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 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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MAP: The best Italian villages to visit this year

Here are the remote Italian villages worth seeking out in 2022, according to a list compiled by one of the country's leading tourism associations.

MAP: The best Italian villages to visit this year

A total of 270 villages across Italy have been recognised as being especially tourist-friendly this year by the Italian Touring Club (Touring Club Italiano), one of the country’s largest non-profit associations dedicated to promoting sustainable tourism throughout the territory.

‘Orange Flag’ status is awarded if a village is judged to have significant historic, cultural and environmental value, as well as for being welcoming to visitors and outsiders, according to the initiative’s website.

READ ALSO: MAP: Which regions of Italy have the most Blue Flag beaches?

Villages can apply for the status if they are located inland with no coastal stretches; have fewer than 15,000 inhabitants; have a well-preserved historic centre and a strong sense of cultural identity; demonstrate sensitivity to issues of sustainability; have a well-organised tourist reception system; and show an intention to continue to make improvements to the town.

The list is updated annually, and in 2022 three new villages gained orange flag status for the first time: Dozza in Emilia Romagna, Manciano in Tuscany, and Sasso di Castalda in Basilicata.

See below for the map and a list of the Orange Flag villages according to region:

Montepulciano in Tuscany has 'orange flag' status.

Montepulciano in Tuscany has ‘orange flag’ status. Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP.

Abruzzo – 7 villages

Civitella Alfadena, Fara San Martino, Lama dei Peligni, Opi, Palena, Roccascalegna, Scanno.

Basilicata – 6 villages

Aliano, Castelmezzano, Perticara Guard, San Severino Lucano, Sasso di Castalda, Valsinni.

Calabria – 6 villages

Bova, Civita, Gerace, Morano Calabro, Oriolo, Tavern.

Campania – 5 villages

Cerreto Sannita, Letino, Morigerati, Sant’Agata de’ Goti, Zungoli.

READ MORE: Six Italian walking holiday destinations that are perfect for spring

Emilia Romagna – 23 villages

Bagno di Romagna, Bobbio, Brisighella, Busseto, Castell’Arquato, Castelvetro di Modena, Castrocaro Terme and Terra del Sole, Dozza, Fanano, Fiumalbo, Fontanellato, Longiano, Montefiore Conca, Monteleone, Pennabilli, Pieve di Cento, Portico and San Benedetto, Premilcuore, San Leo, Sarsina, Sestola, Verucchio, Vigoleno.

Friuli Venezia Giulia – 7 villages

Andreis, Barcis, Cividale del Friuli, Frisanco, Maniago, San Vito al Tagliamento, Sappada.

Lazio – 20 villages

Arpino, Bassiano, Bolsena, Bomarzo, Calcata, Campodimele, Caprarola, Casperia, Collepardo, Fossanova, Labro, Leonessa, Nemi, San Donato Val di Comino, Sermoneta, Subiaco, Sutri, Trevignano Romano, Tuscania, Vitorchiano.

Liguria – 17 villages

Airole, Apricale, Balducco, Brugnato, Castelnuovo Magra, Castelvecchio di Rocca Barbena, Dolceacqua, Perinaldo, Pigna, Pinion, Santo Stefano d’Aveto, Sassello, Seborga, Toirano, Triora, Vallebona, Varese Ligure.

Lombardy – 16 villages

Almenno San Bartolomeo, Bellano, Bienno, Castellaro Lagusello, Chiavenna, Clusone, Gardone Riviera, Gromo, Menaggio, Pizzighettone, Ponti sul Mincio, Sabbioneta, Sarnico, Solferino, Tignale, Torno.

Marche – 24 villages

Acquaviva Picena, Amandola, Camerino, Cantiano, Cingoli, Corinaldo, Frontino, Genga, Gradara, Mercatello sul Metauro, Mondavio, Montecassiano, Montelupone, Monterubbiano, Offagna, Ostra , Ripatransone, San Ginesio, Sarnano, Serra San Quirico, Staffolo, Urbisaglia, Valfornace, Visso.

Molise – 5 villages

Agnone, Ferrazzano, Frosolone, Roccamandolfi, Scapoli.

READ MORE: These are the 20 prettiest villages across Italy

San Gimignano has long been an orange flag destination.

San Gimignano has long been an orange flag destination. Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP.

Piedmont – 40 villages 

Agliè, Alagna Valsesia, Arona, Avigliana, Barolo, Bene Vagienna, Bergolo, Candelo, Canelli, Cannero Riviera, Cannobio, Castagnole delle Lanze, Cherasco, Chiusa di Pesio, Cocconato, Entracque, Fenestrelle, Fobello, Gavi, Grinzane Cavour, Guarene, La Morra, Limone Piemonte, Macugnaga, Malesco, Mergozzo, Moncalvo, Monforte d’Alba, Neive, Orta San Giulio, Ozzano Monferrato, Revello, Rosignano Monferrato, Santa Maria Maggiore, Susa, Trisobbio, Usseaux, Usseglio, Varallo, Vogogna.

Puglia – 13 villages

Alberona, Biccari, Bovino, Cisternino, Corigliano d’Otranto, Locorotondo, Oria, Orsara di Puglia, Pietramontecorvino, Rocchetta Sant’Antonio, Sant’Agata di Puglia, Specchia, Troia.

Sardinia – 7 villages

Aggius, Galtellì, Gavoi, Laconi, Oliena, Sardara, Tempio Pausania.

Sicily – 1 village

Petralia Sottana

Tuscany – 40 villages

Abetone Cutigliano, Anghiari, Barberino Tavarnelle, Barga, Casale Marittimo, Casciana Terme Lari, Casale d’Elsa, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Castelnuovo di Val di Cecina, Castiglion Fiorentino, Certaldo, Cetona, Chiusi, Collodi, Fosdinovo, Lucignano, Manciano, Massa Marittima, Montalcino, Montecarlo, Montefollonico, Montepulciano, Monteriggioni, Murlo, Peccioli, Pienza, Pitigliano, Pomarance, Radda in Chianti, Radicofani, San Casciano dei Bagni, San Gimignano, Santa Fiora, Sarteano, Sorano, Suvereto, Trequanda, Vicopisano, Vinci, Volterra. 

Trentino Alto Adige – 8 villages

Ala, Caderzone Terme, Campo Tures/Sand in Taufers, Ledro, Levico Terme, Molveno, Tenno, Vipiteno/Sterzing.

Umbria – 10 villages

Bevagna, Città della Pieve, Montefalco, Montone, Nocera Umbra, Norcia, Panicale, Spello, Trevi, Vallo di Nera.

Val d’Aosta – 3 villages

Etroubles, Gressoney-Saint-Jean, Introd.

Veneto – 12 villages

Arquà Petrarca, Asolo, Borgo Valbelluna, Cison di Valmarino, Follina, Malcesine, Marostica, Montagnana, Portobuffolè, Rocca Pietore, Soave, Valeggio sul Mincio.