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Autumn is the perfect season to leave Italy’s iconic cities and hilltowns behind and instead lace up your walking shoes and head into the countryside to discover some of the Bel Paese’s most beautiful trails.
The heat of summer, when long hikes can be uncomfortable if not dangerous in this Mediterranean climate, is a distant memory, and the winter’s heavy rains haven’t yet muddied the rural tracks. What you are left with are crisp temperatures, richly colorful countryside, and some of the year’s most delicious seasonal specialties to savor with an especially acute post-hike appetite.
Here are some of the most famous and beautiful trails which practically beg to be explored:
Sentiero degli Dei (Amalfi Coast): High above one of the most famous stretches of coastline in the world, the Path of the Gods lives up to its name. Here the view is divine, as is the heighty vantage point, and the 7 kilometer path running from Bomerano to Nocelle through terraces of lemon groves and vineyards rewards the walker with breathtaking glimpses of Positano, Capri, and the vast Mediterranean stretching into the horizon.
Mount Vesuvius (Naples): It’s a short but steep walk along the trail between the Mount Vesuvius National Park’s visitor center to the crater of this dormant (but decidedly not extinct) volcano, and once at the top you can circle about halfway around the enormous cone, still smoking in spots with sulfuric steam, and ponder the sheer immensity of the mass of material spewn into the air and over the surrounding towns over the centuries. On your way back down, enjoy the sweeping views over the Bay and city of Naples.
Cinque Terre (Liguria): There are a number of fabulous hikes along the picturesque Ligurian coast, dotted with tiny fishing villages (some, like Portofino, now tony A-list hotspots), hidden coves, and dramatic cliffs. The famous Sentiero Azzuro linking the five hamlets that make up the Cinque Terre is well-marked, but stretches are quite rigorous and parts close from time to time (increasingly often, unfortunately) due to landslides or collapses.
At a higher elevation, the Sanctuary Trail also links the five villages, tracing a route between each town’s hilltop sanctuary.
Via Francigena (Tuscany): This ancient pilgrim route runs from France to Rome (though it once began in Canterbury), and crosses much of Tuscany on the way. Though the route has a history which can be traced back to the Middle Ages, it has been enjoying a recent boom among both the faithful and the simply curious, who enjoy the route through some of the region’s most soul-inspiring countryside and through some of its most famous hilltowns. Tuscany has invested heavily in maintaining the trail, producing helpful maps and a website, and organizing budget pilgrim accommodations along the way.
Bocca di Brenta Pass (Dolomites): Italy’s Dolomites are undeniably one of the most stunning mountain chains in the world, and have long been loved by hikers and walkers for their dramatic spires and cliffs towering over lush meadows, thick forests, and crystalline lakes. The hiking here can be as rigorous (some of the toughest trails on earth are up these peaks) or as relaxing (many of the ski lifts are used in the warmer months to transport walkers to high-altitude trail heads) as you want, and the trails are excellently maintained and marked.
Cervinia (Valle d’Aosta Alps): This area is just this side of the Swiss border, and the landscape looks exactly like the depictions on chocolate wrappers or Heidi cartoons: snow-capped peaks, flowering meadows, pretty Alpine lakes, and wooden chalets. Like the Dolomites, the trails here range from beginner to advanced, and many trails can be reached by gondola at a higher altitude to avoid making the trek up the mountian slope from the valley floor.