As a lover of nature, I’m always looking for places to explore outside of traditional urban tourist hubs. In a place like Italy, this is particularly vital; the cities are rich with history and romance and fashion and food, but there is so much else to enjoy on their outskirts. Here, I recommend four outdoor Italian destinations ideal for exploration, all in or near the Italian Alps and Apennines.
The Monti Sibillini Mountains are located between the regions of Umbria and the Marche in the central part of the Apennines. They’re quite a ways away from the nearest city: Terni is 55 miles south and Rome 120 miles southwest.
Monti Sibillini is particularly popular in late spring or early summer; people travel there to explore the beautiful, wild nature and enjoy the lentils florescence, a delicious local dish. The U-shaped valley at the base of the mountain range, molded between the highest peaks of the mountains, contains a small lake called “Lago di Pilato”. If you look closely, you’ll likely see the “Chirocephalus marchesonii,” a crustacean native to the area.
Tuscany is one of the most well-known and highly trafficked regions in Italy, often considered the cradle of Italian culture and language. It’s a place full of beautiful landscapes as well, and La Verna is one with deep historical roots. Geographically known as “Monte Penna”, La Verna is a monumental forest built in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi. The Franciscan monks have taken care of the forest for centuries and today you can still find it full of firs and beech trees 50 meters tall and 180 centimeters wide.
Nearby Penna mountain and the surrounding forests are also worth exploring. They are part of Foreste Casentinesi National Park, one of the biggest forests in the country and part of both Tuscany and Emilia Romagna.
The Lagorai mountain group is part of the Dolomites, arguably some of the most beautiful mountains in the Italian Alps. It’s about a 1-hour drive from the city of Trento, located just to the east.
Not yet popular among tourists, the Lagorai maintains a wild, untouched feel. The area is full of malghe, small Alpine huts that house shepherds in the summertime as they travel with their cows. The shepherds return to the valleys at the end of the summer, marking an official change in season; with their departure comes cooler temperatures and the beginning of fall, and the area’s greenery transforms with stunning autumnal colors. It’s quite fantastic to see.
Foresta di Paneveggio
Forest di Paneveggio is an ancient forest located between the mountains of Lagorai and Pale di San Martino just 50 minutes from Trento. It is comprised almost entirely of big spruce firs, making it a magical place to visit in wintertime.
The area is popular among skiers though there are other activities to enjoy including snowshoeing and hiking. Trudge through the snow-covered paths to alpine huts where you can spend the night; you’ll feel as though you were catapulted deep into the north. Have dinner, warm yourself up in front of the fire, and watch the snow reflect in the moonlight. It is an incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Have you explored any other off-the-beaten path areas in Italy? If so, leave your recommendations in the comments below; I would love to hear them!