Most Americans who travel to Italy don’t think about hiking here, but they should. Italy has more than 30 National Parks and even more regional parks — all with miles of hiking trails. Each time we visit this amazing country, we include an area with good hiking. We always try to explore a new region, but sometimes we just have to return to a favorite spot. For a wide variety of easy, medium or challenging hikes, it’s hard to beat the Val Gardena, in the Dolomite Mountains. Here are a few reasons to check out this amazing valley.
Beautifully maintained and well-marked hiking trails
The distances are marked in minutes and hours, which is quite helpful. They also include the time it will take to get to the next Hutte/Rifugio for a bite to eat or a refreshing drink.
Alpe di Suisi Valley
Get your free hiking map from the TI or at any of the Funicular Stations. Some trails are wide enough for mountain bikes—others are steep and narrow.
Cathedral of Cremona
If are arriving in Italy by way of Milan, you might consider spending a few days in the delightful town of Cremona. I wrote a bit about Cremona awhile back, but that was only after a short day trip there. If you have the time, spend a few days to discover this quintessential Italian town.
We found a lovely apartment in the town center, not far from the Museo del Violino, The Violin Museum. Cremona is famous for its violin makers and above all, the Stradivari Family, who first started making violins in the early 1600’s. Visit the museum to learn all about the history of the violin and see wonderful multimedia presentations about how violins are made. This is where you can see some of the famous violins of both the Stradivari and Guarneri masters. Most weekends you can catch a short concert in their beautiful auditorium. Check their website for the many special concerts of the Stradivari Festival or other musical events.
A Courtyard in Arles, France
I’ve been on a bit of a break this past year, but there are more stories to tell. During my break from blogging, I pursued another passion—sketching with pen and ink and watercolors. I found some online courses through Sketchbook Skool and it really helped me stick to a practice of doing a bit of art each day. Keeping a sketchbook really adds another dimension to one’s travels. It helps to slow down and get a better sense of place. There’s nothing more relaxing than sitting in a beautiful piazza and listening to the musical sounds of the Italian language while sketching.
A piazza in Reggio Emilia
Now that we are back in Italy, look for more posts about our adventures. We are slow travelers, so we stay in one place and make an effort to explore the roads less traveled.
We’ll also venture into northern Portugal at the end of our trip. Stay tuned.
Everyone expects to eat well in Italy—after all, it’s where the Slow Food Movement started. Most restaurants and other food venues have been providing “fresh and local” for generations. However, there are a few tips to avoid those who cut corners and may disappoint.
The Daily Specials
Don’t settle for the restaurants that are close to a major tourist attraction. If you see a choice of menus in several different languages (English, German, etc), move on. Just a few blocks away you might discover where the locals go. Search for a chalkboard menu or something similar that lists the daily specials. If it’s all in Italian, don’t worry. Most waiters know enough English to explain their fabulous local dishes.
A local helped us find this great spot in Sicily
These tips are for travels in Italy, but they work for most any place you decide to travel.
Be An Early Bird-
7:30 a.m. at St. Peter’s Basilica
St. Peter’s Basilica opens at 7 a.m. most days. I’ve visited around 7:30 a.m. several times and I’ve never had to wait in line. Check the websites for your favorite churches and avoid the crowds.
Sometimes you wake up extra early on your first day of travel. This is a great time to walk the city streets, visit an uncrowded piazza or watch the shop owners opening up.
Visit Minor Churches for Major Artworks
Conversion of St. Paul by Caravaggio
When in Rome and Florence, especially, don’t miss the minor churches. You can find a Michelangelo sculpture or the amazing works of Caravaggio in several small churches throughout Rome. Google your favorite Italian artist and there are many great tips on where to find their work.
Spruced up Trevi Fountain
Almost everyone who visits Italy for the first time includes Rome in their itinerary. We give ourselves three or four days to see the most important sights and we leave the city exhausted and overwhelmed by all of the history and art (and food) we’ve consumed in too short a time.
Steps to Quirinal Park
Hopefully you’ll have a chance to return to Rome. When you visit the eternal city again, you can move beyond the crowded and touristy areas and savor more of the smaller gems of this amazing city. Once you’ve gone where the guide books say to go, you can now choose your own path—hopefully, with a slower pace. We’ve been lucky enough to return to Rome several times and we still are amazed at what we discover. Next time you venture to Rome, you might consider these other options.
Walk The Via Appia—The Appian Way
Sunday is the best day to take a walk along the Appian Way and explore some of the ruined villas or the Catacombs. This amazing archeological park stretches south from Circus Maximus for several miles. We took a bus (#118) and got off at the Catacombs of San Callisto. From there it’s a pleasant walk to see the Tomb of Cecilia Metella and several ruins of villas. We found a small tourist information office at Capo di Bove, where we got a simple map of the area. You can also rent bikes, which will get you further, but the roads are quite bumpy in sections.
Most towns in Italy are conveniently connected by an efficient rail or bus system, which makes it easy to select a base town for your visit. We chose to stay in Lucca because it has a wide variety of both train and bus connections. This made it easy to plan side trips to the Ligurian Coast as well as short day trips to the towns and countryside nearby. Here are just a few of the options you might consider.
Pisa’s popular Tower
The bus to Pisa is often the quickest way to reach this popular town. If you need to get to the airport in Pisa, the bus is very convenient because it actually stops right at the airport terminal. However, the train is also a nice way to visit Pisa from Lucca. Although the tower and Campo dei Miracoli are impressive, don’t miss the pleasant old city center. Give yourself time to wander the streets to discover the lovely architecture of the old university and the renaissance palaces. This busy university town is a fun place to enjoy lunch or an aperativo in the late afternoon.
Tower View of Lucca
One of my favorite ways to experience Italy is to choose a town and stay for awhile. There are many advantages to staying in one place for more than a few days. First, you can save money by renting an apartment by the week. Even a B&B or hotel will usually give you a better price for a longer stay—four days or more.
Piazza San Frediano
With Italy’s convenient train system, it’s easy to get to other interesting destinations—without the hassle of taking your luggage. Also, you will get to know a town better and you won’t have the stress of trying to navigate a new city (along with your luggage) every few days. When you return to your “home town”, you know where to find your favorite barrista, the neighborhood store, a tasty pasticerria and your lodgings.
The town of Lucca, about halfway between Pisa & Florence, makes a great base for exploring Tuscany. It’s also not that far from the Ligurian Coast, where you can find the popular Cinque Terre towns or Portofino. There’s even some excellent hiking in the nearby Apuan Alps or on the Via Francigena Trail.
Posted in Travel, Tuscany
On the Ligurian Coast between Genoa and Pisa there are many scenic towns and villages. But the most popular destination seems to be the Cinque Terre—five picturesque hill towns that are all part of the Cinque Terre National Park. These colorful villages surrounded by terraced vineyards and olive orchards are all connected by a series of walking trails that meander up and down the verdant hills and finish in one of the charming towns.
Crowds on the Vernazza Trail
Due to the devastating floods of 2011, three of the five trails along the coastline are still closed. This has made the two coastal trails quite quite crowded and popular—the one between Monterosso and Vernazza and the trail that continues from Vernazza to Corniglia. Even in late September, 2015, we found this area just a bit too crowded for our comfort.
The solution for us was the very scenic hike from the town of Levanto heading south to Monterosso, trail #1 & #10 of the Parco Regionale Bracco-Mesco.
Piazza Chanoux in Aosta
For this trip to Italy, we decided to visit Aosta Valley—the smallest of Italy’s twenty regions. This beautiful valley, in the northwest corner of Italy is bordered by the French & Swiss Alps in the north and the scenic Gran Paradiso Park in the south. We based ourselves in the town of Aosta so we could do some day hikes and learn about the area.
There are several advantages to visiting Aosta Valley in the fall. First, there are very few tourists and the trails and towns are uncrowded. Second, the weather can be perfect for hiking, with highs in the low 70’s (Fahrenheit) in the valleys and low 60’s in the higher areas. But because this is between seasons, most of the lifts and funiculars are closed, along with the rifugios that serve food and other refreshments. This limits where you can go and what you can see.
If you don’t speak Italian, you can also try French. Both of these are the official languages of the region. But since the valley is a popular tourist destination, you’ll find many people who speak English.