So, you’re on the hunt for mountains in Italy? Get ready to have the breath taken away. From the Italian Alps in the north to the wild Apennine Mountains closer to Rome, there are countless places to pull on the walking socks. That should hardly come as a surprise in a country that’s even shaped like a boot! And where the famous mountains range from the Sassolungo of the Dolomites to the gnarled tops of the Matterhorn (or Cervino, as it’s known this side of the Swiss border!), there’s never a shortage of adventures…
Of course, over the decades, these stunning basins of peaks and valleys have become crisscrossed by paths. There are now hundreds and hundreds of miles of marked hiking trails in Italy. Some are hardcore via Ferrata that conquer the backbones of knife-edge ridges. Others are long-distance routes that wiggle from town to town. And there are lots of easy-going days walks for simpler enjoyments in the more pastoral side of the mountains in Italy.
This guide to the 10 best destinations for mountains in Italy and hiking in Italy ranges from north to south, east to west. It even heads across to the Italian islands for some inspiration. Along the way, you’ll get info on some of the best places to lace up and crack out the poles. Let’s get started…
1. Cortina d’Ampezzo
The chic resort town of Cortina d’Ampezzo hides deep in the recesses of the Italian Alps. This is often hailed as the spectacular heart of the Dolomites. It’s easy to see why. On one side is the jagged summit of Monte Cristallo, like a serrated knife edge dusted with scree. To the west come to the impenetrable Fanes Group, all twisted stone gnarled like frozen giants and curled fingers.
Cortina d’Ampezzo (or just Cortina) is conveniently sat in a wide valley. It’s close to the long-distance trekking trail of the Alta Via 1. That runs for more than 150 kilometers through the heart of the Dolomites – Italy’s most prominent route. However, there are countless day treks and multi-day hikes to undertake in these famous mountains to boot.
You can scale bluffs with sheer-cut sides to Lago Sorapis for a real challenge. The spear-like spires of the 5 Torri lurk above the plateaus, too, beckoning audacious climbers with vert faces. And the acclaimed Rifugio Lagazuoi is perched on a close ridge. It straddles some of the most iconic hiking trails in Italy and has sweeping views of the Dolomites to match.
2. Lake Garda
Big, blue Lake Garda bridges the gap between the rolling flatlands and the Italian Alps. It’s a stunning place to be, no question. Romantic medieval towns pepper the edge of the water, from castle-topped Malcesine to historic Limone. You’ve got cable cars going to soaring miradors. And there are pebble beaches where you can take a dip to cool off in the summer.
But Lake Garda also attracts thousands of adventurers each year. It promises access to oodles of mountains in Italy, not to mention heart-thumping via Ferrata routes that are sure to get the adrenaline pumping. To do those sorts of hardcore climbs, you’ll need the proper equipment. Helmets, harnesses, and a good level of experience are all necessary. However, first-timers can make for the hiking outfitters to get guides in towns like Riva del Garda or Torbole.
Of course, the hiking isn’t all sheer-drop via Ferrata in Garda. The north shore alone has loads of welcoming day treks. Some will lift you high above the Arco castle to reveal visions of the Dolomites. Italy also becomes truly alpine in these parts, with valleys like Tenno speckled with limestone-tinged lakes and dressed in fir woods.
3. Monti Sibillini National Park
A lot of globetrotters aren’t aware that it’s not just the Italian Alps that offer mountains in Italy. There’s a whole other chain of rugged peaks and summits to get through the Apennine Mountains. As a whole, they run for a whopping 750 miles through the heart of the country. They start in the southern province of Calabria and range northwards to the higher hills of the Ligurian Alps.
One of the hiking jewels you find along the way is the Monti Sibillini National Park. It sits sandwiched between Tuscany and the Sabina Hills that run eastwards from Rome. It dips into Marche and Umbria and spreads across some of the most tectonically active parts of the nation. Amid its 70,000 hectares, there are flowering meadows, alpine lakes, and grassy ridges.
The center of it all is the small town of Visso. Steeped in Etruscan history, it’s a great place to base your walking. From its narrow lanes and trattoria, you can break out to see the knife-edge ridge of Monte Vettore. Further north is the bucolic basin of Lake Fiastra, hemmed in by verdant slopes on all sides.
4. Apuan Alps Park
Whoever said Tuscany is all rolling hills and quaint wine towns? As you head north into the famous province, it also gets crumpled by the Apuan Alps. They are some of the best off-the-beaten-track hiking mountains in Italy. They conceal the Matterhorn-like summit of the great Pania della Croce and the jagged Pisano. And there are softer hills where meadows and lakes combine by the side of chestnut woods.
The most comprehensive introduction to the region for walkers is surely the long-distance Alta Via delle Alpi Apuane. That links most of the sectors of the Apuan Alps in 6-8 easy stages. Some parts start in cute hilltop settlements like Castelpoggio, where your day of tramping can begin with a cappuccino on the piazza. Others weave and wiggle through the wooded hills out of Campocecina, in an area famous for its stone quarries in ancient times.
There’s no question that the Garfagnana is the piece de resistance of the Apuan Alps. Here, the slopes soar suddenly from little Lago di Vagli. They crash upwards to the shark-fin of Monte Pisanino, which is the highest peak in Tuscany at 1,946 meters above sea level.
5. Belluno Dolomites
Words cannot prepare you for the paradise that is Belluno. Sat on a series of ledges above the Piave River, this one is surrounded by the dagger-like Dolomites. Italy hardly makes towns more stunning than it, especially when you factor in the romantic bell towers, the pastel-painted palaces, and the verdant terraces of emerald trees that ring the center.
But being beautiful is just half the story of Belluno. Just to the north-west of town is where the great National Park of the Belluno Dolomites unfolds. It’s considered one of the piece de resistances of the eastern Italian Alps, encompassing 32,000 hectares of the truly jaw-dropping landscape. It tops out with Schiara at a whopping 2,500 meters up. Other massifs include the snaggy edges of Monte Talvena. And there’s cathedral-like Prampèr, where a Refugio nestles under hoodoos of stone and dense Alpine woodland.
Come the spring, walkers will flock to the national park by Belluno for a glimpse of quintessential Italian mountains. That’s when the steep slopes and meadows come alive with a sea of blooming flowers and fauna. Everything from edelweiss to rhododendron covers the pastures. What’s more, stoats and chamois awaken in the forests.
6. Monte Arcuentu, Sardinia
In a place better known for its crystal-clear seas and white-sand beaches, you might think finding a hiking trail would be a chore. Not so. The isle of Sardinia is carved up by soaring ranges. Its center is claimed by ancient peaks formed during the Palaeozoic Era. They go over 1,500 meters in the midst of the great Gennargentu Ranges and create some amazing coastal cliffs and gorges along the way.
Moreover, Sardinia is a top choice for any trampers on the lookout for less-busy hiking trails in Italy. While other holidaymakers are sunning themselves on the Costa Smeralda, you can make for the hills. Be sure to add the trek up to the Colorado-like bluff of Monte Arcuentu to your list. Amazing coastal walks include sightings of splintered rock at Cala Goloritze. For intrepid types, meanwhile, there are the lookout points at the head of mighty Punta La Marmora.
7. National Park of Abruzzo
Cut through by the Sangro River, peppered with rustic Italian villages, and steeped in rich biodiversity, the National Park of Abruzzo is often called the heart of the Central Apennine Mountain chain. It’s situated on the Lazio-Abruzzo border, which makes it perhaps the best place to seek out mountains in Italy close to the Eternal City of Rome.
One thing’s for sure – hikers certainly won’t be disappointed. Covering the whole reserve is a web of trails. They squiggle through great valleys where hillside towns with pastel-painted villas sit. They zig-zag over karst formations. Moreover, they often delve into intriguing little villages. From Civitella Alfedena to historic Villetta Barrea, those have got castles and monasteries and Christian sanctuaries aplenty.
8. Italian Border of The Matterhorn Alps, Cervinia
Cervinia is nothing short of legendary when it comes to hiking in Italy. That’s because it’s home to arguably one of the most famous mountains in Italy – nay, the world. Yep, as you cruise through the fir-lined depths of this cleft in the Aosta Valley, you’ll soon spy out the iconic Matterhorn. Over the Italian side of the border, it’s known as Cervino, and it gnarls like a hooded giant above the town to the north.
Of course, climbing the Matterhorn itself is a challenge left only to the most experienced mountaineers. However, the valleys that unfold around it are home to all sorts of other Italian mountains and tracks. In fact, a web of more than 200 kilometers of marked trails weaves and wiggles across the Cervinia region. It offers up routes that delve into woodlands. Some that even cross the Swiss border. And – of course – treks to lookout points overlooking the iconic summit of Cervino in the clouds.
9. Lake Iseo
Right at the foot of the Italian Alps, where the urban areas feather away into pine forests, Lake Iseo is an easy-to-access taste of the mountains. You can reach it by bus from the nearby city of Bergamo in just over an hour. What awaits is a taste of less-trodden hiking trails in Italy, along with gorgeous medieval towns that spill into cobalt-blue waters.
Perhaps the prettiest spot on the lake itself is Lovere. An award-winning village with a cobbled center, it’s packed with cafés and pizzerias. Hikers will want to look away from the restaurants and to the plateau that lurks above, though. Right on top of the town, it’s called Bossico, and it comes with a theatre of small, wooded summits, farmlands, and curious geographical features.
Of course, Lovere’s not the only place to find great mountains in Italy on the edge of Lake Iseo. You can also cross over to Pisogne to get the Refugio-dotted heights of Punta Caravina. South of that is strange hoodoo formations in the highland village of Zone. In addition, there are hidden waterfalls and lovely lakeside paths with beaches and coves.
10. Cinque Terre
Last but most certainly not least on this list of the best hiking in Italy is the iconic Cinque Terre hike. With this one, you can forget arduous mountain ascents and look forward to something altogether more cultural.
The web of marked paths links the iconic pastel-painted villages of the Italian Riviera. They are all set between high cliffs, olive groves, and the sloshing waters of the Ligurian Sea. That means glorious panoramas abound. Plus, you get the cooling breezes of the Med the whole way.
Of course, arguably the greatest bonus of the Cinque Terre hike is the towns it includes. Popular sections connect places like Monterosso (have your Instagram at the ready for that!) and Vernazza. Each hugs a gorgeous cove with its ice cream-colored homes and promises seafood and pasta on salt-washed piazzas.
So, who says Italy is all about city sightseeing and pizzas? These mountains in Italy make sure you’ll get the best out of your trip with a dose of mother nature. While it’s undeniable that there are plenty of other mountains in Italy that is the best suit for physical condition and preferences, here’s some that you simply shouldn’t miss.
However, if you’re crossing the border to Switzerland, check out some of the best Swiss Alps here. You’ll love it, we promised!