Italy is a truly stunning country and what makes it so unique is the diversity and richness of its landscape – not to mention its fidelity to its heritage, its history and its culture. For the walking enthusiast it can offer a very memorable experience of old world charm, breath taking scenery and rustic beauty. You cannot simply dip into Italy, so start with the north and be prepared for a full immersion.
Northern Italy in microcosm
Starting from the top the remarkable Piedmont region could offer much for the experienced walker; bordered by Switzerland and France it sits between the imposing Alps where almost half of the region is mountainous. Travelling south to the Emilia-Romagna region keeps you to a similar theme; over 50% is either hilly or mountainous with the more robust walker able to take a crack at the astonishing snow-peaked Apennines mountain range. There is also a wealth of history and culture to be observed or sampled in Emilia-Romagna and its capital, Bologna, and it is a highly recommended destination. Next on the list are the rolling hills and agrarian beauty of Tuscany and Umbria. If you tackle this region of Italy you are in for a real treat; there is so much culture to digest! And digest you will, whether it be a fine bottle of Tuscan red or a hearty plate of Arista Alla Fiorentina – you can even pick olives from the road-side. It will certainly give you an added incentive to get your walking boots back on!
However there is much more to northern Italy than bucolic and rustic landscapes, and if you fancy taking a different type of walk then why not head to one of the many fantastic coastal towns? Affluent Viareggio offers a stunning and rather glamorous walk along a very long, shop-filled promenade. Alternatively if you want to get back to a more rough-and-ready milieu then just a few miles north is the wild, rugged coastal hamlet of Riomaggiore in the province of La Spezia. Just make sure you take a waterproof. Or you could venture further south down the coast and visit Livorno. You can easily get lost in Livorno as you admire the stunning canals, neo-classical buildings and the famous and historical ‘Old English Cemetery’; the oldest non-Catholic cemetery in Italy.
My Top Tip for Italy
As most walkers will know, the best locations are those found entirely by accident. Once such place I found was Montecatini Alto. The main town, Montecatini Terme, was pleasant enough if a little unassuming, and so I decided to drive on to find another destination. Eventually I came across the foot of an old, rustic path. I parked the car and started walking up. The path seemed to grow steeper with every step, but along the way I found more than enough to give me an excuse for a rest. An old man and his wife sat in an open rustic kitchen making Olive Oil to sell to passers-by, Catholic memorials could be found in the many nooks-and-crannies in the cobble-stoned walls, and a little gelato (ice-cream) stall provided some much needed refreshment. After about 45 minutes of walking this incredibly steep path (in a heat wave I might add) I found myself in Montecatini Alto and was greeted by some lovely shops and a cluster of attractive restaurants and bars.
This tiny mountain top village was truly breath taking and offered some incredible sights, but it hadn’t finished with me just yet. I found another path, a sort of panoramic path, which offered me the chance to walk almost the entire circumference of the town. There I managed to take in possibly the most astonishing scenery I have ever seen. I had stumbled upon this place entirely by accident, but how lucky that I had – for I was now looking out over the endless rolling hills and olive groves of Tuscany; framed by a cobalt blue sky.
Whether you traverse Tuscany or peregrinate Parma, Italy holds an abundance of charm for the walker. But it is incredibly diverse too and deserves to be viewed in its entirety. If you are seriously thinking about hiking through Italy then start with the north and take it region by region. One thing I regret not doing is keeping a diary, so I would highly recommend you take one to document the many different facets of this wonderful country. Make sure you take a wide or versatile range of clothing too; you really could find yourself anywhere!