Walking in Italy (part 1)
Walking wasn’t my favourite activity when I was younger. We had the family Sunday walks every week, but that’s about that. Getting older and feeling the need to see the world and other cultures drew me to the conclusion that walking is the best way to discover the place. I moved around quite a lot, and once settled in a small town, I started walking to work. Later in my life, when I could not do that, I used the weekend to explore the city I lived in on foot. Finally, I got a dog, and that made me fall in love with walking. It became my daily routine and salvation during the lockdown.
In terms of holidays, I have to say I usually opted for a relaxed time with not much physical activity, but staying on the beach and doing just a bit of visiting. Walking wasn’t the main activity, purely because I felt exhausted from working all the time. I needed total relaxation, and it never occurred to me that walking helps a lot to clear your head. Since walking became my daily routine I can’t imagine my holidays without a nice stroll.
I am writing this as I think many of us think of holidays as idle time, sipping the cocktail by the pool and not making any effort to see the world outside of the resort. Don’t take me wrong; I get it; sometimes, it is needed in our hectic lives. But I have another option for you.
How about joining the relaxing days with the active ones and do some walking or hiking during your vacations. There are many great destinations to do so, but Italy has a great variety for all. There are many peaceful paths immersed in nature and more strenuous ones to make you sweat a bit. I am bringing you some travel inspirations to find the best route for you. You can stay a week or two in the area and try some of these routes. I am sure you won’t be disappointed.
I would like to highlight that walking is excellent for weight loss, but the benefits go far beyond—from a higher energy, better mood to stress relief, a creativity boost, and much more. If you need a solution to a problem, inspiration, or an idea, take a walk, and the correct answer will come to you. Walking is a great way to improve your overall health. Just 30 minutes every day can increase cardiovascular fitness, strengthen bones, reduce excess body fat, and boost muscle power and endurance.
Let’s dive into diverse walking and hiking options perfect for discovering the stunning natural landscapes of Bel Paese. I have prepared some themed walks for you so everyone can find something interesting:
Northern Italy is famous for its mountains scenery, including the Dolomites. Here in the peaks stands out Tre Cime di Lavaredo, located in the Parco Naturale delle Dolomiti di Sesto. A place that is still raw, rugged and wildly beautiful. You can have an excellent day out in the Dolomites with stunning views of jagged limestone peaks, top quality mountain lodges and fantastic photo opportunities. The Tree Cime di Laverado (three peaks, the Drei Zinnen) consist of:
- Cima Grande (2999m above sea level)- middle peak
- Cima Occidentale (2973m)
- Cima Piccola (2857m)
In 2009 UNESCO declared them as World Heritage site, along with the rest of the Dolomites. I would advise visiting the Tre Cime out of season when silence returns and allows you to enjoy the tranquillity of this landscape. There are three main ways to reach the Tre Cime di Lavaredo: Cortina d’Ampezzo, Auronzo and Toblach. But there’s only one road in and out, and that is the Strada Panoramica delle Tre Cime. It is 7km long and climbs about 600 metres. This is the only road that will allow you to drive up to Tre Cime peaks- you can park here and then walk 2-3 hours to reach the 3 peaks. If you are not driving, you can catch a bus; please check the timetable ahead of your travel. There is an option to stay overnight in Tre Cimie di Laverado; please plan the booking in advance. There are no facilities at the top so that you can choose the wild camping option. Otherwise, if you don’t want to stay on the top, you can opt-out for various camping sites and other accommodation types. At the top, nearby the car park, you will see a large white hut. This is Rifugio Auronzo. There are several rifugio’s along this hiking route, all offering drinks and snacks. Auronzo is the most famous one and acts as the Tre Cime di Lavaredo hotel- there are several rooms available to book overnight. This place is all about outdoors activity, but if you don’t want to hike, you can drive up to check out the view and then come back. If you decide to walk the famous Tre Cime di Lavaredo loop, that will take you about 3.5 h, depending on how often you stop. However, I would suggest setting aside an entire day to explore the area. If you’re visiting Tre Cime di Lavaredo for a day trip, then an ideal base would be either Cortina, Dobbiaco or Misurina.
Il Cammino di San Vili, Trentino – San Vili Pathway is an adventure not to be missed: an ancient itinerary that will lead you to discover the beauties of Trentino Alto Adige. It is a journey through the traditions and spirituality that fills these places. This route leads from Madonna di Campiglio to Trento. However, you can walk it in either direction: from Trento to Madonna di Campiglio or from Madonna di Campiglio to Trento. The pathway is divided into six parts and two routes, and it follows the footsteps of the Saint – San Vigilio had pioneered this route. San Vigilio became famous for his evangelisation work on converting people from Paganism into Christianity.
San Villi Pathway is one of Italy’s best walks for those keen on walking and exploring the local life. On the way, you can discover local villages, the countryside and the stunning Dolomites. You will stumble upon many beautiful, painted churches that provide peace—an ideal place to pray or contemplate. For super active people, there is a possibility to participate in activities such as yoga and wellness. I recommend taking significant advantage of low-season travel, as you can book accommodation easily and it is not as expensive. The 100km hike will take you around 6-8 days. Walking from Trento means going uphill a lot, whereas walking towards Trento will mean more downhill walking. You do not need a guide for this route, and anytime you get tired, you can hop on a bus that connects the towns.
Things to see on the way:
Madonna Di Campiglio and Val Rendena offer spa and spa Hotels.
Stenico is an ancient village with its traditional dwellings and noble palazzos. Check out Bosco Arte Stenico (Open Air Art Museum) – art displays created by many artists all using natural resources, including art installations and sculptures nestled into woods, occupying the different levels, the grass, the trunks, the branches. Visit Botanical Garden and many waterfalls. Check out Rio Bianco waterfall (note that this is a temporary waterfall. It doesn’t flow in autumn and winter). Additionally, you can see Castel Stenico that was the residence of the Prince Bishop of Trento. Dating back to the medieval period, from the 13th century, it became the bishop’s property and summer residence. The castle, which is now a museum, contains paintings and objects of applied art from the local collections, providing an essential record of the creativity and skill of the artists and artisans who have worked in the Trento region over the centuries.
Near Ragoli, you will find the mysterious ghost town of Irone, abandoned by the inhabitants in the 1600s due to the plague epidemic that struck Europe. Today its deteriorated houses are hidden by vegetation, and I am sure that its charm will leave you speechless. And without any doubt, you will be surprised by the fantastic panorama offered by the Limarò gorges, deep canyons carved into the rock by the tumultuous waters of the Sarca.
San Lorenzo in Banale is a beautiful village, the gateway to the spectacular Adamello Brenta Natural Park. It consists of seven villas, hamlets that are all distinguished by their characteristics such as churches, patrons and traditions, as if they were towns in their own right.
Spiazzo – check out attractions such as a knife factory, the craft workshops of Borzago, and various distilleries producing gentian liqueur and workshops processing wild herbs into delicious foods.
Let’s not forget about Trento as there is a lot to do there! I recommend spending at least 2-3 days in the town, walking around Trento and admiring beautiful frescoes and paintings all over the buildings. Many of these were commissioned as the city prepared to host the Council of Trent. Going back into history Council of Trent was a monumental meeting of the Catholic Church leaders to decide how best to respond to the ongoing Protestant Reformation. Don’t miss out on the visiting Cathedral of San Vigilio and the Tomb of San Vigilio himself.
Cinque Terre (Sentiero Azzurro) is a 12 km hike connecting five colourful villages sitting on the Ligurian coast cliffs. The views are pretty spectacular. The villages are located just far enough to challenge yourself but not exhaust your body. And there is always something good to look forward to after each section: like a fresh seafood plate and a chilled drink. This scenic trek will take you through masterfully terraced gardens and vineyards and five small towns of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso. The most frequent path is Via dell’Amore (Street of Love), between Riomaggiore and Manarola, usually done as an evening stroll passeggiata. Each of the towns has a train station and arriving by train is the easiest option of all.
I would recommend staying outside of Cinque Terre like La Spezia or Levanto, or Portovenere. This is because the accommodation in Cinque Terre is usually overpriced and not a great value for money; instead, in nearby towns, you can get some off the beaten vibes and less crowds. This hike highlights the stunning views, but please remember it is an intense hike with lots of ups and downs and not a paved path. You can either start in Monterosso or Riomaggiore, and bear in mind that this area is a National Park, so you will have to pay a ticket to have access to it. Each village has its unique character and peculiarities. I like Vernazza with its harbour, and the waterfront filled with restaurants and its tiny beach. Great place for people watching and resting with a cold beer in hand. If you feel for more visiting, you can opt for a boat trip. The coastline looks stunning from that perspective, and it’s the perfect way to recover from your energetic hike. Let’s do not forget a break for gelato – a must-do.
WALK BY THE LAKE
A brand new path has been constructed in Bardolino, 30 km from Verona – the Bardolino Way. Vineyards surround the 100 kilometres path, and it overlooks Lake Garda. A perfect place for a stroll or to explore it by bicycle. Here you will have a choice of 18 different nature trails. This territory is crossed by historical paths and pre-existing nature trails, and it was rearranged to serve as a new pedestrian/cycling system. The Bardolino Way thus becomes another precious resource of Italian rural tourism. This means enjoying slow travel without hectic crowds. The route connects six inhabited villages (Bardolino, Affi, Costermano, Cavaion Veronese, Garda and Rivoli) and links 61 wineries that have helped preserve the rural landscape. The project’s completion led to the installation of 53 information signs (equipped with QR code to check via app) indicating the route and providing information and curiosities about places of historical interest (such as the Wine Museum in Costabella di Bardolino) and typical products of the area. You can choose various routes that range from the shortest tracks (3 or 4 kilometres) to the most demanding walks up to 20 kilometres. Let’s highlight that the Bardolino Way is a wine route, and structures linked to the cellars also offer the possibility of staying overnight. There is also something for the history lovers, as Bardolino is a village rich in historical and artistic heritage. It dates back to the Bronze Age, visible by the evidence of human settlements. You can feel the medieval atmosphere while strolling through the remains of the village’s walls (XII century).
WINE THEMED WALK
Another route combining walking and sampling the wine is the Chianti Trail (perfect for a wine- itinerary between vineyards and medieval villages). Chianti is one of Italy’s most important wine-producing regions. It was here that the family of the Grand Duke of Tuscany began cultivating grapes during the 18th and 19th centuries in the region that would become modern Chianti. I would recommend visiting during harvest time (September), and it’s also a great occasion to join one of the local festivals. Make sure to stop to see some of the ancient towns and vineyards along the way. My favourite spots for wine tasting are: Vittico in Greve di Chianti, Castelo di Brolio in Gaiole di Chianti, and Badia a Passignano.
Anello del Rinascimento (The Renaissance Ring) is a perfect itinerary for those who want to know the surroundings of Florence, fascinating for their landscape and nature as well as for the art and history they contain. Here, you will walk past medieval towns and monasteries as well as olive and lemon orchards. There are many local inns and taverns to visit along the way, or perhaps you prefer to organise a picnic in the enchanting countryside. This historic 170-kilometre trail that circles around Florence’s town is split into 13 stages, making it convenient for travellers who like to customise their hikes. You will be walking over the hills, in the woods, by the cultivated fields, and cross areas of excellent landscape significance. You encounter monasteries, castles, ancient walled communities, churches, sections of paved roads that go back to Roman times.
Each section (even if travelled separately) offers the possibility of reaching Florence thanks to using public transport. The stages of this route are as follows:
Calenzano – Vaglia (19.7 km / 6.40h) enjoy nature at its best especially near Monte Morello
Vaglia -Alberaccio-Fiesole (23 km / 6.40h) marvel on the incredibly views of Florence and Fiesole
Another variant of this path is Vaglia-Alberaccio-Santa Brigida (17.5 km / 3h) explore the spiritual side while visiting the Convent of Montesenario and the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Sasso
Santa Brigida – Pontassieve (13 km / 4h), a relaxation option to wander in the Tuscan countryside, among farmhouses, vineyards and mills.
Pontassieve – Montecucco – San Donato (13 km / 4.30h) visiting Valdarno on the way or taking another path that leads to Bagno a Ripoli passing through Montecucco (13.5 km / 4h) and following the footsteps of the pilgrims that once travelled here.
San Donato In Collina – Impruneta (18 km / 6h) immerse yourself into woods (Fonte Santa), and the green hills.
Impruneta – La Certosa (7 km / 2h) there is a possible to visit the monumental complex of the same name.
La Certosa – Florence, reaching Piazzale Michelangelo (6 km / 2h). Or follow the variant La Certosa-Pian dei Cerri-Lastra a Signa-Signa (23 km / 6.30h) to get to know the Bottai valley, the woods of Roveta. The Signa-Florence section (12.6 km / 3h) allows observing the Renai Park and the Cascine Park, while the Signa-Campi Bisenzio-Calenzano route (16.8 km / 4.30h) has a splendid view on the whole Florentine plain.
Dante’s Walk (Il cammino di Dante) is a loop of about 400 km, retracing the route that Dante Alighieri has taken into exile from Florence in the early 14th century. The loop runs between Tuscany and Emilia Romagna along the ancient paths beaten by the Romans and Etruscans. The walk takes you in many places where the poet spent time in exile and described in many passages of the Divine Comedy. This route runs through beautiful medieval villages and ancient Christian hermitages. Take the chance to visit beautiful Brisighella, Portico di Romagna and San Benedetto in Alpe, set in a delightful space filled with rivers and waterfalls offering a refreshing summer bath. As you head down, pop into Dovadola, an old town belonging to the Guidi family where Dante stayed for a few months. Dante’s way can be travelled from Florence or Ravenna, although the official itinerary, divided into 20 stages, includes the departure from Dante’s tomb in Ravenna.
It can also be travelled for short stretches starting from any of the villages in the itinerary. The path is perfectly marked with signs to follow the original itinerary without difficulty. The bus and shuttle services allow you to return to the village of departure without problems and with ease. Some sections of the path can also be travelled by mountain bike and on horseback.
Il Cammino dei Briganti (Path of Bandits) is set between Lazio and Abruzzo and its about 100 km long.
The itinerary starts and arrives in Sante Marie’s village and reaches altitudes between 800 and 1300 meters, with reasonably moderate gradients, so it is suitable for those who are less trained.
The path is divided into seven stages that can be covered on foot or by bicycle and crosses the Marsica in Abruzzo and the Cicolano del Lazio. In these mountains, a century and a half ago, some men called Gang of Cartore had decided to rebel against the new conquerors who came from the north – the Savoy. To do this, they had left villages and towns to live hidden in the rich Apennine woods that cover this territory. At that time hiding was an act of rebellion. The stories of these bandits contain much violence in terms of abductions, ransoms and abuses.
This events took place around the time of Italy’s unification (the mid-1800s), which today is being rediscovered thanks to a walking route known as ‘Cammino dei Briganti,’. All the villages that you meet along the way are of medieval origin and rich in history. In each of these small villages, you can taste the dishes of local traditions and stay overnight in family-run structures. Not far from this area are the Sirente Velino Park and the Abruzzo National Park, but the Briganti Walk route never crosses them. Instead, you move through areas that are still little known and not that popular but equally rich in nature and unique views.
Abruzzo is one of Italy’s greenest regions, rich in woods and unspoiled nature, that can be discovered by following this itinerary. It is an inhabited area, still untouched, where you can truly immerse in the experience of the wild forest, crossing green, peaceful terrain. The Briganti Walk is a path for almost all seasons; the best time to travel is from March to October / November.
You can also walk here in winter, provided you have the proper trekking boots and maybe a good pair of snowshoes, so you enjoy all the magic of the winter wonderland.
Check out the path’s sections below:
Sante Marie – Santo Stefano (Sante Marie) km 5,6
Santo Stefano (Sante Marie) – Nesce (Val de’ Varri) km 13,9
Nesce – Cartòre km 16,6
Cartòre – Lago della Duchessa km 12,3-15,0
Cartòre – Rosciolo dei Marsi km 8,2
Rosciolo dei Marsi – Le Crete km 13,6-15,0
Le Crete – Sante Marie km
Here I end the first part of this blog post. The second one will be posted next month and will take you around the walking routes in southern Italy. I hope this post will be a great inspiration for you to get out there and start walking, especially during your vacations. If you plan to visit Italy and have any questions contact us, and we are happy to guide you through this beautiful land.
Joanna, CEO & Founder of RIT