Feeling energetic? Want to get the adrenaline pumping? Keen to work off those Neapolitan pizzas and deep-fried Romana artichokes? We’ve got just the thing in this guide to the five top adventure sports in Italy to try your hand at this year…
It promises to scour the boot for the most high-octane, vertigo-inducing pursuits there are between the rocky bays of Sicily and the snowy heights of the Dolomites. It delves into small Alpine towns and salt-washed sailing meccas alike, all to help you get active on your next vacation to the home of mozzarella and Chianti wine.
Our choice of adventure sports in Italy offers some obvious choices – hiking, sailing – but also some less-obvious things to do. Some of our picks will also only work for part of the year, because they rely on seasonal changes and correct weather patterns.
Pull on the walking boots and get on the trails – Italy is a really good spot for it. To be honest, that’s putting it lightly. This nation spreads from the Alps in the north to the Calabrian mountains in the south, offering more peaks along the way than you can shake a pizza at. It’s often considered to be the single finest hiking area in Europe, offering everything from short day walks to uber-challenging hikes that take over 10 days to complete.
If that’s tickled your wanderlust, we don’t think there’s anywhere better to look than the Italian Alps. They cover a massive part of the northern regions, from Aosta to the Dolomites. As they go, they sprout table-top peaks like the Piz Boe and glaciated summits like the Marmolada. There are also iconic peaks such as the Matterhorn, which straddles the Italy-Swiss border with its twisted top of snow-dusted rock.
The Alps aren’t it here. Not by any stretch. The squiggle of the Appenines also has walking at lower altitudes, on exposed mountains that are known for their shifting tectonics (beware earthquake warnings). Keep going and you’ll reach Sicily, where you can even hike legendary Mount Etna to survey the glistening Mediterranean from above.
It’s super easy to plan a hiking trip to Italy. Simply book a flight to an airport near the mountains – Milan, Bergamo, and Verona come to mind – and then drive your way to the trailheads. It shouldn’t take more than an hour or two to reach some of the most beautiful trekking paths in the whole of Europe. Big words but you’ll see what we mean when you arrive!
Believe it or not, Italy is actually one of the best surfing destinations in the Mediterranean Sea. In a region that’s not really known for its pumping waves and beefy swells, this boot of a nation manages to conjure up a decent amount of action for those with the board in tow. Hey – there are even now regional surf comps held here at different times of the year!
Generally speaking, the very best of it happens in Sicily, in Sardinia, and up the western shorelines of the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Ligurian Sea. That’s the part of the boot that gets the full brunt of the main winter swells that sneak in from the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s also a ruggeder spectacle than the soft Adriatic coast, which gives the varied topography and underwater geography needed to create waves of different shapes and sizes.
If we had to pick the stand-out Italian surf locales, we’d go to Varazze and Sardinia. The first is a small port town on the fringes of the Italian Riviera. If you can dodge the Gucci-clad billionaires in the cafes, you might just find a fantastic wedge-like wave that offers rare Italian barrels. The latter is a whole island that gets excellent exposure to those aforementioned swells, with a southwestern coast that can positively pump when it’s on.
The main thing to remember if surfing is going to be the one of all the adventure sports in Italy that you go for is the season. That’s super important since the waters in the east, south, and west here are basically pancake-flat for the summer. You’ll need to wait for the storms of winter to arrive to get surfing – December, January, and February are the best of all.
We’ve already mentioned the abundance of mountains in Italy. Well…that rocky backbone of the country isn’t just fantastic for hikers. It’s also a doozy for those who like to push their altitude gaining just another level: Climbers. Mhmm, Italy has one of the richest histories and cultures of true alpine climbing in the world – this is the land that gave the world Reinhold Messner, after all, the man who first conquered the great 14 peaks above 8,000 meters!
The town of Arco on the north shore of Lake Garda has set itself up as one of the main climbing hubs in the eastern Alps. It’s awash with outfitters offering climbing gear and bouldering equipment and it sits on the cusp of a dash of mountains that have all manner of challenging pitches, some of which top 800 meters in length. The region also has a range of super-daring via ferrata routes for those who prefer hooking onto coil and scaling the side of peaks.
Once you’re done there, you could push up into the high Dolomites, which are replete with climbing sections for all levels. The stand outs are probably the 24-pitch Sass Pordoi, an expert’s only romp that goes from base to summit in a number of technical traverses and whatnot, and the 13-pitch Tre Cime, which culminates with sweeping views of this iconic mountain range.
Move over France. Take a rest Austria and Switzerland. Italy also has a claim to being one of the finest skiing destinations in Europe – nay, the whole world. Again, much of that is down to the presence of the Alps. They swing through from the Slovenian border in the east to the French border in the west, offering amazing climbing by summer and some seriously accomplished skiing by winter.
There wouldn’t be room in this guide to the best adventure sports in Italy to outline all of the ski fields and resorts that await. So, we’ll pick out just a handful of what we think offer the very best alpine pistes in the nation:
- Courmayeur – A resort that sits deep in the recesses of the Aosta Valley, right on the border with France, Courmayeur is known for being linked to the Chamonix Valley by a direct tunnel and even chairlifts when weather permits. You can come here to ski two countries in a single day, lunching on French coq a vin while you’re at it. Views of Mont Blanc also help!
- Breuil-Cervinia – Widely seen as the affordable side of the Matterhorn, Breuil-Cervinia is an upcoming resort that shares pistes with Zermatt on the Italian side of the border. One pass covers both. The only downside is that returning to your hotel can take some time if you’re staying in Italia.
- Val Gardena – Probably the best of all the ski options in the Dolomites, Val Gardena is home to the Sella Ronda ski circuit. That’s 518km of connected slopes that you can tour both clockwise and anti-clockwise, all in the shadow of the Marmolada glacier.
Skiing in Italy happens to be a little less pricy than it is in, say, France or Switzerland. What’s more, lots of folks comment on the casual nature of it here. Italian skiers are generally more chilled than their compadres elsewhere in Europe and are typically happy to break up their day with a long lunch of pasta and wine whenever possible.
Italy’s coastline clocks up 7,500km of length and spans from the northern tip of the Adriatic Sea all the way to the edges of the glimmering French Riviera. As it goes, it throws out legendary isles like Capri and Sicily, along with ancient port towns that cut their teeth as major European naval powers back in the day – Genoa, Venice, Ostia.
Add to that a strong showing of summer trade winds and a long tradition of competitive sailing and you’ve got what adds up to arguably the single finest place to hoist the mainsail on the continent (sorry, Greece!). For serious skippers, there are regular regattas in key sailing towns like Genoa. For those simply looking to explore, there are a bunch of destinations that stand out from the crowd…
First off, the Amalfi Coast simply cannot be ignored for would-be yachters. It’s a stretch of ridiculously gorgeous UNESCO coastline that’s fringed by citrus farms and vineyards and pastel-painted towns. Go there and you’ll spend you days whizzing between idyllic beaches and the rugged grottoes of Capri.
Next comes the Italian Riviera in the north. It stretches from the French border around the Ligurian Sea, offering port towns like Imperia and Sanremo, which are undeniably showy but also well-equipped with charter services. Then there’s Sardinia, an isle rich in turquoise bays and breezy runs of mountain-backed shore. A sailing adventure there is sure to be a once-in-a-lifetime thing!
Adventure sports in Italy – our conclusion
There are oodles of adventure sports in Italy to sample this year. This guide is really just scratching the surface with its quintet of suggestions. But they’re pretty awesome suggestions if we do say so ourselves. From conquering the amazing trails of the northern Alps to whizzing down ski pistes in the Dolomites, cruising the azure bays of the Amalfi Coast to catching waves in Sardinia, it’s got no shortage of pursuits to get the adventure-gauges peaking!