It may be known as the prime destination for gazing at art and gorging yourself on the three main food groups (that’s pizza, pasta and wine), but there’s an outdoorsy side to Italy too, adventure fiends. When you’re not in a food coma or pretending to be Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, try hiking the glittering coastline, skiing in the shade of the Matterhorn or horse riding under the Tuscan sun.
Walk the Cinque Terre
For a hefty dose of sheer beauty, head to the Cinque Terre National Park in Liguria, where little chocolate box villages in pastel hues tumble down to the sea along the coast. The five of them (hence Cinque Terre, or five lands) are linked by hiking routes that hug the coastline – lace up your boots and walk the trails in a few days with regular stops in each village for big plates of spaghetti and glasses of the local sweet wine. Go in winter for peace and quiet, or in summer to snorkel in the clear blue water. You’ll struggle not to Instagram the hell out of everything, I warn you now.
Horseriding in the Tuscan sunshine
May I heartily recommend a stay at the incredible Borgo Pignano farm in the chilled-out Tuscan hills. Go riding around the incredible medieval estate on their friendly resident horses and soak up all the wonderful cliches – swaying cypresses, sun-soaked vineyards and gently rolling hills topped with dusky orange villas. The stunning medieval town of Volterra (yes, the one from Twilight) is a canter away too. If you get a bit saddle sore you can also help out picking olives, grapes and tomatoes in the farm’s eco-friendly veggie patch – this is where I learned to make passata and failed to learn to drive a tractor.
Bathing in hot springs near Rome
At Terme Dei Papi you can rock up and bathe in the delightfully hot sulphuric waters of their splendid stone pool for a mere 12€ for the day. Roman soldiers used to come here for a spot of winding down after all that empire-building, and whilst it does smell a bit like old eggs, when you get over this fact it feels lovely to swim around in the hot water, which gets hotter and hotter the nearer in the pool you are to the spring source, where the water is a scalding 58 degrees. I personally gained great pleasure from smearing all the mud from the bottom of the pool on my face and pretending to be a monster.
Skiing in Cervinia
I spent five months working as a seasonnaire in Cervinia, a cosy little ski town nestled under the Matterhorn in the Italian Alps. Cervinia is only an afternoon’s ski away from super-posh Zermatt on the Swiss side but it’s worlds apart in style – chilled-out, friendly and full of wooden chalet restaurants and warm pubs. Oh, and you won’t have to queue for a lift – result. If you crave a little bit of luxury, stop by the Principe Delle Nevi hotel after a hard day on the pistes – it’s just off the slopes and it does the best burgers ever. You can even have a little dip in their heated pool if you ask nicely.
For more ideas and tips from Italy lovers (including me!) check out Ingham’s Adventurer’s guide to Italy.