If you thought that hiking in Italy was all about vineyards and olive groves, think again. Yes, the iconic rolling hills of Tuscany are unquestionably magnetic, but this is also a country of soaring mountain peaks, dramatic coastal paths, and open country crisscrossed by shepherds’ and pilgrims’ trails. Watch the country’s history unravel before you as you follow trails past evocative castles and through enchanting villages that plunge you back in time.
Walking through the landscape also provides an excellent opportunity to learn about local gastronomy. Stop by local producers, pick up picnic provisions in village shops, or take a pit stop at a mountain refuge where you can feast on regional specialties.
What’s great about hiking is that regardless of your fitness level, you’ll always find something suitable — it’s mainly a question of picking the right length of walk and taking care to check the gradients and terrain.
So where are the best hikes in Italy? After some lengthy discussions with my fellow walkers, we’ve agreed that these six hikes are all very special to us for different reasons.
1. Fiscalina Valley, The Dolomites
The Dolomites mountain range on Italy’s border with Austria is one of Europe’s most dramatic sights, a UNESCO World Heritage landscape of lakes, 18 soaring peaks, and vast scree slopes with beautiful alpine blooms. Quite apart from the visual charms of the region, the South Tyrol is an intriguing area, with a remarkable World War I history and fascinating cross-border culture. Don’t be surprised to see menus featuring tortelloni alongside knödel and family-sized platters of cheese and speck ham, ready to be washed down with sweet apple juice.
My favorite Dolomites hike follows a thrilling circuit in the Fiscalina Valley. Walk along well-graded alpine trails to the heart of the Sesto Dolomites, with the literal high point being the awe-inspiring views of the Tre Cime peaks. With around 1,210 meters (about three-quarters of a mile) of climbing, and 1,215 meters (again, just over three-quarters of a mile) in descent, the 18-kilometer (11-mile) hike is guaranteed to set your heart pumping, so you do need a good level of fitness to enjoy this hike.
Pro Tip: Plan your route to coincide with a lunchtime stop at the Pian di Cengia or one of three other mountain refuges. For overnight accommodation, I love the four-star Bad Moos, where a pool, spa facilities, and stunning mountain views always provide a welcome finale to my Dolomites tour.
2. Pilgrim Trail In Southern Italy
Down in the far south of Italy, the region of Basilicata is a little-known gem. While most hikers naturally veer toward the pristine Pollino National Park, the dramatic coastline around the town of Maratea offers unforgettable views of a completely different nature.
For a reasonably challenging but not overly strenuous hike of around 13 kilometers (8 miles), set off from the pretty village of Trecchina, along a pilgrim trail that follows a moderate 700-meter (just under half a mile) elevation up to the picture-perfect Madonna del Soccorso church.
From there, the hike continues on shepherds’ trails across spectacular open country and remote pastures all the way to the mountainside mule track that leads down to Maratea. Be prepared for some spectacular coastal views on the way down, many of them overlooked by the dazzling white Christ the Redeemer statue which stands 21 meters (almost 70 feet) high, towering above the town.
Pro Tip: Take time at the end of your hike to explore the charming small town of Maratea, home to an astonishing total of 44 churches.
3. Santo Stefano To Rocca Calascio In The Abruzzo
Despite its location just east of Rome, Italy’s Abruzzo region is one that is generally overlooked by tourists. Visit in spring when landscapes are carpeted with wildflowers, or in autumn when the beech trees are ablaze with reds and golds. Home to three national parks and numerous nature reserves, this is one of Italy’s top spots for natural beauty, but while it doesn’t have Tuscany’s big show-stopping cities, it’s definitely the place to go for crowd-free medieval towns and mountainsides dotted with castles and fortresses.
The moderate 10-kilometer (6-mile) circular walk to Rocca Calascio from the fortified medieval village of Santo Stefano di Sessanio is a great introduction to this very individual region. Leaving Santo Stefano by road, the hike follows a path that climbs up through a broad grassy ridge to the summit of Monte delle Croci (1,458 meters/0.9 miles) and then continues past the octagonal-shaped 17th-century Santa Maria della Pietà church all the way to the imposing castle of Rocca Calascio.
Featuring in several big-hitting films, this great crumbling castle is one of Italy’s oldest standing forts, with remarkable views over the rolling Campo Imperatore plain and the Gran Sasso mountain peaks. From there, the path descends gently back down to Santo Stefano.
Pro Tip: If you’re looking for somewhere to stay in the area, the Sextantio Albergo Diffuso in Santo Stefano offers a unique hotel experience. This is one of Italy’s alberghi diffusi (“scattered hotels”), an admirable enterprise that has restored the village’s once crumbling medieval buildings to provide contemporary hotel accommodation.
4. San Quirico D’Orcia To Bagno Vignoni, Southern Tuscany
With decades of hiking experience to my name, there’s nothing I love more than introducing “newbie” hikers to the wonders of walking! And this pilgrim trail through southern Tuscany is a perfect place to start.
The walk starts in the charming walled Etruscan town of San Quirico, about 35 kilometers (just over 20 miles) southeast of Siena. It sets off through olive groves and vineyards, with glorious views of the rolling Tuscan landscape, and continues along wide peaceful tracks with open views of Monte Amiata, the Val d’Orcia and, in the distance, Montalcino. The trail is just over 15km but with moderate ascents (590 meters/a third of a mile) and descents (460 meters/just over a quarter mile), it’s a relatively gentle walk that allows plenty of time to take in the views.
The final stop on the walk is the town of Bagno Vignoni, where the astonishing natural spring baths in the central piazza have attracted walkers — and pilgrims — for centuries.
Pro Tip: If you want to experience Tuscan gastronomy at its best, leave time on either side of your hike to visit the beautiful neighboring towns of Pienza, renowned for its cheese, and Montalcino and Montepulciano for their wine.
5. Punta Marmora, Sardinia’s Highest Point
Sardinia’s white-sand beaches need no introduction, but if you’re a walker, then inland is the place to be. At 1,834 meters (just over a mile) above sea level, Punta Marmora in the Gennargentu mountains is Sardinia’s highest point but a hike to the top from the base of the Bruncu Spina ski slope (yes, you can ski in Sardinia!) involves a gentle elevation of just 350 meters (less than a quarter of a mile), so it’s considerably less challenging.
This is a 14-kilometer (roughly 9-mile) hike across a pristine landscape of shale and granite rocks. Starting at Bruncu Spina, the trail starts off on a rough gravel road that winds up the hill and follows the Gennargentu mountain ridge for about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles). After the Arcu Gennargentu pass, the track becomes a rocky winding path, with steps in places, leading up to the large stainless steel cross at the peak.
Pro Tip: Pack a picnic of delicious Sardinia bread, cold meats, and some of the best pecorino cheese you’ll ever taste and lunch alfresco with views over the coast and the peaks of neighbouring Corsica.
6. Monviso In The Piedmont Alps
The gentle trails through Piedmont’s hazelnut groves and Barolo and Barbaresco vineyards offer easy to moderate hiking, but if you relish a little more of a challenge, this circular hike around the base of Monviso is guaranteed to get your heart pumping.
Set off from the parking lot at Pian del Re, at an altitude of 2,020 meters (1.2 miles), following signs to Buco del Viso/Colle delle Traversette. The path continues to climb to the upper Lago Superiore, leading past a waterfall and climbing steeply upward. The views along the way are glorious — of the Po Valley and four glacial lakes that feed the Po River, including the turquoise waters of the heart-shaped glacier Lake Chiaretto. The trail isn’t overly strenuous at around 7 kilometers (just under 4.5 miles), with ascents and descents of around 500 meters (a third of a mile) but does include stepping stones, with ropes and a safety chain, across the waterfall.
Pro Tip: The medieval town of Saluzzo is an excellent base if you’re planning to hike on Monviso and in the hideaway Valle Maira and also want easy access to Piedmont’s gastronomic heartland of Barolo villages and the truffle capital of Alba.
How To Prepare For Your Italian Hikes
So exactly how fit do you need to be if you want to enjoy these best Italian hikes? With the exception of the hike in the Dolomites, most of these trails are fairly gentle and not overly strenuous. However, there’s no question that the better prepared you are for your hike, the more you’ll enjoy it.
Pro Tip: Regular walking on varied terrain is the best preparation, but as you can see from my post “Be Fit for Hiking,” I’m a big advocate of some pre-hiking aerobic exercise and pilates!
For more hiking inspiration, consider The Best Hikes In All 50 U.S. States, 8 Incredible Walking Tours In England, and 7 Fantastic Walking Tours In Scotland.