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Adventure / July 10, 2017

The 5 best adventures in Italy

Written by: Molly McCowan

Italy packs a punch in the “romantic getaway” department—the country has colorful towns, incredible food, friendly people… and wine. But what about those of us who like a little adrenaline mixed in with their gelato?

Not to worry: Italy has plenty of options for thrillseekers. Here are the five best.


1. Climb the Via Ferrata

Italy’s Via Ferrata (“iron way”) is not for hikers who are afraid of heights. Created in World War I for Italian soldiers defending against Austrian invasion, this hair-raising network of iron cables, rope bridges, and ladders makes its way up some of the sheerest cliff faces in the Dolomites. Thankfully, the main trails on the Via Ferrata can be done in a day—good news for anyone who gets a bit wobbly in the knees.

Travelers who prefer solid ground can opt instead for a hut-to-hut hike through the region. The trek from Sexten to Rifugio Gardenaccia is a spectacular five-day trip, and adventurers can either camp or stay in “refugios” along the way. Start any trip into the Dolomites with a day and night in the charming town of Bolzano, which sits at the base of the huge peaks.

The Dolomites also boast some of the most extreme mountain biking in the country: head to the Apennine Mountains for the most rewarding trails, and stay in the town of Abruzzo to get a taste of everyday Italian life in the region.

Our friends at Explore! offer a budget-friendly eight-day Hiking in the Dolomites itinerary that includes a trip along the Via Ferrata.

At its friendliest, the Via Ferrata in the Dolomites is just a narrow mountain ledge. Photo by Kordi Vahle.

In places, the route becomes a technical rock traverse (climbers can attach themselves to a safety cable for these sections). Photo by Martin from Tyrol.

2. SCUBA dive the caves of Cilento

While Sorrento, the Amalfi coast, and the island of Capri are all world-class diving destinations, they’re often teeming with tourists. Adventurers looking for an amazing SCUBA experience with fewer crowds should follow the locals and head south to the lesser-known Cilento coast.

The Cilento coast (especially Cape Palinuro) offers some of the world’s most beautiful underwater caves. Much like the famous Grotta Azzura in nearby Capri, many of Cilento’s caves feature bright-blue water (this phenomenon is caused by light that enters the cave beneath the water’s surface). Swimming through these caves feels like being washed over by millions of blue sapphires.

The Grotta del Sangue (“blood cave”) is also a sight to see; it gets its name from the red algae that looks like dripping blood.

3. Paraglide over Lake Garda

Adrenaline junkies should head to Lake Garda, near Verona in northern Italy. Set up shop in Malcesine, a charming lakeside town at the base of a massive mountain ridge called Monte Baldo.

A ten-minute ride in a cable car takes travelers to the top of Monte Baldo, where they’ll take a leap of faith off the ridge to soar in the air above the city and lake below.

Go in April to October for the best wind conditions, and be sure to do a tandem jump with an experienced guide. We recommend the folks at Parapendio Malcesine.


Light enters the caves of Cape Palinuro though underwater openings, giving the water an electric hue. Photo by Capri.

Lake Garda is pretty stunning from the ground, but it's best seen from the air. Photo by Bardi.

4. Hike town to town in Cinque Terre

The best way to see the towns that make up Cinque Terre (which translates to “five lands”) is to walk. The villages—Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore—are connected by a trail system, and the entire region is part of Cinque Terre National Park.

The entire length of trail can be walked in about six hours. But most travelers take days, stopping to eat, drink, and relax in the quaint and colorful towns along the way. Cars aren’t allowed in most of these tiny coastal cities, so take the train to the starting city of your choice (either Monterosso al Mare or Riomaggiore).

The Walking Connection offers a wonderful four-day walking tour of Cinque Terre.

Hiking between the fishing villages of Cinque Terre makes this tourist must-see an active adventure. Photo by Luca Casartelli.

The cities and villages of Tuscany are not to be missed. But the region's true character is embodied in its countryside. Photo by Francesco Sgrol.

Tuscany’s best-known cities (Florence, Pisa, and Siena) are each worth visiting in their own right. But the true Tuscan sensibility can only be felt from a bike seat. Pedaling through rows of cypress trees on country lanes, stopping at wineries along the way, and taking in the vineyard- and olive-grove studded vistas of this region is the only way to go.

For an easygoing route through the best that Tuscany has to offer, start in Cortona and bike through the Chiana and Orcia valleys to Pienza.

Our friends at G Adventures offer a seven-day “Cycling in Tuscany” tour that has just the right blend of cycling, thermal-pool soaking, and wine tastings.

Do you have questions or comments about this feature? Email them to [email protected]

about the author

Molly McCowan

Molly McCowan is a professional writer and editor based out of Fort Collins, Colorado. Her love for travel sees her globe-trotting whenever she can, and she seeks out experiences that are off the beaten path so she can immerse herself in new cultures. She speaks fluent Spanish, so she’s almost always planning a trip to somewhere in Latin America. She also lived in Spain for a while, and backpacked across Europe on a shoestring budget. She hikes, camps, goes four-wheeling in her old Jeep Wrangler, and fly fishes in the mountains of Colorado regularly.

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