If you’re new to these sports it’s recommended you join a club to ‘learn the ropes’ before heading for the mountains. Although not for beginners, rock-climbing-made-easy is provided in several mountain ranges by the vie ferrate (literally ‘iron ways’), which consist of permanently fixed iron ladders, pegs and cables onto which climbers can attach their karabiners.
These were established as far back as the late 19th century and provide access to routes that would otherwise be too difficult for all but the most advanced climbers; for further information go to www.viaferrata.org.
There are climbing clubs in most towns, many of which are affiliated to the mountaineering section of the Club Alpino Italiano (CAI), Via E Petrella, 19, 20124 Milan (02-2057 231, www.cai.it), which has some 800 official mountaineering and climbing instructors.
The Federazione Arrampicata Sportiva Italiana, Via del Terrapieno, 27, 40127 Bologna (www.federclimb.it) can put you in touch with mountain-climbing schools that provide training and organise climbing expeditions for all ages.
Even if you have experience you probably need to hire a guide in an unfamiliar area; these can be found through mountaineering schools or independently at many alpine resorts.
Don’t take unnecessary risks and ensure that you have the appropriate equipment and experience for a planned climb or expedition. Many climbers lose their lives in the mountains each year, often due to inexperience or recklessness. The mountain rescue service, staffed by 7,000 members of the CAI, rescues many others who are inadequately equipped or experienced for the route they’re attempting.
Italy has been an important centre of European caving or spelunking ( speleologia) for over a century and the sport has enjoyed increasing popularity in recent decades.
There are over 10,000 documented caves in Italy, in areas as diverse as Lombardy, Marche, Sardinia and Tuscany, although the greatest number are to be found in Umbria.
Umbria was the original focus of caving and includes Monte Cucco, one of the deepest cave systems in the world, and the ‘Avenue of the Great Wells’ – a series of large underground wells regarded by caving enthusiasts as Italy’s most spectacular geological feature. Further north, a popular alpine system is Pioggia Bella, which has seven entrances along its 6km (4mi) length.
Those taking part in caving expeditions range from trained members of the various caving organisations in Italy to those wishing to experience a guided weekend adventure in the geological underworld of fossils, rivers and unusual creatures, including bats and cave fish.
It’s important to have the appropriate training, equipment and conditioning, and to be accompanied by an experienced guide to explore this dark and silent world (best avoided by those who suffer from claustrophobia).
Even an ‘easy’ cave system requires you to scramble over rocks, bend double (possibly for hours) in low passages and squeeze your body through narrow openings. In more difficult caves you may need to use rock-climbing skills and rope systems to cross underground lakes or even to swim under water. Newcomers can attend an introductory weekend, which are arranged in the easier caves, with all equipment provided.
For further information contact the Centro Nazionale di Speleologia, Via Galeazzi, 5, 06021 Costacciaro (075-9170 400) or the Gruppo Speleologico CAI Perugia, Via Santini, 8, 06128 Perugia (05-5847 070).
This article is an extract from Living and Working in Italy. Click here to get a copy now.