Italy is a land of surprises. It is a country where visitors often see only a fraction as they rush through Rome, Venice and Florence. Some probe deeper into Tuscany and Umbria and others stop for a while on a beach or at a ski resort. There are still many facets of this country completely unknown to the majority of foreign visitors. .
Much of Italy is a land far away from the hustle and bustle of crowded cities, a country that offers the dramatic shapes of the Dolomites’ limestone towers and spires, the rolling beauty of the Etruscan hills and scenes evoking the Florentine painters. The options do not stop there. Go south and discover the real Mediterranean wilderness, sometimes reminiscent of Anatolia, even central Asia. Hike along little known tracks near Etna and don’t miss the Gran Sasso to the north. Sardinia, to some people, summons up a sophisticated image of the Aga Khan’s beach resorts, but you can discover the desolate and magnificent hills of limestone just a few miles away from the sound of motor boats and intrusive music. And Sicily is not just Mafia and Murder. It is also a detached fragment of the Apennines and has volcanic mountains, picturesque bays and headlands, numerous small islands and the famous flora of the Madonie mountains.
Italy needs more National Parks, but people are becoming increasingly aware that if bears and wolves, chamois and deer, vultures and eagles are going to survive, land must be made available for these creatures to live unmolested alongside the amazing diversity of plants, trees and flowers that cover Italy’s hills and valleys.
But looking at nature should not mean excluding the history of man. Walking through the countryside is a splendid way of discovering masterpieces quite different from the well-known urban wonders that tourists, as well as Italians, normally see. Etruscan cemeteries carved into volcanic rock. Byzantine churches hidden in the depths of wild limestone canyons, old trade routes crossing the Alps, hermitages and abbeys perched on top of the wildest ridges of the Apennines. Bronze age fortifications in Sardinia and traces of ancient populations everywhere – Salassi, Piceni, Sanniti, which most guidebooks hardly ever mention.
What walking, hiking and mountaineering are all about is participating in the preservation of the outstanding beauty of Italy’s nature and wildlife. This doesn’t mean turning your holiday into a Save the Wolves campaign, nor are you even required to join one of the environmentalist groups, unless you actively wish to do so. But by avoiding the crowded beaches, the bustling traffic in the towns and even by dodging those huge steel edifices which seem so necessary to modern ski resorts, you are promoting and influencing the local administrations towards the right kind of tourism. Walking and exploring many of the protected areas is in itself an act of protection. All you have to bring with you is a pair of feet, curiosity, your eyes to have a good look around and you’ll end up finding more than you can imagine. Everything else will come by itself. To everyone, welcome to Italy!