If you want a real hiking vacation, go to the National Parks and Forests in the US, the mountain villages of Switzerland, or the English countryside. In these places, the hiking is well organized and plentiful. But, if you are in Italy, and want to do some hiking, it is there, and it can be fun.
We have done some hiking in Italy, but it is hard to find information for hiking, hard to find the trails, hard to figure out the good areas for hiking. There are a few hiking books available and there are good hiking maps. These will help you figure out where the hiking is. I have listed these at the end of this page.
As in the US, the National Parks in Italy have good hiking trails. You will also find trails throughout the countryside in most regions. These trails provide public access to private land – something that we do not have in the US, but that you find all over Europe. I have heard from other travelers that the hiking is good in northern Italy, in the mountains and in the Marche region.
Hiking in Liguria
Hiking in the Cinque Terre / Levanto area in Liguria is well organized and well signed. You can hike from town to town and take the train back to where you started. See my notes on Hiking in Levanto and Hiking in the Cinque Terre.
Hiking in Tuscany and Umbria
In Tuscany and Umbria, you will find hikes described in hiking books and marked on hiking maps, but it is not what I would call perfect hiking. We have done a lot of hiking in these regions. Some hikes are well marked when you start, but then the trail deadends at a “No Trespassing” sign (and sometimes with a dog behind it). Or the trail may look great marked on the Kompass map, but when you look closely most of it is along a busy country road. No so much fun to be walking beside traffic.
Also, there are not so many circular hikes and relying on public transportation in the countryside is not easy. The buses run infrequently and the trains do not go everywhere. What I like best is to drive to a place, park, and do a long circular hike so we end up back where we started. But there are not so many of those types of hikes. Most hikes in the hiking books are from point A to point B.
I am totally in favor of independent travel, but I honestly think that if you want a walking vacation in Italy, go with a walking tours company. They will arrange for you to walk from point A to point B and will be there to meet you when you are finished.
But, there are other options for hiking.
You can do long walks on the white roads. These are called “strada bianca” and are the small, dirt roads that wander all over the countryside. We like to stay at a vacation rental that is on or very close to white roads, so we can do lots of local walking.
Even if you do not walk the white roads, you do lots of walking in Italy just visiting the hill towns. Usually you park at the bottom of the hill town and walk to the top, plus more walking as you explore the town.
Bill Thayer’s Web Site: Bill Thayer is an American who spends a lot of time in Italy. He has walked over 1500 km in Italy and much of this experience is recorded on his web site. Most of his walks are in Umbria or along the ancient Roman roads.
> See the Slow Travel Cinque Terre Trails page for hiking the Cinque Terre region.
> See the Slow Travel Levanto Trails page for hiking around Levanto, Liguria.
Watch out for Hunters
No Hunting sign. 09/99This sign means “No Hunting”. There is a lot of hunting in Italy. In September the season opens with just hunting on Sundays. You wake up to the sounds of church bells and gunfire. The country lanes are crowded with the parked cars of the hunters. We don’t go hiking on hunting days. You always see bullet casings on the trails, so you know the hunters are out there.
Trail sign in Tuscany, Sep99The trails we have done in Tuscany, the ones in the countryside and not in a park, are not well signed. This red, white, red marker with the trail number painted on a tree is typical of the trail markings. Sometimes this is painted on a rock. On time when we really lost the trail, it turned out the marker was painted on a corner of a building!
Be sure you have a good map with you, because you will need it if you cannot find the markers.
Hikes We Have Done
On each trip to Italy we try to do some hiking. We have hiked the Cinque Terre Trail. We plan to do some Levanto hikes in September 2003. We have done a few Tuscany hikes from the Walking and Eating in Tuscany and Umbria books. We hiked in a park in southern Tuscany near Aquapendente.
This is an easy afternoon hike to get you out of Florence to the countryside. Different versions are documented in Walking and Eating in Tuscany and Umbria, Walking in Tuscany and in the Sunflower Guide for Tuscany.
Take the #7 bus from Florence to Fiesole (get it at the Duomo or Piazza San Marco). 20 minute bus ride up into the hills north of Florence.
Hike 1: From Fiesole you can do a 2 – 2 1/2 hour walk to Ponte a Mensola, where you can take a bus back to Florence. This trail is clearly marked on the Kompass hiking map. You can branch off on this walk and go to Settignano instead. Buses go from there to Florence.
Hike 2: From Fiesole you can do a 1 – 2 hour walk to Maiano. This trail is clearly marked on the Kompass hiking map.