and is a hiker's paradise. Corno Grande, at 2912 metres the highest point in the Apennines, rises above the rocky landscape of the Parco Nazionale Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga, one of Italy's largest national parks.

There are two different paths to the summit of Corno Grande, depending on how much of a challenge you’re looking for. The normal route (a 10-kilometre return journey) is a moderately difficult trail — although the final summit section is more challenging — while there's also a direct route up the mountain suitable for experienced hikers. It's best to start your walk from the southern side of the mountain, where there's parking near the observatory.

When you reach Corno Grande's summit, you'll not only have views reaching as far as the Adriatic Sea, but you will also be able to catch a glimpse of one of the southernmost glaciers in Europe, the Calderone Glacier. While you're in the national park, look out for wildlife including chamois, wolves, wild boar, eagles, and the mariscan brown bear.

 

Umbria

Known as Italy’s Green Heart, Umbria has mountains, rivers, lakes, hill towns, rustic food, and ancient ruins to explore. One of Umbria's best walking routes is the Way of St Francis, the Via di Francesco, which runs for 550 kilometres from Florence to Rome. It links many of the places visited by St Francis of Assisi 800 years ago, and the 50-kilometre stretch from Gubbio to Assisi is a good section to try out as it covers some of the most significant sites of his life.

The trail passes through the western Apennines, and difficulty varies from easy to moderate, so allow 2-3 days — there's plenty of accommodation, including farm stays, along the way. The route features forests, as well as historic hermitages, castles, and churches. At the town of Valfabbrica, you’ll see two towers and the remains of Medieval walls. The section finishes in Assisi, in front of the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, where his tomb is located.

Nick Elvin contributed to this post.

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