La Dolce Vita

Italy's Top Ten Active Adventures
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With its mountainous spine, thousands of kilometers of coastline, and sprinkling of active volcanoes, Italy has perhaps the most varied terrain of any European country. Add a friendly, outgoing population, unmatched culture and history, and a generally pleasant climate, and you've got an adventurer's paradise. (The food and wine ain't bad, either.) Here's our list of the top ten Italian active adventures.

1. Hiking the Dolomites
Although adjoining the Alps, and boasting a similarly superb system of trails and full-service huts, the Dolomites are a mountain range apart. Instead of snow-capped movie-logo pyramids, you'll find towers and ramparts of pink limestone jutting out of green meadows. For the bold, some hiking routes ascend vertiginous faces with the help of steel foot pegs, ladders, and cables—the famous via ferrata, or iron roads. Don't expect much spaghetti; the local culture is more Tyrolean than Italian—sauerbraten, lederhosen, and Swiss-style ski chalets.

2. Walking the Cinque Terre
Along the Ligurian coast, near the Italian Riviera, lie five pastel-colored fishing villages built centuries ago into cliffs so steep that motorable roads have never been built between them. So you'll have to travel like the locals do: along ancient pathways and cobblestone stairways, through terraced vineyards and fields of fragrant herbs—with the Mediterranean crashing into the rocks below. A great Italian dinner at the end makes the trek all the more worthwhile.

3. Biking in Tuscany
D.H. Lawrence called Tuscany "the perfect center of man's universe." Art, architecture, history, and the divine pleasure of eating and drinking flourish among rolling hills of perfect scale for the cyclist: occasionally steep, but rarely very long. The smooth curvy roads are lightly trafficked, and on weekends, you're likely to get buzzed by a multi-hued peloton from the local cycling club. If you can keep up with them, you'll have some new wine-drinking buddies.

4. Hiking the Wild Blue Trail, Sardinia
This Tuscany-sized island in the Tyrrhenian Sea has some of the most rugged and unexpectedly beautiful terrain in Europe. The Wild Blue Trail is a five-day, 30-mile walk along the 2,000-foot limestone cliffs of Sardinia's east coast, from Pedra Longa to Cala Sisine. The trail runs along clifftops and remote beaches, with some steep, exposed sections that have cable handholds. (On some optional spur routes it's necessary to do short rappels.) You'll stay in fishing villages along the way and camp out on the beach. Best of all, none of your friends back in the States have ever heard of it.

5. Hiking in Gran Paradiso National Park
Set in the heart of the Western Italian Alps, Italy's oldest national park started as a private hunting preserve for King Victor Emmanuel II. Its several dozen 10,000-foot peaks and 57 glaciers harbor the largest remaining European population of ibex, a large gaudily horned mountain goat. The main hiking route through this classic Alpine terrain is Alta Via 2, which runs from Cogne to Rhemes Notre Dame.

Published: 11 Jul 2000 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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