10 of the best long-distance walking routes in Italy

Io Cammino in Italia (I Walk in Italy) is a campaign by walkers, guides, tour operators and hospitality providers, set up amid the coronavirus pandemic to work with local authorities to promote “slow tourism” on the country’s long-distance trails. The aim is to help rural economies hit by months of lockdown.

“In just a few days our lives changed,” says leading member Gianluigi Bettin, a guidebook writer and sustainable-tourism expert. “We became suddenly aware of our vulnerability. Now, even if our bodies are healthy, we can see that our society is not, and it’s not all down to Covid-19. Many of us see the chance, even the need, to reassess our lifestyle and values. And one simple way to do this is to walk more.”

The network covers almost 70 trails (from four-stage walks of around 60km to one of 1,006km) and most are now well-organised with waymarking, GPS and accommodation listings. Websites are mostly in Italian, but the group’s Facebook page can be used to post questions in English.

Here are 10 rewarding routes – all waymarked – with standout places to stay and eat along the way.

Cammino di Santu Jacu Sardinia

Various routes across the island, 1,500km
The Santu Jacu network – originally used by pilgrims heading to the north-west of the island to cross to Spain for Santiago de Compostela – takes in Sardinia’s wild interior and varied coast but also has historic and cultural interest, with bronze age nuraghe, Phoenician, Greek and Roman ruins, and Romanesque churches. A demanding stretch crosses the limestone massif of the Supramonte, with caves, ravines and bandit history; a southern section from Cagliari offers sweeping coastal views.

Stay
Agriturismo Pranu, near Nuoro

Farmhouse in 46-hectare forest run by the Meloni family, who also raise pure-bred Arabian horses. Doubles from €114 B&B.

Antica Casa Pasolini, Mandas
Historic house amid wine lands north of Cagliari, with exposed stone walls, fireplaces galore and old wood and wrought-iron furniture. Doubles from €80 B&B.

Eat
Su Gologone, Oliena

A stalwart of Sardinian cooking for decades: try spit-roasted meats with homemade wafer-thin pane carasau (a flatbread), and don’t miss a walk to the eponymous spring, high in the limestone crags.

Osteria Sa Domu Sarda, Cagliari
Unassuming spot offering Sardinian culurgiones (filled pasta). Close to the city’s main railway station, it’s at 51 Via Sassari. No website.

Cammino nelle Terre Mutate Marche, Umbria, Lazio, Abruzzo

Fabriano-L’Aquila, 257 km
Called Italy’s first “solidarity” trail, this “walk in changed lands” introduces people and projects devoted to rebuilding after the 2016 earthquake. Following the faultline, it links two national parks, Monti Sibillini and Gran Sasso, highlighting the wonders of nature but also the aftermath of the natural disaster, and tries to help communities create sustainable tourism jobs.

Stay
B&B Palazzo Rustici, L’Aquila
Small B&B in an 18th-century building with four rooms (two with balconies), cute internal courtyard, and apartments sleeping two or four. Doubles from €74 B&B.

Eat
Bar Trattoria Marcocci, Filetto, near L’Aquila

Small, pine-clad mountain trattoria near the end of the trail, with great house-made pasta. Spaghetti carbonara and lamb chops highly recommended.

Cammino di San Benedetto Umbria and Lazio

Norcia–Montecassino, 304km
This trail from Umbria’s Sibillini mountains, via the Abbey of Subiaco to Montecassino, follows the life of Saint Benedict, born around AD480 in Norcia, where the abbey that bears his name is still being rebuilt after the 2016 earthquake. The trail takes in other Benedictine monasteries, plus hill villages, thick woods and Apennine meadows.

Stay
Colle del Capitano
, Monteleone di Spoleto
Walker-friendly agriturismo near the Umbria/Lazio border with great home cooking, and free tent pitches for pilgrims. Doubles from €60 B&B, dorm beds from €15.

La Corte d’Ivi, Collepardo
Elegant B&B in hills two days’ hike from Montecassino, where guests are welcome to use the kitchen. Doubles from €50 B&B.

Eat
Ristorante La Panarda, Subiaco

Good local food and wine, plus home-cured pork products (for picnics) from its shop up the road.

Il Girasole, Trevi nel Lazio
Family-run trattoria a day’s walk from Subiaco, with lamb, rabbit and wild boar specialities.

Via degli Dei Emilia Romagna and Tuscany

Bologna-Florence, 130km
This Way of the Gods leads from Piazza Maggiore in the centre of Bologna to Florence’s famous Piazza della Signoria di Firenze, and is one of Italy’s most popular walks. It’s also probably its oldest: some stretches date from Etruscan times, and it was already called the Way of the Gods in Roman times. This is not a pilgrimage but a truly ancient route across the Apennines.

Stay
Bed & Breakfast Nova Arbora
, Sasso Marconi
This B&B is a day’s easy walk from Bologna, sitting in its own botanical garden within the Contrafforte Pliocenico nature reserve and right on the route. The garden has dedicated rewilding areas aimed at protecting endangered flora and fauna including, in its poisonous plants section, several mandrakes. Doubles from €70.

Relais Luce, Florence
Airy, six-room design B&B in a historic building walking distance from the station, with breakfast terrace offering classic Florentine views – of the cathedral and Giotto’s bell tower. Doubles from €140.

Eat
Salumeria Zivieri, Monzuno

Don’t miss a stop at this historic shop in the small town of Monzuno, two days out from Bologna. It’s known throughout Italy for its prize-winning sausages and cured meats, perfect for stuffing a panino. One enraptured fan raved about the “shocking libido” displayed by Zivieri’s smoked prosciutto!

Hosteria di Badolo, Badolo
Ancient hostelry just where the route starts to rise towards the Apennines, offering classic Bolognese cuisine, a standout being the seasonal wild mushroom dishes.

Via Francigena The Alps to Lazio

Saint Bernard Pass–Rome, 1,006km
This medieval route actually runs from Canterbury to Rome – and eventually Jerusalem. The main Italian trail starts in the western Alps then crosses the Po valley and heads through Tuscany and into Lazio, where pilgrims can heal tired limbs in ancient hot springs.

Stay
B&B La Romea, Lucca, Tuscany

A 14th-century building offering generous breakfasts in a marble-floored dining room. Doubles from €77 B&B.

Il Vecchio Mulino, Aosta
A restored 1768 watermill with six individual rooms and lots of reclaimed wood. Doubles from €80 B&B.

Eat
Cantine Bernardini, Lucca

Converted wine cellar with seasonal specialities such as tordelli (round ravioli), good vegan and vegetarian choices, plus homemade bread and tiramisu.

Cammino di Oropa Piedmont

Santhià-Santuario di Oropa, 62km
This route runs from flat rice fields near Vercelli to the Biella Alps in four short legs with increasing climbs, to a basilica in Oropa, home to a black madonna supposedly carved by St Luke and brought here in the fourth century. Taking in lush pasture and ancient forests, the trail was designed for low environmental impact but also to be accessible to visually impaired walkers. A highlight is Viverone lake in the Serra hills.

Stay
La Casa del Movimento Lento, Roppolo
Guesthouse near Viverone lake, in the HQ of the Slow Ways movement, with lots of help and information for walkers and cyclists. Doubles from €52 room-only, dorm beds from €16.

Future is Nature campsite, Sala Biellese
As well as camping pitches this site rents out hanging tents, tree globes and hammocks for a real immersion in nature. Pitches from €7pp.

Eat
Ristorante Rolle, Roppolo

Traditional restaurant with lake views from the terrace and freshwater fish and local meat on the menu.

Ristorante il Barbamatto, Sala Biellese
Pizzeria with bar and regular live music, next door to the Future is Nature campsite.

Via Romea Germanica South Tyrol to Lazio

Brenner Pass-Rome, 964km
The entire 2.271km route from northern Germany is based on the travels of 13th-century Abbott Alberto. After crossing from Austria via the Brenner Pass, it takes in Bolzano, Trento, Padova, Ferrara and Ravenna, crosses the Via di Francesco at La Verna, and merges in Lazio with the Via Francigena (see above).

Stay
Al Cavour 34, Trento
B&B inside 16th-century Palazzo Gallo, right on Trento’s Piazza del Duomo, with large rooms and a comprehensive breakfast. Doubles from €98 B&B.

Eat
Antica Birreria Pedavena, Trento

Artisanal brewery open since 1921, with copper barrels visible from the taproom, serving platters of local (slightly German-accented) cuisine and pizzas.

Cammino Celeste Friuli-Venezia Giulia

Barbana-Monte Lussari, 237km
This “heavenly walk” is the Italian arm of a network extending into Austria and Slovenia, converging on a pilgrimage church near Tarvisio. It starts at sea level near the Roman town of Aquileia, and climbs to 1,760 metres through changing landscapes, with food, language and culture a mix of Italian, Friulian and Slovene.

Stay
Hotel Patriarchi, Aquileia

Family business with restaurant/pizzeria in a historic town centre building. Doubles from €88 B&B.

Hotel Locanda Al Trivio, Castelmonte
Panoramic views from this inn high on the side of the Natisone valley, 1km from the village and pilgrimage site of Castelmonte. Doubles from €110 B&B.

Eat
Baita Botton d’Oro, Sella Carnizza

Rustic stone-built mountain restaurant – great for trying frico resiano, a rich baked cheese speciality.

Rosenwirth Hutte, Monte Lussari
More great views from this little chalet at the end of the trail, with vegetarian options such as bread gnocchi with wild mushrooms, and cjarcions (crescent-shaped filled pasta).

Magna Via Francigena Sicily

Palermo-Agrigento, 183km
This route crosses Sicily from north to south in nine stages, based on documented medieval routes from Rome to Agrigento. Unforgettable sights include the mosaics of Monreale cathedral; Santa Cristina Gela, a village 20km south of Palermo famous for cannoli and for Arbëreshë (a form of Albanian) being spoken; Prizzi, one of the highest villages in Sicily; and Sutera, at the foot of Monte San Paolino.

Stay
Hotel Leon D’Oro, Corleone

An elegant, seven-room hotel in a town famous in Mafia annals, with restaurant tables in its large garden. Doubles from €70 room-only.

Casetta Pizziddu, San Giovanni Gemini
One-bedroom wooden holiday house sleeping four, a day’s walk from Prizzi. From €40 a night.

Eat
Ristorante Civiletto, Sutera

Sicilian cuisine, fish dishes and Neapolitan-style pizzas at great prices.

Trattoria da Carmelo, Joppolo Giancaxio
Simple trattoria on the main square of this village in hills above Agrigento. Known for stigliole – barbecued intestines on sticks.

Via Peuceta Puglia, Basilicata

Bari-Matera, 170km
Suited to less-experienced walkers, this route, part of the Cammino Materano network, runs across central Puglia into “Lucania” (now Basilicata). Endless olive groves, drystone walls and trulli give way to oak and pine woods, then deep ravines near Matera. Walkers can refuel on crusty Altamura bread (famed since Horace praised it in 37BC) with sheep and goat’s cheese while walking between ancient villages and rock-cut churches. Not one for the hotter months of the year.

Stay
La Dimora di Federico, Altamura

Great-value B&B between Altamura and Gravina with simple rooms and breakfasts of local murgiana produce. Doubles from €60 B&B.

Masseria la Fiorita, Picciano
The father of current owner Maria Laura was a pioneer of organic farming in Basilicata. Today the farm also has a hostel, campsite and B&B rooms, plus a shared kitchen for guests. Doubles from €84 B&B.

Eat
Pecora Nera country pub, Cassano delle Murge

The Black Sheep pub, 25km from Bari, is a little way out of the village but famous among walkers for its beers and its braised pork shanks.

A suggestion – for carnivores – is to eat like a local in Santeramo in Colle, about halfway along the route. Several of the town’s butchers offer hot food to take away or eat at simple paper-covered tables. It’s mostly meat, naturally, with grilled horse a speciality, but lots of other choices, depending on the day.

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