Long-Distance Hiking in the Northern Apennines

By Michael H. Brown
  |  Gorp.com
Michael and Cate getting some grub, near Mount Fontanini on the border of Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna
Ridge top camping on the GEA

Starting and Finishing

We began at Riomaggiore, the southernmost of the five Cinque Terre towns, and followed the dramatic seaside path to Monterosso, the northernmost of the five. There we left the coast and started up the Apennines. The unique beauty of the Cinque Terre makes this short coastal stretch a must-see, but be prepared for hordes of tourists, most of them Americans. All five Cinque Terre towns are easily reached by frequent train service from Genoa and La Spezia, the two major cities that bracket that part of the Riviera coastline.

We ended our hike at the Passo del Cerreto, where we caught one of several daily buses down to Aulla. There we got a train to the ancient city of Lucca for a two-day stay before heading home via the Milan airport. Lucca is a smaller, less crowded version of Florence, and, in my view, far more enjoyable.

Where to Stay

In this part of the Apennines the overnight hiker needs a tent. Most of the towns we passed through were too small to have a hotel, and we came across only one refuge that was open: Rifugio Mariotti on Lago Santo in the Parco dei Cento Laghi. (Cost for non-Club Alpino Italiano members: $16 for a bed, $34 with dinner and breakfast.)

After leaving Cinque Terre we stayed all but one night in our tent, usually on a reasonably flat spot off the trail near a source of water (which we always filtered unless specifically marked for drinking). In some parks camping was limited to designated places, but otherwise in uninhabited areas there appeared to be no restrictions.

Our non-tent night was a small, drab, and — except for one other guest — empty hotel at the Passo di Cento Croci on the border between Liguria and Emilia-Romagna. The cost of our Spartan room plus dinner and breakfast came to $100 for the three of us.

What to Bring

We carried soup and pasta for dinner, and instant oatmeal and hot drinks for breakfast; we usually cooked those two meals on our gasoline-burning backpacking stove. But this was hardly a wilderness experience: The bars and small restaurants we passed provided frequent opportunity for civilized refreshment.

Most memorable were a lengthy, multicourse Sunday meal at the Trattoria Villa Rosa in the Ligurian town of Arzeno ($17 per person), and a lunch of testaroli con pesto at the Albergo Ristorante Appennino, a delightful little hotel in the Tuscan town of Montelungo that has been managed by the same family since 1893 ($43 total).

An important discovery was the wonders that the addition of amaretti cookies can do for one-burner meals, especially breakfast. We consumed bags of them.

Our backpacking equipment was what you would carry on any extended trip in the United States.

Maps and Guidebooks

Apennines maps: Edizioni Multigraphic publishes detailed hiking maps of the Northern Apennines, and Kompass has maps of some sections; both series are available from Omni Resources (www.omnimap.com; 1-800-742-2677).

Club Alpino Italiano has excellent maps but as far as I know they are available only from local CAI offices and CAI refuges in Italy. Contact the CAI's Genoa chapter at Piazza Palermo 10, 16129 Genova; for the Florence chapter, write to Via dello Stadio 5, 50122 Firenze.

Using a GPS: We didn't take a GPS (Global Positioning System) receiver but if you do, be aware that not all Italian hiking maps have GPS grid marks. The Istituto Geografico Militare (Italian Military Geographic Institute) produces topo maps of the country that are GPS friendly, though some are quite old; they can be ordered from Omni Resources.

Alta Via dei Monti Liguri (AVML) information: For information on the AVML, try the search function on www.parks.it/Eindex.html. For a map of the trail, contact the Unioncamere Liguri (Via San Lorenzo 15/1, 16123 Genova); the map was free and helpful but not detailed or current enough to be relied on.

Grande Escursione Appenninica (GEA) information: For a guidebook (in Italian) and trail maps specifically for the GEA, contact Regione Toscana (Via di Novoli 26, 50127 Firenze; 011-39-055-4382111). Beware, however — the map I got had errors.

Guidebooks: Two books — Walking in Italy from Lonely Planet (1998) and Wild Italy by Tim Jepson (Sierra Club Books, 1994) — have limited information on the Northern Apennines. Backpacking and Walking in Italy by Stefano Ardito (Bradt, 1987) also has chapters on the Apennines.

Also, try the Bolis book and map store in Bergamo, Italy; Valentina Bolis, the proprietor, speaks English (phone 011-39-035-244426; fax 245158; E-mail bolis@infostera.it).

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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