Even though Italy is famous for its sunny Mediterranean beaches and slow-paced Dolce Vita lifestyle, the country also boasts some of the best winter hiking in Europe. From towering Alpine peaks to the ruggedly beautiful Dolomites, Italy’s Northern provinces are home to a wealth of superb hiking routes that are suitable for both highly experienced mountaineers and beginners alike.
Are The Italian Alps The Same As The Dolomites? Technically speaking, the Alps do actually include the Italian Dolomites however locals always make a distinction between the two. For the purpose of this article, I am going to include trails from both the Alps and the Dolomites.
The Best Winter Hiking Trails In The Italian Alps.
Italy has several great locations for winter hiking. The Alps and the Dolomites have several trails that can go on for hundreds of miles. Here are a few that you should consider:
Tre Cime Di Lavaredo, Dolomites – A Moderate 5-7 Hour Hike.
If you’re looking for an enjoyable, moderate hike you can try the Tre Cime di Lavaredo Circuit. Located in the Parco Naturale Tre Cime, The Tre Cime di Lavaredo are 3 of the most distinctive peaks in the Sexten Dolomites of Northeastern Italy.
It’s a 6 mile route that begins in Rifugio Auronzo and weaves through the beautiful scenery, always in sight of the amazing peaks of Tre Cime de Lavaredo. During the winter the circuit will take between 5 to 7 hours, depending on your levels of fitness and the amount of snowfall.
First, the route makes its way up to the Forcella di Lavaredo, at 2453 meters, where you’ll find spectacular views of the surrounding countryside and the Tre Cime. Next, you’ll follow the trail around to Rifugio Locatelli before circling back around to finish up at Rifugio Auronzo again.
This is an ideal route to try if you don’t have a lot of experience in winter hiking or simply want to take in the outstanding views of one of the best-known mountain peaks in Italy.
Alta Via 1 – Dolomites – Epic 10-14 Day Hike.
For experienced winter hikers and outdoor enthusiasts who want to experience a real Italian adventure, the Alta Via 1 trail is one of the longest routes in the Dolomites. The area is well known for its dramatic cliffs, huge mountain peaks and wide valleys, making it perfect for a serious trekking trip.
Although the route only requires you to walk around 5 to 10 km per day, the path is rarely clear of snow and if the weather closes in conditions can be quite tough. Overall the route is just over 70 km and reaches a maximum altitude of 2,750 meters, but don’t let the distance fool you because the hiking can be very difficult sometimes. The route is classified as being moderately difficult so you don’t need to be a trained mountaineer to manage it, even though it might not be the right choice for an absolute beginner.
The route starts at the Cortina ski resort and ends in Belluno; passing through impressive limestone cliffs, towering rock formations and varied gradients, providing dramatic views along the way. The area is also littered with fascinating World War 1 wrecks and debris that you can spot en route, even in the snow.
Sella-Herbetet Traverse – Graian Alps.
Located in Parco Nazionale del Gran Paradiso, in Piedmont, the Sella-Herbetet Traverse is a difficult hike that takes you through some of the most impressive Alpine scenery in Europe. Reaching a head-spinning maximum altitude of over 4000 this is not a route for the faint-hearted!
The trail consists of a 20.5 km round trip that winds through winter forests, fast-flowing rivers, pristine wilderness and steep mountain peaks. Starting in Valnontey, the 1 day trek starts out on an ancient mule trail and climbs up to Rifugio Sella, an old hunting lodge used by King Vittorio Emanuele II, at an altitude of 2588 meters. Next, the trail takes you to Casolari dell’Herbetet, a park rangers base, during which things can get a little hair-raising. In fact, during sections of this traverse, you need to hold on to a chain to stop yourself from falling!
Lastly, the route takes you back downhill to your starting point giving you a chance to take in the unforgettable scenery of the valley below after a very hard morning’s climb. As you descend you’ll be able to marvel at small glaciers, steep craggy peaks and the vast valley below, as you recount tales of the day’s adventures to your companions. This route is not for those with a fear of heights and during the winter should only be attempted by relatively experienced hikers.
Orobie Trail – Alps.
The Orobie Trail in Lombardy weaves through the stunning Alpine peaks and maintains an average altitude of over 2000 meters throughout. The 80 km trail winds through forests, snowy meadows and Alpine mountain peaks, giving you a wonderful range of scenery to explore.
The route starts and ends in Ardesio in Val Brembana and takes a week to complete. Each day, you’re required to walk between 10 to 12 km but in the snow and winter conditions, this can be pretty tough to keep up for a whole week.
In the central parts of the route, you’ll pass through upper Brembana valley, traveling by the amazing high peaks in the Seriana valley, Pizzo Redorta and Pizzo Coca. Once you reach Ardesio, you can travel onwards to Bergamo to rest and recuperate in the comfort of one of Lombardy’s best-loved cities. This is a fairly challenging route but you’ll be rewarded by some of the finest scenery in the Alps.
Hiking Around The Matterhorn – Alps.
The legendary Matterhorn, in the Valle d’Aosta, is a giant mountain that stands on the border of Italy and Switzerland. Not only is it one of the highest peaks in Europe, at 4,478 meters high, but it’s also one of the most recognizable mountains in the world due to its near-symmetrical pyramid shape. There are multiple hikes of varying difficulty that you can take.
Experienced mountaineers take on the Matterhorn each year but you can also hike in the numerous trails that crisscross the Alpine slopes below. The easiest way to arrange your hiking trip to the Matterhorn is to stay in a hotel in Chamois, right at the base of the huge mountain range. This allows you to set out each day to explore different parts of the area, with the warm comfort of your hotel waiting for you each night. This also means that you don’t have to be super fit to enjoy some of the most spectacular mountain scenery on the continent.
There are several great hotels in Chamois, in sight of the Matterhorn, including the Maison Cly Hotel and Restaurant. This lovely hotel has free WiFi, a sauna, free breakfast, babysitting services and is entirely pet friendly. There are standard rooms, suites and family rooms which all have a private balcony, a flatscreen TV, a safety deposit box, comfortable furnishings and a spacious bathroom. Room service is also available.
Essentially, if you want to enjoy the best of the Alpine wilderness and the luxury of a top-quality hotel, then a hiking trip to the Matterhorn is the ideal option for families, groups of friends, couples and even solo travelers who want to experience the beauty of the Italian Alps.
Turin – Susa Valley, Alps.
Turin sits at the foot of the Italian Alps which means that if you’re staying in the city you can actually take a day trip to go hiking in the mountains. One of the best hiking trips from Turin is through the beautiful Susa valley which you can reach in just 30 minutes by catching a train from Torino Porta Nuova to Avigliana train station.
Once you get off at Avigliana, you can walk up through the Susa valley to the Rocca Sella peak which stands at an impressive 1500 meters above sea level. Not only can you enjoy a delightful, moderately difficult hike through the splendid Susa valley but once you reach the summit you can actually see the Sacra di San Michele, a world-famous symbol of Piedmont.
If you’d like to make a full day of your hike then you can carry on to the 2 glacier lakes of Avigliana before returning to the train station to return back to Turin. This is a wonderful hike for residents and visitors to Turin who want to experience the Alps without traveling too far from the city. The route is moderately challenging so anyone with a reasonable level of fitness can reach the summit of Rocca Sella where you can tuck into a packed lunch while taking in the views.
Val Maira – Alps.
The Val Maira, in Trentino-Alto Adige in Piedmont, is one of the best-kept hiking secrets in Italy. The entire valley, in the Italian Alps near to the French border, is a walker’s paradise with dozens of fantastic trails to discover. The picturesque valley is magical in the winter time with snowy Alpine meadows and tall mountains stretching up into the sky above. Here you have a huge choice of trails and the area is also ideal for a winter holiday.
There is an excellent choice of accommodation in the surrounding areas that range from luxury chalets to budget B&Bs; so you have plenty of options in the area for a hiking holiday.
Among the many trails in the secluded Val Maira, some of the most popular include the 17 km San Michele to Ponte Maira hike, the 10 km Chiappera Circular Walk and the 9 km Ponte Maira to Viviere hike. The valley is also full of ancient villages, Gothic and Romanesque churches and plenty of restaurants where you can stop for lunch.
Great Winter Trails Near Rome.
I wanted to mention two trails that you can take that are closer to Rome.
Corno Grande – Abruzzo.
The Corno Grande, in Abruzzo, is a fantastic winter trek that beginners and experienced hikers can both enjoy. The 9 km round trip takes between 7 to 8 hours and leads you through rugged rocky landscapes in the Parco Nazionale del Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga, one of the biggest national parks in Italy.
The Corno Grande, or the ‘Big Horn’ in English, is the highest mountain peak in the Apennines and has a unique profile that is visible from all over Abruzzo in Central Italy. Starting out from the main car park at Campo Imperatore the route takes you up a steep ascent of nearly 1000 meters to reach the top of the peak. The final part of the ascent requires some scrambling but you don’t need to be a mountaineer to complete the hike.
From the summit of the Corno Grande, you can revel in the superb views of the valleys below as well as the Calderone glacier, the Southernmost glacier in Europe. The Corno Grande ascent is considered to be quite challenging but as long as you allow a little extra time anyone who is fairly fit can manage the climb.
Rome To Brindisi – Via Appia Antica.
Even if you’re living in Rome, you can still experience some magnificent hikes, right on your doorstep! The 12.9 km Rome to Brindisi hike takes you along the Via Appia Antica and takes around 3 to 4 hours to complete. Once you reach Brindisi, you can either turn around and walk back again or catch a local bus to return to the city.
The route starts at the 5th Century Porta San Sebastiano, the biggest gates in the ancient Aurelian Walls, and finishes at the 2nd Century Villa dei Quintili. Along the way, you’ll pass the Catacombe di San Callisto, where 16 popes and numerous Christian martyrs are entombed, as well as the Villa di Massenzio, the 4th Century home of Emperor Maxentius. Here, you can also see the best-preserved chariot track in Rome, known as the Circo di Massenzio.
This is a straightforward hike and is perfect for the culture vulture who isn’t sure whether or not they are ready to take on the mountainous treks in more Northern parts of the country! If, after completing the relaxing Rome To Brindisi hike, you find that you would like to try a more challenging route then there’s an amazing range of hikes in the Alps and the Dolomites just waiting for you to discover.
Italy Has A Superb Range Of Hiking Locations.
Italy has some of the best winter hiking locations in Europe. With trails that are suitable for absolute beginners and experienced hikers alike, no matter how much experience you already have you can always find a suitable route to explore.