Long-Distance Hiking in the Northern Apennines

A Family Excursion through Italy
By Michael H. Brown
  |  Gorp.com
A Tuscan local shares a bottle of homemade wine with the weary travelers
The joy of Italian hiking

On the edge of the little village of Groppoli, we asked a man in workpants and undershirt if there was un bar around. The afternoon Tuscan sun and our weighty backpacks had formed an increasingly hostile alliance, and the three of us — 15-year-old Cate and her two middle-aged parents — were ready to surrender.

The white-haired gentleman shook his head in the negative and darted elfinlike into his white stucco house. In two seconds he was back with a bottle of red wine that he insisted on sharing with the adults. The brew was homemade and delicious, and our accommodation that evening turned out to be the grassy hillside where it originated. From our new friend's vineyard, we looked out our tent onto the terra-cotta roofs of Groppoli below and up to the rounded peaks of Italy's Northern Apennine Mountains above.

Our host that night had what my wife, Margaret, calls the Italian chromosome for kindness. His little piece of farmland certainly had a beautiful view. Those two ingredients — warm hospitality and great scenery — make a walking trip through the Northern Apennines a rewarding adventure.

A Family Trek

Our family trek in this little-visited corner of Italy started on the Cinque Terre shore of the Mediterranean east of Genoa and ended 18 days later on the top of the razor-thin ridge that separates Tuscany from Emilia-Romagna, the region that gives the world Parmesan cheese. It is an excursion I would recommend to any family that likes to vacation on foot — with three caveats:

  1. The Apennines are not the Alps; don't expect dramatic snowcapped peaks. What you do get in this milder, lower-altitude chain — the Apennines are about half as high as their more famous neighbors to the north — are miles of grassy, treeless ridge tops with unlimited vistas.

  2. You never stray far from small hamlets, so if it's wilderness you're after, this isn't an itinerary for you. On the other hand, if you don't mind a glass of vino frizzante — or limonata for the kids — with your lunch stops, it should do just fine.

  3. Be prepared to get, if not lost, at least befuddled on a regular basis. The Northern Apennines lack the popularity and trekking groups you find in the Alps — a blessing, to be sure. We saw not one other American hiker along the way, and precious few Europeans. The corollary is, however, that in some places these mountains also lack well-marked, well-established trails. Just remember the Latin proverb"Make haste slowly" and you should be OK.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 3 Dec 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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