The Italian Countryside – One of Europe’s Best Al-Fresco Playgrounds
Combing exercise with the well loved Italian gastronomy delights (and of course with the obligatory vino stop along the way), you are spoilt for choice when it comes to exploring the great Italian outdoors. Whether it be the majestic alps, scenic lakes, historical hill top towns, vine-laden fields, or just simply the postcard perfect countryside, there is more than enough inspiration to find that Italian phrase book on the bookshelf and get yourself to the birthplace of “La Dolce Vita”!
What better way to really take in that stunning scenery, and be sure you get to stop off at all those off-the-beaten-track trattoria’s, than by taking the slow road by bike, or even slower, by hiking. There are numerous ideas for the outdoor enthusiasts to immerse themselves into the fine Italian culture. How about tasty cycling trips on the Chianti wine trails or a walk through the Piedmont region where a ‘walk in the woods’ turns into a gourmet adventure in search of the elusive truffle.
The Stunning Village of Vernazza in Cinque Terre
You will find plenty of other adventurous ideas here…
Thousands of kilometres of sentieri (marked trails) crisscross Italy, ranging from mountain treks to gentle lakeside passeggiate (strolls). In season (the end of June to September), northern Italy’s sweeping Alps provide superb walking with breathtaking backdrops.
South of the Valle d’Aosta in Piedmont, delicious rambles lace the truffle-and vine-laden countryside of Alba. Further south on the coast, Liguria’s Cinque Terre lets you village-hop along terraced hills choked with olive groves and dry-stone-walled vineyards.
More vino-centric strolls await in Tuscany’s Chianti region, while further east in Assisi, you can walk in the footsteps of St Francis on the wooded Monte Subasio. On the trails above the Amalfi Coast, age-old paths disappear into wooded mountains and ancient olive groves, skirt plunging cliffs, and offer the finest coastal views this side of heaven.
Even closer to Naples, Mt Vesuvius offers a relatively easy walk up to its ashen crater, from where the views across Naples, the bay islands and the Apennines strangely redeem this slumbering menace.
For more peering into craters, consider the more challenging climb up Sicily’s Mt Etna or a trek up the Fossa di Vulcano on the island of Vulcano. It is about an hour’s scramble to the lowest point of the crater’s edge (290m), but once you reach the top, the sight of the steaming crater encrusted with red and yellow crystals is reward enough.
For the ultimate Italian cycling experience, hit the saddle in spring, when it’s not too hot and the countryside is ablaze with wildflowers. Whether you want a gentle ride between trattorias or a 100km road-race, you’ll find a route to suit in Italy, with tourist offices usually providing details on trails and guided rides.
Cyclists adore Tuscany’s famously rolling countryside, particularly the Chianti area south of Florence. Foodies can combine exercise and feasting on a guided, day-long bike tour of the region. Neighbouring Umbria is also a great place to pedal, with an abundance of beautiful landscapes and quiet country roads.
Further north, the flatlands of Emilia-Romagna make bike touring a relative breeze. Add to this some of Italy’s most celebrated culinary towns, and you could easily spend a week cycling from one producer to the next, with pit stops at Michelin-star restaurants and rustic osterie.
– Robert Reid
See BBC Travel for the entire story