Those who know me well know that while I appreciate the great outdoors, I’m not exactly a nature girl. I like a reasonable hike, but after an hour or so I’d rather be sipping wine and staring at something pretty than continuing a trek. Italy is, however, full of amazing places to go hiking – so rather than rely on my (limited) hiking experience in the country, I turned to my friend Madeline Jhawar, a former hiking guide, for her five favorite hikes in Italy!
Ask me about the “best” places to hike in Italy, and I’ll hem and haw. I’m not at a loss, but there are so many places to hike (and bike, but that’s another subject) – where to start?
If you enjoy hiking or just want to be active on your trip to Italy, it’s easy to add a day or half-day of hiking to your existing itinerary. Below are details about five of my favorite hikes, ranging from about 2 hours to a full day long, and from intermediate-somewhat-easy to intermediate-more-difficult. The hikes I’ve chosen are on well marked trails but you won’t find them crowded, hence the Cinque Terre – an absolutely spectacular hike – did not make the cut.
In order from North to South along The Boot…
1) The Vièl del Pan path in the Dolomites
This trail has incredible views of the Marmolada, one of the most famous mountains of the Dolomites. The mountains are big, but that doesn’t actually mean all the hikes are difficult or long. One of the best things about hiking in the Dolomites is that the ski infrastructure operates during the summer, so even non-hikers can take the lifts up and enjoy gorgeous views, then take the lifts down again. As an added bonus, the mountain restaurants, called Baita or Refugi, serve lunch all summer (and many have beds, if you want to stay over).
- Start in the town of Canazei, at the Belvedere lift.
- Park at the base of the lift. The hike starts from the top of the lift, which is open 8.45 – 12.30 and then 2 pm – 6 pm.
- The hike is about 3 hours one way, with 430m (1,400 feet) of downhill and 120m (about 400 feet) of uphill. The highest point is 2450m (8,000 feet). The path is very well signposted, and is one of the Dolomites’ most famous because of its incredible views of the Marmolada mountain.
- Places to eat lunch along the way include Rifugio Belvedere, Rifugio Sass Bece, Rifugio Fredarola, Rifugio Vièl del Pan, Rifugio Castiglioni. These places are all open from about June 20th through about September 25th, and as long as the lift is running, there’s no need to make a reservation.
- The transfer back to Canazei is easy by bus. The hike ends at Lake Fedaia, and if you don’t want to retrace your steps for 3 hours, buses run quite frequently during the summer. However note that the frequency diminishes after the lifts stop running, so even if sunset is not until 9 pm, don’t plan on hiking much past about 4.30 or 5 pm (my husband and I learned this the hard way, and ended up calling a taxi.)
2) The Greenway, along Lake Como
There are lots of excellent hikes near Lake Como, but the 10.5 km (6.5 mile) long Greenway is one of my favorites, because there are sights along the way (here’s a cute but not-to-scale Greenway map). It’s a well marked path between Colonno and Cadenabbia, on the lake’s Western shore, across from Bellagio and South of Menaggio. Since it goes along the lake it’s accessible from various points, so choose to hike all of it, or just part if it. I like the walk between Lenno and Tremezzo, which takes about 1.5 hours, combined with a visit to the famous Villa Carlotta. Start with a visit to the Villa Carlotta, then walk to Lenno, and take a boat from Lenno. Or do the reverse: take a boat to Lenno, walk from there to Tremezzo, and visit the Villa Carlotta post-hike, then have lunch in Tremezzo.
3) Camogli to Portofino
The Cinque Terre didn’t make this list, but I wanted to include a hike along the Ligurian coast. The area between Camogli and Portofino is spectacular, and the trails are nowhere near as crowded as those of the Cinque Terre (and they’re free!). Though marked with 2 red dots, I wouldn’t attempt these trails without a map. Depending on time and energy, choose a long or a short hike from the options below, and take the boat back the other way. Note that the boats do not run as frequently as you’d think, even in high season, so check the boat schedule before starting out.
- Hike from Camogli to the church of San Rocco’, a 30 minute walk with gorgeous views that takes you through olive groves. From San Rocco’, either retrace your steps or continue on foot to Punta Chiappa.
- Hike from Camogli to Punta Chiappa, a 1 hour walk, then jump in the sea when you get there! There are no roads to Punta Chiappa so if you don’t feel like hiking back, catch the boat back to Camogli. Or, continue to San Fruttuoso or Portofino, either on foot or by boat.
- Hike from Camogli to San Fruttuoso, about 2.5 hours one way. San Fruttuoso, a famous abbey and a great lunch stop, is also considered to be one of Italy’s prettiest fishing villages. There are no roads to San Fruttuoso so if you’re done walking, catch the boat on to Portofino or back to Camogli.
- Hike from Camogli to Portofino (via San Fruttuoso if you want, but expect a lot of stairs), which is 4 hours one way. From Portofino, catch a boat or a bus to Santa Margherita Ligure and (after a gelato of course!) catch the train back to Camogli.
4) Path of Gods, the Amalfi Coast
High above the water, and named because of its incredible views, this 2.5-hour hike starts in Bomerano and ends several hundred steps above Positano. After walking down the steps, have a drink, a swim, or just a gelato in Positano.
- Walk this either in the morning when the sun is at your back, or late in the day. Otherwise you’ll be walking with the sun will be in your eyes.
- Don’t hike it on a Sunday, when the path is full of Italians from the Club Alpino Italiano.
- The trail is pretty well marked, but you still need a map or a guide, because there are lots of little trails that branch off.
- If you’re looking for a local guide, I highly recommend Giovanni Visetti.
- If you enjoy hiking with a group or want to meet other hikers, join the Freeramblers on their next hike, or just read their rules for a smile.
- If you do the trail late in the day, and don’t mind throwing on a light sweater over sweaty clothing, Il Ritrovo is an excellent restaurant conveniently located at the end of the hike – at the top of the stairs.
5) Sicily: Stromboli Volcano
Climbing Stromboli is so much more than the experience of hiking up an active volcano, though that is a pretty key part of it. First, there’s the approach by boat: a perfect cone-shaped island rises out of the sea to greet you (hello!). As you climb the volcano, if you’re lucky, you are lured up the mountain by plumes of, um, fire. The descent is either at midnight or at dawn, depending on which tour you’ve chosen (and you must go with a tour). I recommend staying on the island of Lipari and hanging out (recuperating) on the beach the next day.
- It’s about a 3-hour relatively strenuous hike up to the top, then about 2 hours down. This hike requires at least running shoes, and ideally something with ankle support, because you’re basically walking in ash much of the way.
- You must take a guided tour by law. Tours leave at 5 pm with a midnight descent, or midnight with a dawn descent. There are only 2 tour companies and while you should ideally book before boarding the boat to Stromboli, you can also just figure it out once you get there.
- Don’t forget to bring your own water and if needed, snacks. Wear layers, because it gets colder at night and as you get higher up (the fire from the volcano doesn’t help much.)
And for any of these hikes, wear good shoes, bring plenty of water, have a map or a guide (or both), don’t forget to check what time the sun sets, and tell someone where you’re going before you set off. Happy hiking!
About the Author
Madeline Jhawar lived and worked in Italy for 5 years, part of which was spent guiding week-long hiking and biking trips at Butterfield & Robinson. She now designs custom itineraries for independent travelers to Italy. For more information or to read her blog, visit www.ItalyBeyondtheObvious.com.