Long-Distance Hiking in the Northern Apennines

Our Plan?
By Michael H. Brown
  |  Gorp.com
View of Vernazza, on the Cinque Terre coast

Initially the idea of our Apennine trek was to walk all the way from the Mediterranean to the Adriatic. Very initially.

Long before the orange tile roofs around Milan's Malpensa Airport came into view, I knew there would be no ceremonial toe-dipping in the Adriatic. With our leisurely pace and three-week time limit, we wouldn't get close.

True, a sea-to-sea journey that doesn't make it to the second sea may be a bit flawed. But no less an authority than D. H. Lawrence wrote — in an essay about, appropriately enough, Italy — that travel responds to twin needs:"To get on the move and to know whither." However theoretical, we had our whither: the Adriatic.

To walk across Italy, you have to design your own route because there is no single, Appalachian Traillike footpath across the country. Indeed, there is precious little information available in the United States about long-distance Italian treks of any kind south of the popular Alps.

From a search of travel books, maps, and the Internet, I cobbled together parts of three different hiking trails that I figured together would get us from the Italian Riviera to within about 40 miles of the Adriatic.

The reality is that we ended up covering fewer miles than I expected even in my most pessimistic pretrip projections. With vacation time running out and bus service available, we quit at the Cerreto Pass — 100 hiking miles from our Mediterranean start and a whopping 260 from the Adriatic.

Oh, well, that gives us something to do in the future. In case you want to try it, this was our plan:

  • From the unbelievably beautiful (also unbelievably overrun by tourists) Cinque Terre coast of the Mediterranean, we would take a trail called the Alta Via delle Cinque Terre (AV5T on trail signs) 30 miles northwest to a peak named Mount Zatta.
    We actually did that part.

  • At Mount Zatta we would hang a right on the Alta Via dei Monti Liguri (AVML), a 248-mile footpath that curves around the Gulf of Genoa. Our plan had us using only a 20-mile segment of the AVML to get from the AV5T to our third and final trail, the Grande Escursione Appenninica (GEA).
    That we did, too.

  • We would take the 266-mile GEA from its start at the Passo dei Due Santi, near where the regions of Liguria, Tuscany, and Emilia-Romagna meet, and follow it almost all the way to its end in the southeast corner of Tuscany.
    We completed only the first 50 miles.

As for the final leg — from the GEA to the Adriatic — my planning never got that far. I figured the same miracle that could get our slow-moving family to within 40 miles of the coast would surely take care of the rest when the time came.


Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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