Adventure in Northern Italy | 7 of the Best Spots for Cycling, Hiking and Watersports

No matter what your choice of adventure, the north of Italy can almost certainly deliver...

Valle D’Aosta -Mountain Bike a La Thuile. Photos: Archivio Turismo.

The north of Italy is one of the most breathtaking spots in the world for adventure. There’s no end to the diversity offered up across the region.

From the Italian Alps boasting some of the most famous peaks in the world – the Matterhorn, Monte Rosa, Gran Paradiso – to the distinctive spikes of the Dolomites stretching out over the eastern skyline, the beauty of the scenery is matched only by the sheer diversity and range of opportunities such terrain offers up in the outdoors.

Whether you’re a fervent road cyclist, a mountain biker, a mountaineer or even a lover of watersports, you won’t find yourself at a loss in northern Italy.

We’ve teamed up with Green and Blue, a new initiative set up to promote adventure sports in the region, to shine a spotlight on some of the best adventure opportunities in Northern Italy.

1) Ride Under the Matterhorn in the Valle d’Aosta

Riding downhill in the Aosta Valley. Photo: Pila Black Arrows

It may be the smallest and least densely populated region in all of Italy but the Aosta Valley is also one of the most beautiful. Bordering both Switzerland and France, Aosta offers views ranging from enormous mountains reaching over 4,000m to beautiful valley views.

A drive through any given part of the region can take you past Roman ruins, ancient castles, rivers and lakes, usually with a dramatic mountainous backdrop throughout. If you go to Cervinia, then that backdrop is the Matterhorn itself, or Cervino as it is locally known.

As well as being a winter paradise Cervinia is also becoming renowned for its mountain biking. The Dark Trail has made Cervinia famous as the place where mountain bikers can ride a route which starts at 10,000ft on a glacier before descending back down past snow, rocks, stunning lakes and unforgettable views. It’s one for the bucket list for mountain bikers.

2) Cycle Through History on the Stelvio Pass in Lombardia

The Stelvio Pass, Lombardy

Lombardia has road cycling routes to suit every level but as far as the hardcore riders go – it’s something of a pilgrimage spot.

The stunning Stelvio Pass is a sight familiar to cyclists around the globe. The winding road weaves steeply up to an elevation of 2,757m above sea level and must be one of the most photographed roads in the world. For very good reason, too. It’s absolutely stunning.

As far as cycling it goes though, you better bring your legs with you. This is the highest paved mountain pass in the Eastern Alps and the second highest in the Alps. It’s the place where Italian legend Fausto Coppi famously claimed the Giro d’Italia in the 50s by putting over three minutes into his rival, and has since become one of the most recognisable roads in cycling.

3) Head to Friuli Venezia Giulia and Go Hiking in Carnia

Friuli, hiking on the Alps

The north-easternmost region of Italy, Friuli Venezia Giulia shares a border with Slovenia, Austria and the Adriatic Sea.

What this means is that if you head there you can expect the beauty of the water to match that of the mountains and nature reserves. We’d recommend heading to Carnia in particular. It’s a hiking haven. You’ll be strolling through stunning green hills with views to die for, and the further you go in the more dense forest, waterfalls, canyons and mountain lakes you’ll come across.

The Carnic Alps run across Friuili Venezia Giulia and boast a number of jaw-dropping mountains over 2,000 metres. Mount Coglians is the highest of these at a formidable 2780m and it’s a challenge that could make any hiker’s mouth water.

4) Ride From the Dolomites the Whole Way Down to Venice

Bikers in Venezia. Photo: M.Danesin

If you want to mix the magic of the city with the wonders of the Italian wilderness then there’s possibly no better route than that from the Dolomites down to Venice.

The route takes you along the Alpine arc, leaving from Cortina and heading along the banks of the River Piave to Belluno. You’ll be riding in front of stunning mountains straight off a postcard and arriving in Venice via the famous territory of the Prosecco Hills.

At the end, trade your bike for the legendary cobbled streets and winding canal passages of Venice and feast on the gastronomy in front of the Grand Canal.

5) Hike the Alta Via Dei Parchi in Emilia-Romagna

Hiking in Alta Via dei Parchi

Take on the Alta Via dei Parchi in Emilia-Romagna and welcome over 500km of uphills and downhills that will take you through the kind of thing you probably first imagined when you dreamt up a walking trip in Italy.

The route features everything from green forests to glacial rings, volcanic rocks to chalk cliffs and rolling hills to beautiful lakes.

You’ll pass through two national parks, five regional parks and one interregional park, and Mount Cusna, Mount Prado and Alpe di Succiso will all be on the viewing itinerary.

The national park of Appenino Tosco-Emiliano is where you’ll find some of the highest peaks in the Northern Apeninnes, but of course, no matter how experienced you are there is part of this route to suit everyone. If you don’t have all the time in the world then take it slow and enjoy the lakes and the mountains. If you’re there for the full thing, we can guarantee it’s a trip you won’t be forgetting anytime soon.

6) Go Sailing on the Mountain Lakes of Piemonte

Sailing on Orta Lake in Piemont

Piemont translates as “foot of the mountains”, so possibly the reason why it’s so well known for its sailing is that it guarantees you a hell of a view from the water.

That said, the climate is perfect for sailing too. Piemonte doesn’t have a coastline but what it does have is some of the best lakes around. Lago Orta and Lago Mergozzo have a deep heritage in the sport, and Lago Maggiore is a watersports lover’s dream. The water is pretty much perfect for everything from scuba diving and waterskiing to sailing and yachting. It’s particularly popular with the latter two. Throughout the year you’ll see the lake fill up with brilliant sailing boats, with the combination of winds that blow in the region making it brilliant for the sport and the Verbania Vela Festival held every year in June.

7) Explore the Endless Trails of Finale Ligure

Bikers at Finale Ligure

When a mountain biker thinks about taking their bike abroad there’s a good chance they’re thinking about Finale Ligure.

The trail heaven in Liguria has become somewhat of a mecca for mountain biking after cementing its position on the Enduro World Series. Of course, even if you’re on one of the biggest series in the mountain biking world you still need to have a proper range of variety and a real depth of trails to establish yourself as a top destination. Safe to say Finale Ligure has all of that and then some.

1400m above sea level you’ll find more than 400km of the world’s best trails at the end of your front wheel. If you’re not scooting down dirt banks and round flowy corners you’ll be riding singletrack in amongst the green or heading for a viewpoint that looks out over the rest of the world. Once you take your bike to Liguria for the first time, there’s a real good chance that you’ll be wanting to come back for more.

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