Hiking in Italy

One of the finest hiking areas in Europe

Hiking in Italy

Hiking ( escursionismo), which includes anything from a gentle ramble through the countryside to serious hill walking, is popular in Italy, where there are numerous opportunities for walkers of all standards.

The most popular areas include the Alps, the Apennines (particularly in the Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo and the Sila Massif in Calabria) and Tuscany (e.g. the Alpi Apuane), along with the coastlines of Liguria and Amalfi, and the Italian lakes in the north. Those seeking challenges can find plenty on some of the alpine routes, although there are also alpine paths suitable for beginners and families with young children.

Those who enjoy more remote hiking may wish to try the interior of Sardinia (e.g. Gennargentu) or Sicily, where you need to be well prepared as rescue services are rare. Alternatively, you could follow the volcanoes’ route, which includes walks to the summits of two of Europe’s most active volcanoes, Etna and Stromboli. Many resorts in the Alps advertise ‘green weeks’ ( settimane verde verdi), when there are activities for summer visitors.

The main organisation for hiking (as well as sports such as mountaineering and climbing) is the Italian Alpine Club (Club Alpino Italiano/CAI, Via E Petrella, 19, 20124 Milan, 02-2057 231,www.cai.it  ).

It has a membership of around 400,000, making it by far the largest alpine club in the world, and oversees a network of some 450 local hiking clubs throughout Italy. The CAI is responsible for trail marking, which is generally of a high standard, particularly in northern and central Italy.

It also operates around 600 mountain refuges ( rifugi), providing accommodation and meals to walkers, a highly regarded mountain rescue service, and produces maps and a range of other publications. Weekend and week-long treks in many regions of Italy and abroad are run by the Associazione Amici del Trekking e della Natura, Via Santa Croce, 2, 20122 Milan (02-8372 838, www.trekkingitalia.com ).

The main hiking season is from May to October, although there are opportunities to walk all year round in many areas. In the northern mountains, walking is often hampered by snow from November to April or later, and the official ‘season’ may last only from June to September.

In contrast, winter and spring are the ideal time for walking in much of the central and southern parts of the country, although even in the south there can be snow on higher land in winter and early spring.

Alpine routes are at their busiest in August and anywhere south of Tuscany is likely to be too hot for comfortable walking in summer. If you’re hiking for more than a day you need to arrange overnight accommodation, as camping in the wild is forbidden in most areas. In remote areas of Sicily and Sardinia, however, camping is the only alternative.

If you’re hiking in a mountain area between mid-June and September you can stay at one of the network of rifugi, which are numerous in the northern mountains but much less common in central and southern areas. Rifugi may be run by the CAI (see above) or privately operated, prices at CAI rifugi ranging from around €15 to €35 for bed and breakfast.

Accommodation may be in dormitories, although a limited number of private rooms are usually available. Rifugi can be fully booked at peak times which means that they may either send you on to the next refuge (which could be several hours’ walk away) or you may end up sleeping on the floor. If possible, it’s therefore wise to book in advance.

Details of the location and phone numbers of rifugi are available from local tourist offices or the Guida Escursionistica per Valli e Rifugi series of guides published by the CAI.

Bookshops in major towns and cities and shops in hiking areas stock a wide range of maps and hiking books. The largest-scale maps are usually 1:25,000, which show paths and rifugi as well as topographical features and buildings. These include the Tabacco series for the north-east and the Dolomites, the Instituto Geografico Centrale series covering north-west Italy and the Alps, the Edizioni Multigraphic Firenze series for central and southern Italy, and the Kompass range, which covers most of the country.

Tourist offices are also a good source of information about routes, including places of interest and the local flora and fauna.

The Touring Club Italiano (TCI) and Club Alpino Italiano jointly publish a series of comprehensive walking guides, Guide dei Monti d’Italia, containing maps. A number of English-language hiking guides are available, including The Independent Walker’s Guide to Italy by Frank W. Booth (Interlink), Walking and Eating in Tuscany & Umbria by James Ladsun & others (Penguin), Walking in the Dolomites and Walking in the Central Italian Alps, both by Gillian Price (Cicerone Press) and Walking in Italy by Helen Gillman and others (Lonely Planet), which contains suggested walks throughout the country ranging from two hours to six days, plus a wealth of general information about walking in Italy.

If you wish to join a local hiking club or require further information about hiking in Italy, contact the Club Alpino Italiano, Via E Petrella, 19, 20124 Milan (02-2057 231,www.cai.it  ).

This article is an extract from Living and Working in Italy. Click here to get a copy now.

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