6 Incredible Hikes in Italy, According to a Local Guide
If you thought hiking in Italy was synonymous with vineyards and olive groves, think again. Yes, Tuscany’s iconic hills are unmistakably magnetic, but it’s also a land of mountain peaks, dramatic coastal paths and open country criss-crossed by the paths of shepherds and pilgrims. Watch the country’s history unfold before you as you follow paths past evocative castles and through enchanting villages that take you back in time.
Walking through the landscape is also an excellent opportunity to learn about local gastronomy. Stop at local producers, pick up picnic supplies from village shops or stop off at a mountain hut where you can feast on regional delicacies.
The good thing about hiking is that whatever your level of fitness, you will always find something suitable – it’s all about choosing the right length of walk and taking care to check the elevations carefully and the ground.
So where are the best hikes in Italy? After much discussion with my walking buddies, we agreed that these six hikes are all very special to us for different reasons.
1. Fiscalina Valley, The Dolomites
The Dolomites mountain range on Italy’s border with Austria is one of Europe’s most spectacular sights, a UNESCO World Heritage landscape of lakes, 18 dizzying peaks and sweeping slopes scree with beautiful alpine flowers. Apart from the visual charms of the region, the South Tyrol is a fascinating region, with a remarkable First World War history and a fascinating cross-border culture. Don’t be surprised to see menus with tortellonis next to knodel and family platters of speck cheese and ham, ready to be drizzled with sweet apple juice.
My favorite hike in the Dolomites follows an exciting circuit through the Fiscalina Valley. Hike along well-graded alpine trails into the heart of the Sesto Dolomites, the highlight being the impressive views of the Tre Cime peaks. With approximately 1,210 meters (about three-quarters of a mile) up and 1,215 meters (again, just over three-quarters of a mile) down, the 18-kilometer (11-mile) hike is guaranteed to put the heart pumping so you need a good level of fitness to enjoy this hike.
Pro tip: Plan your route to coincide with a lunchtime stop at the Yaws of Cengia or one of three other mountain huts. For overnight accommodation I love four star Bad Mooswhere a swimming pool, spa facilities and stunning mountain views always provide a welcome finale to my Tour of the Dolomites.
2. Pilgrims’ Trail in Southern Italy
In the very south of Italy, the region of Basilicata is an underrated gem. While most hikers head naturally to the pristine Pollino National Park, the dramatic coastline around the town of Maratea offers unforgettable views of a completely different nature.
For a reasonably difficult but not overly strenuous hike of around 13 kilometers (8 miles), start from the pretty village of Trecchina, along a pilgrimage trail that follows a moderate elevation of 700 meters (just under a half -mile) up to the picture-perfect Madonna del Soccorso church.
From here, the trek continues along shepherds’ trails through dramatic open landscapes and secluded pastures to the mountainside mule track that leads to Maratea. Prepare for spectacular coastal views on the way down, many of which are dominated by the dazzling white statue of Christ the Redeemer which stands 21 meters (almost 70 feet) tall and towers over the town.
Pro tip: Take time at the end of your hike to explore the charming little town of Maratea, home to an astonishing total of 44 churches.
3. Santo Stefano in Rocca Calascio in Abruzzo
Despite its location just east of Rome, Italy’s Abruzzo region is usually overlooked by tourists. Visit in the spring when the landscapes are carpeted with wildflowers, or in the fall when the beech trees glow red and gold. Home to three national parks and numerous nature reserves, it’s one of Italy’s best places for natural beauty, but while there aren’t any spectacular big towns in Tuscany, it’s certainly the place to go for crowd-free medieval towns and mountains dotted with castles and fortresses.
The moderate 10 kilometer (6 mile) circular walk to Rocca Calascio from the fortified medieval village of Santo Stefano di Sessanio is a great introduction to this very special region. Leaving Santo Stefano by road, the hike follows a path that climbs across a wide grassy ridge to the summit of Monte delle Croci (1,458 metres/0.9 miles) and then continues past the octagonal 17 .andfrom the last century church of Santa Maria della Pietà to the imposing castle of Rocca Calascio.
Featured in several blockbuster films, this grand ruined castle is one of the oldest forts still standing in Italy, with remarkable views over the rolling plain of Campo Imperatore and the peaks of the Gran Sasso mountains. From there, the path descends gently towards Santo Stefano.
Pro tip: If you are looking for a place to stay in the area, the Sextantio Albergo Diffuso in Santo Stefano offers a unique hotel experience. It is one of alberghi diffusi (“scattered hotels”), an admirable company which has restored the once crumbling medieval buildings of the village to provide contemporary hotel accommodation.
4. San Quirico D’Orcia in Bagno Vignoni, Southern Tuscany
With decades of hiking experience under my belt, there’s nothing I love more than introducing “beginner” hikers to the wonders of walking! And this pilgrimage route through southern Tuscany is an ideal starting point.
The walk begins in the charming Etruscan walled town of San Quirico, about 35 kilometers (just over 20 miles) southeast of Siena. It starts through olive groves and vineyards, with wonderful views of the rolling Tuscan landscape, and continues along wide, peaceful tracks with open views of Monte Amiata, Val d’Orcia and, in the distance, Montalcino. The trail is just over 15 km, but with moderate climbs (590 meters/a third of a mile) and descents (460 meters/a little over a quarter mile), it’s a relatively gentle walk that leaves enough time to admire the view.
The last stop on the walk is the town of Bagno Vignoni, where the stunning natural spring baths in the central square have attracted walkers – and pilgrims – for centuries.
Pro tip: If you want to experience Tuscan gastronomy at its best, leave time on either side of your hike to visit the beautiful nearby towns of Pienza, renowned for its cheese, and Montalcino and Montepulciano for their wine.
5. Punta Marmora, the highest point in Sardinia
Sardinia’s white sand beaches need no introduction, but if you’re a walker then inland is the place to be. At 1,834 meters (just over a mile) above sea level, Punta Marmora in the Gennargentu Mountains is Sardinia’s highest point, but a hike to the top from the foot of the trail Skiing from Bruncu Spina (yes, you can ski in Sardinia!) involves a slight elevation of just 350 meters (less than a quarter mile), so it’s much less difficult.
This is a 14 kilometer (approximately 9 miles) trek through a pristine landscape of shale and granite rocks. From Bruncu Spina, the trail begins on a rough gravel road that winds up the hillside and follows the Gennargentu mountain ridge for about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles). After the Col d’Arcu Gennargentu, the track becomes a winding rocky path, with steps in places, leading to the large stainless steel cross at the top.
Pro tip: Pack a picnic of delicious Sardinian breads, cold cuts and some of the best pecorino cheese you’ll ever taste, and enjoy lunch al fresco with views of the coast and the peaks of neighboring Corsica.
6. Monviso In The Piedmontese Alps
Gentle trails through Piedmont hazelnut groves and Barolo and Barbaresco vineyards offer an easy to moderate hike, but if you like a bit more of a challenge, this circular hike around the base of Monviso is guaranteed to get your heart pumping.
Start from the Pian del Re car park, 2020 meters above sea level, following the Buco del Viso/Colle delle Traversette signs. The path continues to climb to the upper Lago Superiore, passing a waterfall and climbing steeply upwards. The views along the way are stunning – over the Po Valley and four glacial lakes that feed the Po River, including the turquoise waters of the heart-shaped glacier of Lake Chiaretto. The trail isn’t too strenuous at around 7 kilometers (just under 4.5 miles), with ups and downs of around 500 meters (a third of a mile), but includes stepping stones, with ropes and a security chain, across the waterfall.
Pro tip: The medieval town of Saluzzo is an excellent base if you plan to hike the Monviso and Valle Maira Refuge and also want easy access to Piedmont’s gastronomic heart of Barolo villages and the truffle capital of Italy. Alba.
How to prepare your Italian hikes
So how fit do you need to be if you want to enjoy these top Italian hikes? With the exception of hiking in the Dolomites, most of these trails are fairly gentle and not too strenuous. However, there is no doubt that the better prepared you are for your hike, the more you will enjoy it.
Pro tip: Regular walking on varied terrain is the best preparation, but as you can see from my post “Get fit for hiking“I’m a big fan of some pre-hike aerobics and pilates!
For more hiking inspiration, consider the Best Hikes in All 50 US States, 8 Amazing Hikes in England, and 7 Fantastic Hikes in Scotland.