How do you enjoy all of that gelato and not gain weight? It’s easy—spend some time hiking or walking the scenic trails in Italy.
There are several dramatic mountain ranges to choose from—the Alps and Dolomites in the north, the Apennines that run down the center of the country, and a few smaller ranges in the south and on the islands of Sardinia and Sicily. For those of us who enjoy hiking, climbing and walking, there are a lot of great vistas to explore.
My husband and I like to do day hikes, then return to a warm shower, relaxing dinner and a comfortable bed. Pick almost any major mountain range and we get all this and more. On all our treks in the Dolomites, we’ve found groomed trails, access to alpine trailheads via a tram or funicular and good signage. We like to go early in the hiking season—the first week of June, to avoid the crowds.
After a few hours of walking, we always find a rifugio or hutte serving espresso and a fresh cornetto in the morning or a hearty lunch and a refreshing beer midday. In the northern Dolomites, they even indicate which ones are open, so you can plan your hikes around your favorite lunch spot.
Many of the hiking trails are ski runs in the wintertime, so there are small B&Bs and larger hotels and spas for overnight stays in the higher altitudes. It would be easy to plan a trip to traverse the alpine trails for a week or longer—and find comfortable lodging along the way. For a shorter hike, there’s always a tram ride down the mountain to a nearby village.
Along the coast, there are many more scenic day hikes beyond the famous trails of the Cinque Terre. Pick any beautiful spot on Italy’s coastline and you’ll probably find a great walking trail. We enjoyed the trails on the Amalfi Coast that connect the towns to the lemon orchards and other neighboring towns. Walk among the aromatic orchards or seek out the longer Sentiero degli Dei—Path of the Gods, with dramatic views of the coast below.
If you end your hike in Positano, be sure to seek out a lemon granita while you’re there.
In Umbria, you can follow the routes of St. Francis using the more rustic Franciscan Trail and the Sentiero della Pace. You can even ride a mountain bike on some of these trails. In other parts of Italy, you might run across the Via Francigena, which is an old pilgrim’s trail that actually starts in England and crosses Europe into Italy for the final destination of Rome. These trails are not as developed as some, so they are marked by colored symbols & numbers that you may find on a big stone, signpost or even a tree.
The internet is a great resource for maps and guided walks in Italy. For our short day hikes, we research a bit using the internet and books. We also use the simple maps we find at the local Tourist Information Offices. If you plan to do a longer hike, it’s a good idea to hire a guide or invest in the more professional maps you can find online or in book stores. My advice is to purchase your books and maps ahead of time because the local book stores are limited with English versions.
Italy offers a wide variety of choices for communing with nature. There are 24 National Parks with trails to explore. Some of the trails are better marked than others, and some have more amenities. But when you finish your trek, you will always have the reward of a delicious Italian meal, a tasty beer or a refreshing gelato to celebrate your day.