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Italy isn’t often considered among the world’s greatest hiking destinations, yet the country offers many locations best explored on foot. The best known example is the Alps. Popular with hikers year round, this mountain range divides Italy from the rest of continental Europe and is crisscrossed by thousand of kilometers of hiking paths.
Far fewer people visit the Apennines, Italy’s second great mountain range which runs across the middle of the Italian peninsula from north to south. While tourism in the Alps is firmly established, the Apennines are far more wild and unexplored. Here, you can hike along paths without meeting another soul for days on end.
We’ve highlighted seven of the best long distance hikes in the Apennines, roughly arranged from north to south, including century-old paths and recently opened ones.
Any list about long distance hikes in Italy cannot fail to mention the Via Francigena. One of the world’s great pilgrimage trails, the Via Francigena connects Canterbury with Rome. It follows the footsteps of Sigeric, the Archbishop of Canterbury who traveled to Rome in 990 AD to meet the Pope and was the first to record the journey.
The total length of the Via Francigena is approximately 1050 miles, including 620 miles travelling through Italy from the Alps to Rome, including several stages crossing the Apennines in the region of Emilia Romagna, Tuscany, Liguria and Lazio.
As the Via Francigena is a long-running and established hike, there’s accommodation available along the entire route, and it is not necessary to camp. The terrain is varied, from mountain paths to country lanes, forest trails and secondary roads. The main issue with the Via Francigena is that approximately 50% of the entire hike is on asphalt – however, there are variants available for those who prefer avoiding roads.
The Via degli Abati is a 120-mile variant of the Via Francigena, connecting the towns of Pavia and Pontremoli via a series of trails crossing the Apennines in the regions of Lombardia, Emilia Romagna and Tuscany.
Via degli Abati means ‘Abbots Way,’ as the trail was used in the early Middle Ages by monks traveling on foot between Rome and Bobbio, where an important monastery used to stand. Compared to the ‘regular’ Francigena, the Via degli Abati is hiked by fewer people, presents longer distances between towns, and higher elevation difference.
Camping equipment is not necessary, but those who prefer camping can do so in the forests of the Apennine. Most of this hike crosses forests, and there’s almost no walking on asphalt.
This hike connects two of the most famous cities in Italy – Bologna and Florence – which are divided by the Apennines. About 75 miles long, the route takes most people between four and six days to complete. There are plenty of opportunities to stay at farmhouses and B&B along the way.
The trail name translates as ‘The Way of the Gods,’ in reference to the many landmarks and mountains with mythological names, and to the fact that parts of the hike travel along a military road dating back to Roman times. This is one of the best long distance trails to appreciate the beauty of the Apennines. Unspoiled forests and foothills gradually descend to Florence, and there’s no better way to reach this timeless city than on foot.
Unlike other trails on this list that date back centuries, this trail was created relatively recently as a way to travel between the Adriatic and Tyrrhenic coast of Italy on foot. The hike covers many points of interest along the Apennines of Central Italy, including historic towns like Assisi and Orvieto, the stunning vie cave dug by the Etruscans over 2500 years ago in tufa stone, the sunflower fields of Le Marche, and much more.
This hike is approximately 250 miles long and takes between 15 and 18 days to cover. It starts from Monte Conero on the Adriatic Coast, crosses the Apennines, and finishes in Orbetello on the Tyrrhenian Sea.
The final part of the Italia Coast 2 Coast crosses the Maremma region which includes south western Tuscany and northern Lazio. The Maremma was sparsely inhabited until relatively recently, since it was covered by a malarial marshland until the early Twentieth century. It still retains a wild feel unmatched by other places in Italy. Naturally, there’s no better way to discover it than on foot.
Opened a few years ago, the Vetta Mare is a brand-new, 90-mile trail that can be covered on foot, by bike or on horseback. It joins the summit of the Monte Amiata, a dormant volcano in the Apennines foothills, to the Tyrrhenian Sea.
One hundred-fifty years ago, during the time of Italy’s unification, the Apennines between the regions of Lazio and Abruzzo were home to briganti (brigands), a group of outlaws and freedom fighters.
The Cammino dei Briganti is a 75-mile loop-shaped path that starts and ends in Tagliacozzo close to L’Aquila. It covers some of the wildest valleys in the Apennines, some of which were reached by paved roads only over the last decade. This trail is completely run and maintained by volunteers. It’s a great way to bring tourism revenue to an offbeat region, rarely visited even by Italians.
Shepherding traditions are still practiced in the Apennines. Tratturi are trails taken by shepherds and their flocks when traveling between the upper and lower pastures at the start and end of summer. The longest tratturi, the Tratturo Magno is 150 miles long and connects L’Aquila in Abruzzo to Foggia, a town in the southern region of Apulia.
The Tratturo Magno is also the widest of all Italian tratturi at 360 feet and allows shepherds and their flocks to travel comfortably. However, since the number of shepherds taking this route has decreased over the years, parts of the trail are very overgrown, and can be hard to follow. Similar to the previous hike, the Tratturo Magno passes through remote villages in the Apennines of Southern Italy, bringing much-needed tourist revenue to the local community.
The best time to hike the Apennines is between April and October, when you’re less likely to encounter rain, wind, and snow. In most cases, it’s not necessary to carry camping equipment, so a small backpack will suffice.
The weather between June and August can get extremely hot. We recommend starting your hike very early in the morning and wearing sun-protection shirts. A rainproof jacket like the KÜHL AIRSTORM will also come in handy, since weather in the Apennines can change quickly.
Margherita Ragg is a mountain junkie and co-creator of the adventure travel blog The Crowded Planet. Coffee, hiking and sleeping in are some of the things she loves best. Her husband, Nick, specializes in wildlife and landscape photography.
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