Balmy, not baking, sunny, not sweltering, spring is an ideal time of year to visit Italy – and with the country’s entry requirements more relaxed than they’ve been in months, many visitors will be jumping at the opportunity to return.
But with things not yet completely back to normal, you may feel you want to stay off the beaten path and away from crowded tourist hotspots a little while longer.
If so, you’re in luck – spring is also the perfect time to explore Italy’s natural beauty, so we’ve compiled a short list of some of the country’s best walking routes to hike at this time of year, stretching from the north to the south.
From the most hard core to more reluctant walkers, there’s something here for ramblers of all ages and levels of ability.
With their jagged peaks that soar vertiginously up out of rolling green valleys to create truly jaw dropping vistas, it’s not for nothing that the Dolomites are one of Italy’s most celebrated and well-visited mountain ranges. Spring is an ideal time to visit, as the alpine meadow flowers are just beginning to bloom, but the summer crowds are still several weeks away.
The famed Tre Cime di Lavaredo (Three Peaks of Lavaredo) hike can be comfortably completed in a half day, as can the uphill trek to the stunning turquoise Lago di Sorapis mountain lake.
More experienced hikers can attempt more challenging multi-day hikes, stopping off for the night at mountain rifugios (these must be booked well in advance) or camping along the way.
Gran Sasso, Abruzzo
Abruzzo is arguably one of Italy’s best-kept secrets from outsiders. It may not have the historic interest of better-known regions (its capital, L’Aquila, was severely damaged in a 2009 earthquake), but it makes up for it with a vast, rugged natural landscape.
The Gran Sasso (‘Big Rock’) and Monti della Laga national park, stretching over more than 2,000km, is one of the largest protected areas in Europe, and is home to wildlife including the chamois goat-antelope, the golden eagle, brown bears, and even wolves.
There are hundreds of miles of trails that can be explored, including a 300km round circuit. One of the most popular starting points is the Campo Imperatore mountain plateau, where Benito Mussolini was imprisoned until 1943.
The Umbrian countryside
Too often neglected in favour of neighbouring Tuscany, Umbria has its own emerald green hills and lovely medieval towns to explore, and fewer travellers to compete with.
A popular itinerary is the route from Assisi to Spoleto or vice versa, taking in the town of Spello, which every June (Covid permitting) erupts into a burst of flower blossoms with its annual infiorata. This scenic woodland trail, part of the ‘St. Francis Way‘, takes approximately one week to complete.
Calabria’s coast to coast hike
Inaugurated in 2020, the ‘Kalabria Coast to Coast’ trail runs 55km across the toe of Italy’s boot, which lies in the southwestern region of Calabria.
The fruit of a multi-year-long research effort by the Kalabria Trekking Association, the route starts in Soverato on the Ionian coastline and ends in Pizzo on the Tyrrhenian sea.
As well as beaches, the trail takes in hills, woods, and lakes. For added fun, wayfarers are provided with a free ‘passport’ which they can have stamped at various points along the way, which gives them access to discounts at certain restaurants and B&Bs.
Matera’s rocky landscapes
Forgotten for decades by the rest of Italy and only recently rediscovered by tourists, Matera has risen to fame in recent years in no small part due to its popularity as a Hollywood filming location, appearing most recently in the latest Bond film. But many of those who visit have no idea that the ancient city also has its own protected natural landscape on its doorstep: the Murgia Materana Park.
Situated between Matera and the nearby town of Montescaglioso, its sun-baked tuff rock caves, gorges and ravines lend the park an almost prehistoric atmosphere – and in fact its walking trails do take in the ruins of three prehistoric villages: Murgecchia, Murgia Timone, and Trasanello.
The park’s almost 70 kilometres feature canyons, a river, and the ruins of over a hundred rupestrian (carved into the rock) churches from the Byzantine era.
The Sentiero Liguria
It’s not without reason that anglophones have appointed the Ligurian coastline in the country’s northwest the ‘Italian Riviera’. Its gentle, sunny climate, golden beaches, and sheer green cliffs attract visitors from across the globe – and the Sentiero Liguria (‘Liguria Trail’) traverses the length of it (and then some).
The most well known stretch is obviously the 12km Sentiero Azzurro ‘Blue Path’ route through the Cinque Terre – but even outside of peak season, you can expect to find this over-touristed path packed with other walkers.
Instead, consider tackling some of the other 30 suggested walking routes on this 675km-long coastal path, which takes hikers through olive groves, vineyards, and ‘creuze‘ alleyways, and in the spring is dotted with yellow broom flower blossoms.