Five reasons to explore Italy's outdoor wonders in 2023 and beyond
With more natural spots opening up all across the country and old favourites being rediscovered all the time, the spotlight is on a different side of Italy — one outside of its museums, galleries and restaurants.
Italy is nicknamed Bel Paese (Beautiful Country) for good reason: from its dramatic peaks and cinematic coastline to Renaissance towns and postcard-pretty drives, it’s hard to beat Italian al fresco living. And with a host of recent and upcoming openings and anniversaries to inspire new trips, options are never scarce.
1. Celebrate a world record
Take in the sheer expanse of the country’s rural backbone along the Sentiero Italia Cai (Grand Italian Trail). The world’s longest mountain path spans all of Italy's 20 regions, each with its own distinct landscapes — from the Alps all the way to the ‘boot’ of Pulia, then across Sicily and Sardinia. First conceptualised in the 1980s, this epic 4,359-mile route was finally opened to hikers in its entirety in 2019, and from last summer, parts of it have been made accessible to mountain bikers, too. The work is not done, with a project in the works to extend it a further 620 miles; while the masterplan will take until 2033 to complete, the resulting Sentiero dei Parchi (Path of the Parks) will connect each of the country’s 25 national parks.
2. Mark 100 years of protected nature
Italy's two oldest national parks are celebrating their centenary this year. The first one to be established in 1922, Gran Paradiso National Park sprawls some 173,000 acres around the eponymous mountain — which, at 13,323ft, is the highest peak located entirely on Italian soil. Dotted with 59 glaciers, 183 lakes, streams and waterfalls, the park is home to the endangered ibex, which can be spotted along the 25-mile Alpine Ibex Trail. Also celebrating its 100th birthday in 2022 is the Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise National Park, which plays an important role in the conservation of wildlife species including the Italian wolf, Abruzzo chamois and Marsican brown bear.
3. Rediscover old classics
On the Italian Riviera, Cinque Terre's famous Lovers’ Lane trail — closed for renovation since 2012 following a landslide — is set to finally reopen in 2023. Less than a mile long, the footpath connects the fishing villages of Riomaggiore and Manarola, but hikers can go on to complete the entire Sentiero Azzurro (Blue Trail), a seven-mile route that links the string of five villages making up the Cinque Terre. What's more, the country has set aside €20 million (around £17 million) to restore the Roman-era Appian Way, which ran for 360 miles from Rome to Brindisi. While the project is in its early stages, sections of this superhighway — which has been nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site earlier this year — are open to the public, most notably in the Park of the Appian Way in Rome.
4. Cycle along Italy's largest lake
If you prefer to get around on two wheels, Garda by Bike, a continuous 87-mile cycle path circling Italy’s largest lake, is slated to be completed by 2026. A 1.2-mile section on Lake Garda’s western shore is already open to the public; suspended 164ft above water, the wood-and-steel pathway offers cyclists and walkers views of the lake and its surrounds. Food lovers can also pedal along the Cammino del Bardolino, a 60-mile hiking and cycling trail opened in 2020 on the eastern bank of the lake. Known as the Riviera of Olives, this shore has for centuries been home to olive groves and vineyards, and the new path – divided into 18 stretches of varying length – encourages visitors to discover its history and flavours.
5. Explore new UNESCO-listed sites
The Tuscan spa resort of Montecatini Terme was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site last year, putting the country’s storied wellness culture and outdoor thermal baths back in the limelight. Built around spring waters, the Art Nouveau town is one of 11 European destinations recognised as ‘Great Spa Towns of Europe’, bearing testimony to the continent’s 18th- and 19th-century spa phenomenon. Elsewhere, the northern city of Bologna has designed new guided walking tours to help visitors discover its 25 miles of city-centre porticos, another 2021 addition to the UNESCO World Heritage List. In a destination most famous for its traditional cuisine — think lasagne, tortellini and spaghetti al ragu — the recognition brings much-deserved attention to one of Italy's most iconic urban landscapes.
For more information, visit italia.it
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