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DISCOVER ITALY

Six Italian walking holiday destinations that are perfect for spring

There's no better time of year than spring to scratch that itchy foot by taking it on a walking holiday to Italy.

A walk in the dolomites.
A walk in the dolomites. Photo by Ales Krivec on Unsplash

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.

The Dolomites

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.

READ ALSO: Seven crowd-free alternatives to Italy’s tourist hotspots

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.

The dolomites provide hikers with a jaw dropping backdrop.

The Dolomites provide both expert and amateur hikers with a jaw dropping backdrop. Photo by G-R Mottez on Unsplash

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.

READ ALSO: 13 places in Italy that look like they belong in a fairy tale

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.

Expect to encounter shepherds herding their flocks of sheep if you visit Gran Sasso in the spring.

Expect to encounter shepherds herding their flocks of sheep if you visit Gran Sasso in the spring. Photo by sterlinglanier Lanier on Unsplash

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.

READ ALSO: IN PHOTOS: Italian village bursts into bloom in annual ‘flowering’

Umbria bursts into flower in the spring.

Umbria bursts into flower in the spring. Photo by sterlinglanier Lanier on Unsplash

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.

READ ALSO: TRAVEL: Five lesser-known Italian summer destinations to visit this year

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. 

Two coastlines' worth of golden sands and turquoise seas await hikers who attempt the Kalabria Coast to Coast trail.

Two coastlines’ worth of golden sands and turquoise seas await hikers who attempt the Kalabria Coast to Coast trail. Photo by Diego Geraldi on Unsplash

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.

READ ALSO: Weekend Wanderlust: Matera, Italy’s city of caves, contrasts, and culture

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.

Matera is home to the Murgia Materana Park.

Matera is home to the Murgia Materana Park. Photo by Francesco Dondi on Unsplash

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.

READ ALSO: REVEALED: The parts of Italy where Italians are going on holiday this summer

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.

Vernazza sits on the Ligurian coastline.
Vernazza sits on the Ligurian coastline. Photo by Robert Anitei on Unsplash

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DISCOVER ITALY

TRAVEL: Nine overlooked Italian towns you should visit

Italy is much more than just the glamour of Rome, Venice or Florence - but some must-see destinations suffer from negative reputations, says Silvia Marchetti.

TRAVEL: Nine overlooked Italian towns you should visit

There are many underrated places in Italy far from the madding crowd that should be more valued and discovered, but which are neglected by traditional tourist routes, and in some cases, which suffer from prejudice and a superficial negative reputation.

Caserta

This town near Naples is notorious as an area which suffers from the presence of organised criminal gangs but it should be famous for so much more: it makes the best buffalo milk mozzarella in Italy (the real, original one) and has a lovely ancient district called Caserta Vecchia, which lies higher up the hills.

The town most famously boasts the Reggia, a lavish royal palace with gardens and fountains that outshines the Palace of Versailles. It’s really worth exiting the A1 highroad just to visit the Reggia.

The Reggia di Caserta, a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the great Royal Palaces of Europe. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

Lampedusa 

Everyone knows Sicily’s Lampedusa island is the ‘door to Europe’ for many migrant arrivals, and often a place of sea tragedies. Despite the gloom, it has one of the world’s top rated beaches in front of the Isola dei Conigli’ (Rabbit Island) with turquoise clear waters and powder-white sand where loggerhead turtles lay their eggs. Locals sunbathe on the rocky platforms cut into the surrounding white limestone cliffs. I’ve been to the Maldives and Indonesia but I’ve never seen a more beautiful beach anywhere.

Reggio Calabria

At the tip of the boot, the regional capital of Calabria doesn’t usually top travelers’ bucket lists – but it should. It has a lovely palm-lined seafront promenade and its main museum showcases the Riace Bronzes, the ancient Greek sculptures of two perfect men warriors, found at the bottom of the sea and listed as UNESCO world heritage attractions. I stood for hours admiring their stunning sculpted bodies, wondering if ancient men were really so hot.

Is this what men looked like 2,500 years ago? The Riace Bronzes are display in Calabria’s capital. (Photo by VINCENZO PINTO / AFP)

Termoli

The town of Termoli on the Adriatic coast is another hidden, unknown gem. Popular just as the departure port to the Tremiti islands it has a gorgeous ancient walled centro storico with pastel-colored houses and some of Italy’s narrowest alleys, with views of the traditional trabocchi, old fishermen’s wooden huts suspended above the water. Plus, it makes a superbly tasty huge brodetto fish soup. 

Orgosolo

In deep Sardinia far from the loud VIP beaches is Orgosolo, the center of the wild Barbagia, a once bandit-sacked area. The town is covered in wall paintings depicting rural life and trompe-l’oeils of grannies sitting at doorsteps and running horses. 

Trapani

In western Sicily was another unexpected pleasant surprise. I went there to embark to the Egadi islands but on my way back home I decided to visit this old seaside town dotted with dozens of white-washed chapels belonging to artisan brotherhoods. I explored a very vibrant fish market and discovered extraordinary salt pans dating back to Phoenician times, with windmills and pyramids of salt. When the sun sets the salines, surrounded by the exotic vegetation of a natural reserve, turn purple and blue. 

Trapani’s salt pans. Photo Silvia Marchetti

Milazzo

On the other side of Sicily is an industrial town where tourists go just to set sail for the Aeolian islands, which is a pity. They miss its unique historic center. The upper part of the town boasts a medieval castle-fortress with an armory museum while from the abandoned lighthouse there are breathtaking views of the entire coast, dotted with tiny rock chapels and crypts cut inside the cliffs open to the public. I never thought such a low-profile place could have so many interesting spots.

Latina

South of Rome lies this city which was founded during fascism and has been completely preserved. Its residents are often seen as fascist nostalgics, however, for history lovers it’s like traveling back in time. 

The original architecture of the 1930s includes imposing monuments, buildings and big statues hailing to the ‘Italian farmer pioneer’ which was at the core of the fascist ideology. The main city buildings still bear Mussolini’s favorite pompous mottos engraved over the entrances.

There’s a unique ‘malaria museum’ showing the story of the fight against the malaria which for centuries infested the surrounding plains. Old blood samples of infected people and different types of dried mosquitoes can be seen stuck behind glass cases. 

Terracina

Close to Latina is Terracina, another under-the-radar town right in the middle between Rome and Naples along the coast. What makes this place a must-see destination is the massive clifftop temple sanctuary of Jupiter Anxur built by the ancient Romans which is open to the public. The view stretches to Vesuvius and the temple’s reddish-golden stones glow at dawn. 

There are so many other overlooked places in Italy worth discovering, even though it often means going beyond appearances or assumptions.

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