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Beyond the churches, cathedrals, museums, vineyards, pizzerias, romantic canals, and pristine beaches blanketing sparkling scenes of the Mediterranean, there lies a different kind of Italy. An Italy of sweeping views that seem to stretch beyond the horizon, terrain that truly challenges you to live in the present moment, downhill descents that breathe fresh life into your inner child, and flashes of thrill certain to leave you craving a new day of adventure. Simply put, we’re talking about the Italy you can find when you head for the hills, with the peaks of the Dolomites and Apennines.
Sprinkled amongst these summits and slopes are a litany of thrills and adventures. Planning an expedition of excitement here is limited only by your imagination—check out a few favorite activities for your consideration.
For an adventure centered around the meditative rather than the electrifying, hiking is your best bet. Both mountain ranges offer superb hiking and stunning views. A trek through the Dolomites provides a whole new side to the Alps, with sky-blue lakes hidden amongst the limestone cliffs and snowcapped peaks. The hike you pick might lead you to the iconic Three Peaks, to the stunning Lake of Braies, or the enchanting sight of the Geisler Group—any and all would be a day well spent.
For hiking in the Apennines, you’re awash with options. Spanning 1,245 miles, the Apennines essentially run the length of “the boot,” meaning there is no limit to the ancient trails and thrilling treks for discovering the Italian countryside. A favorite would be the paths found within Corno alle Scale Regional Park. Flush with gorgeous wildflowers and teeming with wildlife, the true sight to behold is the land itself from atop Corno alle Scale.
For those looking to conquer a challenge greater than hiking, the mountains have just as many cliffs to climb as trails to trek. The Dolomites provide for the largest limestone climbing area in the Alps, with some climbs stretching over 5000 feet above the meadows below. With the Apennines, the vast range of mountains makes for a climber’s paradise. Thanks to this buffet of possibilities stretching across the country, there are climbing options for all skill levels—from novice to expert.
In deciding what to summit, climbers can choose between traditional climbs, sports climbs, or the famous via ferratas, or “The Path of Iron.” While via ferratas are generally found amongst the Alps, there are several options in the Apennines. As intimidating as the name is, “The Path of Iron” is actually the easiest of the options, with routes that often allow for a bar at the summit and a tramway back down. But, due to their popularity, you’ll often also find a queue of other climbers all the way up: to enjoy the climb entirely at your own pace, arrive early and ahead of the crowds.
Where there are mountains, there’s bound to be snow. And with snow, comes the quintessential pastime of skiing. Often overshadowed by the likes of Switzerland, Austria and France, Italian skiing is every bit as thrilling. Though a part of the Alps, the Dolomites stand out from the rest of the range due to housing the largest lift system in Europe, as well as their unique appearance—extraordinary limestone monoliths are quite the sight to ski by. While the majority of the slopes are ideal for families and casual skiers, those looking for some steep descents should make their way to Arabba, Selva Gardena or Cortina.
Counterintuitively, you’ll also find snowy wonderlands heading south, thanks to the expansive Apennines. One of the strongest of the options is Corno alle Scale. Offering a ski resort only an hour outside of Bologna and Florence, there’s something for everyone: the longest downhill slopes of the Apennines (nearly two miles uninterrupted), a dozen lifts to choose from, a snowboarding park and ski park for kids—just to name a few highlights.
Any diehard cyclist knows: a good ride isn’t limited to a flat stretch of road. While the picturesque countryside of Italy makes for lovely rides, it’s the mountains that are truly breathtaking. The northern Dolomites provide for excellent riding from May to October, partly due to less precipitation than other parts of the Alps. The majority of the ski resorts are quick to encourage cycling in the area as a means of tourism, so there’s no shortage of mountain-biking to be had. For those looking for a ride on the beaten path instead of off, any of the road routes provide solid climbs, speeding descents and extraordinary scenery. As an example, Passo Rolle is a casual 61.8 miles long, and has an elevation change of 9,450 feet.
Conversely, cycling proves to be the perfect way to discover quaint towns and villages sprinkled along the Apennines. Of course, there are still mega-routes threading the mountains for your discovery, like the intimidating Blockhaus—a 17-mile ascent up 1.26-mile elevation with an average gradient of 7.3%. Added up, there’s a ride for whatever kind of challenge you’re looking for.
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