Most travelers probably think of Italy as a destination for taking it easy—leisurely touring cities, driving through the countryside and stopping at wineries along the way, or sitting in sunny piazzas and watching the world go by. But Italy is also a great destination for outdoor pursuits, from low-key adventures to extreme pursuits like rock-climbing and mountaineering. For hikers, it offers everything from easy walks across gently rolling hills to rigorous mountain treks with rough terrain and plenty of altitude change.
The Cinque Terre, or "five lands," are actually five villages a short distance from one another on the coast of Liguria, along the Italian Riviera. The 6.8-mile (11-kilometer) trail that connects the towns can be hiked in about 5 hours if you don't make any stops along the way. But the joy of this trail, called the Sentiero no. 2 or Sentiero Azzuro, is in stopping at each town along the way and lingering for lunch, a glass of wine or an overnight.
If you plan to spend the night in one of the five towns, be sure to make your reservations well in advance. Also note that due to a landslide, the section of the trail between Riomaggiore and Manarola is closed until Spring 2021. The other sections of the trail connect Manarola to Corniglia, Corniglia to Vernazza and Vernazza to Monterosso. The sections from Riomaggiore to Corniglia are considered easy hikes, while Corniglia to Monterosso is a bit more challenging.
To hike the Cinque Terre you must pre-purchase an access pass that you present as you enter each town. Check the Cinque Terre National Park website for more information about the access pass and the hike.
The Via Francigena into Rome
The 1,242-mile (2,000-kilometer) Via Francigena, or St. Francis' Way, begins in Canterbury, England and ends in Rome. We're not suggesting you hike the entire length of this historic pilgrims' route—just a section in Tuscany, Umbria, and Lazio. You can choose just a day-long section to hike, or do a multi-day excursion, staying in simple trailside inns along the way. The Tuscany sections of the hike are rated as difficult, with the path getting easier on the descent into Rome.
Hiking in the high Dolomite Mountains might not appear to be an easy hike, yet the fabled Tre Cime di Lavaredo loop is suited to hikers of almost all endurance levels. The 6-mile (10-kilometer) loop starts at the Rifugio Auronzo mountain inn, then climbs gradually (for a total elevation change of 1,300 feet/400 meters) along the base of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo, the iconic trio of toothy peaks. Round-trip without pausing, it's a 3.5-hour hike. But you should definitely stop and take in the soaring views, breath the clean mountain air and, in the summertime, stop to smell the abundant wildflowers.
At rifugios—the mountain inns along the trail, you can stop for a beer, a hot drink or something to eat. Note that in the summer, the trail can get quite crowded—devout hikers recommend setting out during late spring (May to June) or early fall (September to October) to avoid traffic jams on the trail.
The Transhumance in Abruzzo
For a glimpse of how pastoral life has functioned for millennia, consider participating in a leg of the twice-annual migration of herds of sheep to lower or higher ground. In Italy's southeast, shepherds still move their flocks in the fall from mountainous Abruzzo to the lower, warmer lands in Puglia then in the summertime, they lead them back to higher, cooler elevations. La Porta dei Parchi, an agriturismo near Sulmona in Abruzzo, invites guests to take part in the transhumance, with easy, multi-day hikes accompanied by shepherds on horseback, sheepdogs, and, of course, flocks of sheep. It's a chance to relive an ancient way of life, sleep in rustic huts or under the stars, eat simple, locally grown food, and soak up the ambiance of the Abruzzo countryside.
Gran Via delle Orobie, Lombardy
The Orobie Alps, also called the Bergamo or Bergamasque Alps, run east to west in the area north of Bergamo and south of the Swiss border. The 12-15 day hut-to-hut Gran Via delle Orobie takes hearty hikers from Delebio to Aprica, with an average elevation of 5,900 feet (1,800 meters). Though the hike itself is only moderately challenging, a strong level of fitness is required to hike the complete 81-mile (130-kilometer) trail. Along the way, there are mountain huts offering food and shelter, plus bivouac-style shelters for rough sleeping. The route can also be taken in smaller bites, for weekend or even day hikes. For more information about the trail, check the Parco delle Orobie Valtellinesi website.
Many visitors to Sicily's Mount Etna aren't content to just look at it from afar; they want to get closer to its smoking, occasionally erupting summit. Italy's largest and most active volcano has a predictably moon-like surface, and offers easy to challenging hikes and sweeping views all the way to the coast. Departing from the Rifugio Sapienza mountain inn, the Mount Etna Cable Car takes visitors 8,200 feet (2,500 meters) up the mountain, from which point they can ride in all-terrain vehicles to points closer to the main crater. Hikers are also free to follow marked trails on foot, and there are easy to difficult trails across all safe areas of the mountain. Heed warnings about trail difficulty, and be aware that weather can vary widely and suddenly on the mountain—from searing heat to below freezing temperatures. In wintertime, the cable car functions as a ski lift.
Vaglia to Alberaccio to Fiesole, Tuscany
Part of the Renaissance Ring hiking network that loops around Florence, this pretty leg of the trail takes hikers past old farmhouses and abandoned mills, through vineyards and forests, and across surprisingly hilly terrain before descending into the Etruscan town of Fiesole. Expect magnificent views of Florence along the way.
Sentiero degli Dei, Amalfi Coast
With a name like Sentiero degli Dei (the Path of the Gods), this Amalfi Coast hiking trail has a lot to live up to. But the 4.3-mile (7-kilometer) trail fulfills its promise, with sweeping views of the coastline and the deep blue Tyrrhenian Sea, all the way out to the island of Capri. The path, which can be hiked in a leisurely 3 hours, is best approached from the tiny hilltown of Agerola. From there, it's mostly downhill to Nocelle, on what was once the only pathway connecting the two villages. At the end of the path, continue down to the sea for a well-deserved swim at Arienzo beach. You can then walk or catch a bus to Positano or other towns along the famous Amalfi Coast road.