The Best Hiking Trails in Northern Italy

Ponale trail near Lake Garda

Best hiking trails in northern Italy

After months of lockdown, the desire to go out and meet again outdoors is irresistible. One of the best holiday options for fulfilling this craving is to go hiking! And where else than in beautiful Italy?

I suspect that when it comes to Italy the first images that come to mind are stunning architecture, glorious piazzas, ornate churches, mediaeval hilltop villages, magnificent museums and art galleries, sandy beaches, lakes and volcanoes. Plus of course fine restaurants and cosy family trattorias bursting with the best of Italian food and wine!!  However, Italy can offer something else…it is also a perfect destination for an active outdoor holiday.

It is intriguing to explore Italy from a different “angle”… being close to nature, becoming part of Roman history by following in the footsteps of Centurions or admiring the flora and fauna of the national parks. Or possibly climb some magnificent mountains and stay in a rifugio (mountain hut or refuge) overnight and admire the stunning, vastly uninterrupted sky with its millions of stars.

So, we’ve collected the best 10 hiking trails in northern Italy suitable for all levels of fitness, including both short and long-distance paths.

Lake Como Greenway, Lombardy

Greenway along Lake Como

This route is a pleasant 11 km trail (one way) following the coast of Lake Como – starting from Colonno and passing through Sala Comacina, Ossuccio, Lenno, Mezzegra, Tremezzo and Griante. You can park your car at the starting point in Colonno and follow the signs for Lake Como Greenway. The trail is well signposted all the way. This route can be walked with children, as the maximum elevation gain is only 200 m, and there are several play parks on the way to break the journey up. It is not really pushchair friendly though.

From the trail you can admire the view over majestic villas and breathtaking gardens and you will be sure to absorb the heady atmosphere of beauty and luxury.

If you would like to avoid walking back you can return by the frequent C10 bus. The walk takes about 3-3.5 hours one way.

If you are staying in the area you can also visit the Sentiero delle Espressioni (Expressions Trail) located in Comana, Schignano,  not far from Colonno. This itinerary combines the charm of a walk in enchanting nature (trees, green paths, mule tracks, wooden steps covered with green foliage) with the beauty of art. In the splendid landscape of the Schignan mountains you will find a fascinating open-air art exhibition. The beautiful and characteristic sculptures are carved in larch and chestnut wood and distributed in the middle of the meadows and in the woods.

It is an easy 1.5-2 hours walk. From the centre of Schignano follow the signs to the hamlet of Posa (840 m), where you can park and start your walk.

Via Dei Monti Lariani (The Larian Mountains Trail), Lombardy

hiking trail in the mountains of Lake Como

This trail is near the Lake Como Greenway. While the Greenway runs close to the lake, the Via dei Monti Lariani follows trails in the mountains at an average height of 1.000 m. Most “monti”, which is the local name for Alpine pastures, are situated between 600 and 1.200m and the trail follows tracks which have been used for centuries by local farmers.

It is a beautiful hiking trail stretching 125 km from Cernobbio to Sorico on the west side of Lake Como. The “via dei monti” is divided into 4 sections, but unless you are super fit the sections are too long to walk in a day. 6 days would be the minimum for an average walker to complete it. The trail is well-marked with red-white-red signs and you will find several mountain huts and small hotels situated in the charming villages you will pass through. You can also just walk parts of the trail, as there are numerous roads and mule tracks leading back down to the lake.

Camogli to San Fruttoso and to Portofino, Liguria

the bay of San Fruttoso and the colourful houses of Liguria

This is a stunning trail starting from Camogli, the “City of a Thousand White Sails”. Overlooking the Golfo Paradiso, this little maritime village is located in the Portofino National Park. The hike to Portofino offers several options. The most challenging is the trail along the coast, where you’ll walk up and down quite a bit, before starting the steep descent to Portofino. The hike passes through amazing seaside villages with their colourful houses, leafy forests and rocky shores.

Start your hike by walking to San Rocco church, from where you have a magnificent view over Camogli. You can stop in the picturesque bay of San Fruttuoso for a swim in the turquoise sea and spend the rest of the day on the beach. Don’t miss the 10th-century Benedictine monastery built from golden coloured stone and the 16th-century watchtower. The hike to San Fruttuoso is about 3 hours and you can take a ferry back to Camogli, but make sure you check the timetable before you leave in the morning.

From San Fruttuoso you can carry on to the beautiful and elegant town of Portofino for another 2 hours hike. It is well worth the effort as Portofino is the jewel of the Italian Riviera.  It was a favourite of the rich and famous during its 1950s heyday and retains its luxurious air today. From Portofino you can take the train or boat back to Camogli.

In the Portofino National Park there are more than 70 km of hiking trails to choose from. The best time for walking is spring and autumn as summer can get very hot and crowded.

Sentiero Azzuro , Liguria

going through the picturesque villages of the Cinque Terre

The Sentiero Azzuro is the easiest and most popular path in the Cinque Terre area. It is divided into four sections and connects all the five villages of the Cinque Terre; Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare. The total length of the trail is 12 km with 500 m elevation gain and takes about 5 hours. The itinerary is made up of 8 km of paths, 2 km of mule tracks, 1 km of streets along the villages and 1 km is the famous “Via dell’Amore”.

“Via dell’amore” path is from Riomaggiore to Manarola, but unfortunately is closed for repair works until May 2023. However from Manarola you can walk the rest of the 11 km of the Sentiero Azzuro.

5 hours is only for the walk; you might also like to spend some time visiting the stunningly beautiful villages. It would really take a couple of days to enjoy it fully. Try to avoid the busy summer months and it’s best to leave your car in La Spezia and take a train to Manarola as parking options in the Cinque Terre are severely limited.

Alta Via dei Monti Liguri, (High Route of the Ligurian Mountains), Liguria

Ligurian coast and then up in the mountains

The Alta via dei Monti Liguri is a long distance hike (440 km) from Ventimiglia to Ceparana running through the Ligurian Alps and Apennines. It is divided into 44 stages and takes about 44 days to complete, crossing several nature reserve areas like Beigua National Park, Ligurian Alps National Park, the Capanne di Marcarolo National Park and Aveto National Park. Its highest point is Monte Saccarello (2201 m).

The Alta Via offers an itinerary for everyone: those who want to discover the most hidden corners of the Ligurian hinterland, those in search of adventure, or those who want to spend a quiet weekend in contact with nature or for a family day trip. And one attractive feature of the trail is that you can complete all 44 stages on bike or on horseback!

Following the signposts – red-white-red flag with the word “AV” in the centre – it’s easy to identify the route and it is walkable all year around.

The Alta Via also gives you the opportunity to visit historic and cultural villages, following paved paths in magnificent countryside, strolling through chestnut and then beech woods, up to the mountain pastures. From the highest point the vistas are breathtaking, allowing you to admire Corsica, Monte Rosa and Monviso Mountain peaks.

Il Grande Cammino del Monferrato, Le Langhe, Piemonte

vineyards of the Langhe area of Piemonte

The Grande Cammino del Monferrato was created by a group of friends, all keen walkers and wine lovers.  With their motto, “Alone you go faster, but together you go further” they developed this 382 km long eno – gastronomic circular excursion. The trail is divided into 18 stages corresponding to 18 days walk. The daily average is 20 to 25 km starting and returning to Casale Monferrato. As it is a circular route it is possible to start from any point you like and take as long as you like. There are also 4 shorter loop laps, with a few stages each, inspired by local wines.

The route is not signposted yet, therefore it is important to study the route before you leave on the website of Il Grande Cammino del Monferrato. If you register with the Association by paying a subscription of 10 € you will receive all the gpxs files for the journey including the off-stage and the 4 shorter loops. You will get a membership card as well as a certificate which can be stamped like on the famous Camino di Santiago.

This trail is all in the Langhe area which has Unesco World Heritage status, and passes through vineyards, medieval hamlets, charming villages and more remote rural areas. And of course there’s always the option of stopping to taste some delicious wine!

Sentiero del Ponale, Lake Garda

dirt roads and cliffs hanging over the hiking trails of Ponal near Lake Garda

The Sentiero del Ponale starts in Riva del Garda and it is one of the most beautiful walks in the Lake Garda area. It is a panoramic road that runs along the lake giving truly unique views. It is an easy walk of 12 km (Riva del Garda – Pregasina – Riva del Garda) and takes about 3-4 hours to complete with 470 m elevation gain.

The path was built in 1851 to improve access to the nearby Valle di Ledro, once isolated due to its position, and was open to motor traffic until 1992. It’s amazing to think that once upon a time not only donkeys but also cars were able to pass on this road. When the tunnel was built and opened to give proper and safe access to Valle di Ledro the Ponale path was turned into a hiking and mountain bike trail for trekking and nature enthusiasts. The route has undergone lots of updating more recently and reopened only in Spring 2021. As it is one of the most beautiful walks you can do in the Garda Trentino area it can get busy during the high season, in July/August, so it’s best to avoid that period if possible.

If you are feeling more energetic, you can carry on until Punta Larici (907 m asl), which takes about an hour.  The panorama from there is truly breathtaking, covering the whole of Lake Garda from  Torbole in the north to Sirmione in the south.

Sentiero di Balteo (Balteus), Aosta Valley 

Aosta town with its beautiful castles and medieval villages

The Balteo path is a new circular route of almost 350 km and was inaugurated in 2019. As it is a circular trail you can start it from anywhere and follow it for as long as you wish.  The Balteo path is a journey into culture and history through the magnificent Aosta Valley, which is dotted with ancient villages and imposing castles. The trail passes through a variety of landscapes; woods, mountain pastures, flowery meadows, apple orchards, vineyards, dirt roads and includes some asphalted roads too.

The route follows the “bassa valley”, with an altitude between 350 and 1900 meters above sea level, and is therefore walkable for most of the year. However during the winter months and late autumn and early spring you might be advised to take crampons for your shoes in case there is snow.

The Balteo path is divided into 23 stages with a daily walk of about 4-6 hours. This of course can be adjusted to your level of fitness and there is also the possibility of using public transport at various points. The path is very well signposted with yellow metal signs and the number 3 written inside a triangle.

You can see all the stages, with associated gpxs information, on the Aosta Tourist office website.

The tour of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo, Dolomites, Trentino 

Tre Cime di Lavaredo the stunning view and hiking trail of the Dolomite

This magnificent area of the Dolomites offers many varied opportunities for hiking amid some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet. Here we propose a one day hike, a loop from Auronzo Refuge, but for a longer trekking option start your hike from Cortina.

Auronzo Refuge (2320 m) can be reached by bus or by car on a toll road. It is about 7 km from Lake Misurina. You follow the path n. 101 which leads along the southern slope of the Tre Cime to the Lavaredo Refuge (2344 m), from where you continue to the Forcella di Lavaredo. Here, you can admire a magnificent view over the north side of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo. Continue to the foot of Monte Paterno until you reach Rifugio A. Locatelli. From the refuge, continue with path no. 105 at the foot of the west side of the Tre Cime, returning to the Auronzo Refuge. This loop takes about 5 hours to hike with spectacular scenery and a few hundred elevation gain.

Alta Via 1, Dolomites, Veneto  

stunning views in Lake Braies through the Dolomites

Alta Via nr.1 is perhaps the most beautiful hike in the area, passing through truly extraordinary and unique places in the heart of the Dolomites.

You begin at the enchanting Braies Lake, the largest natural lake in the Dolomites. The lake itself is stunning, and it alone is well worth visiting and spending a day here.

From Braies Lake, a 125-km trail leads you through dramatically beautiful landscapes amid spectacular mountains, all in a Unesco World Heritage site. The trail passes under impressive glacial cliffs beneath rugged mountainous peaks with immense vertical walls and deep valleys and finishes in the village of Belluno. The trail is at an average altitude of 2000 m and the highest point is the Piccolo Lagazuoi with its 2778 meters.

The Alta Via of the Dolomites n. 1 is a pleasant tour for both dedicated hikers and beginners. Allow at least 8 days to complete the entire tour that winds from north to south. This tour appears more challenging than it actually is. The trail is mostly flat, with some slight climbs and descents. However it is important to be aware that there are some more challenging sections like between the Sennes Refuge and Lagazuoi Refuge.  It requires a head for heights and may not be suitable for complete novices.

And if your timescale won’t allow you to undertake the whole route rest assured you will be rewarded with a unique and unforgettable natural Italian experience by completing any of the sections.

Read also our Guide to Trail Running Races in northern Italy.

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