For avid lovers of nature and the countryside, some ideas of multi-day hikes and treks fully customized for you.
By train or private transfer from Milan and then a ferry from Como, we’ll base ourselves in Varenna whilst exploring Lake Como, a popular retreat for aristocrats and wealthy people since Roman times. Its magnificent scenery has enchanted artists and travellers: from French novelists Flaubert and Stendhal, to composers and musicians Rossini, Verdi and Bellini.
To the north of the lake, we go to Bellano and take a pleasant and scenic walk back passing by the medieval military outpost, Castello di Vezio, to admire the falcons, owls and other birds of prey that live and are trained here.
Sitting on the promontory where the Lake’s three arms meet is the quaint lakeside town of Bellagio. We will stroll through the beautiful gardens of Villa Melzi, built in neo-classical style in 1808–1810 as the summer residence of the Duke. This wonderful park which includes an orangery, a private chapel, fine statues, and a Japanese garden with huge rhododendrons is surely worth a visit. We continue to the small fishing village of Pescallo to enjoy some lunch.
Como is famous for the impressive villas that line and embellish its shores. We will visit Villa Carlotta which was built in 1690. The estate covers about 7 hectares of land which includes a romantic Italian garden with fountains, terraces and sculptures. In 1843, it was purchased by Princess Marianne of Nassau as a wedding present for her daughter Carlotta, after whom the villa is now named. The villa conserves important sculptures by Antonio Canova.
Another remarkable villa we will visit is Balbianello which was built in 1787 on the site of a Franciscan monastery. It is famous for its elaborate terraced gardens which lies on a promontory of the lake near Isola Comacina making it a favourite film location, the most famous of which is Casino Royale of the James Bond movie series
We then move on to another enchanting lake in Northern Italy, Lake Orta. The small town of Orta San Giulio is a maze of narrow cobbled lanes with craft boutiques, antique shops and lively cafés. Perched on the hill above the village is the religious complex, Sacromonte, where the Capuchin Franciscans built chapels dedicated to the life of St Francis in 1591. Hike up a spiralling path that exploits the slope of the hill and be rewarded by superb panoramic views of the lake.
We go off the beaten path and head to the tiny Corconio with its pastel-painted houses and softly fading frescoes. We will go on a delightful walk following a system of ancient mule tracks that connect villages far removed from the clamour of general tourism and stop for a picnic lunch along the way.
By motor launch, we reach the Island of San Giulio where legend has it that it was once bare and inhabited by monsters and snakes until St. Julius landed in 390. He eventually founded a church which transformed the island into a centre of evangelization. The Mater Ecclesiae Benedictine Abbey, a convent of cloistered nuns who devote themselves to prayer, study and restoring valuable antique ecclesiastic vestments, is found here. Our stroll on the island leads us to the Romanesque Bishop’s Palace with its well-preserved frescoes from the 14-15th centuries and a 12th century pulpit made from the local black stone.
We return to the mainland and drive up Mount Mottarone, considered a “natural balcony”, from where we can enjoy amazing 360° panoramic views over the Po Valley and the Alps. We’ll stop for lunch before taking a 20min. cable car ride down to Stresa which will be our base from which we explore the islands of upper Lake Maggiore.
We take a boat to Isola Bella, dominated by its opulent Baroque palace, along with a luxuriant Italian-style garden filled with flowers, rare exotic plants, fountains and statues. White peacocks roam the grounds of this huge, extraordinary garden which goes 37 metres high and develops on ten terraces. The project, which took 400 years to be completed by the Borromeos, began in 1632 when Count Carlo III built a palace dedicated to his wife Isabella.
We can then spend the rest of our day island hopping to Isola Madre and the tiny Isola dei Pescatori (Fishermen’s Island) with its quaint and narrow alleys, stroll along the lake’s shores or visit Villa Taranto in nearby Verbania, if you haven’t had your fill of beautiful gardens. We end our trip with a sumptuous feast at a great local restaurant.
We can arrange transfers for you from Milan, Venice and Verona or meet you directly at our first stop on this multi-day itinerary, Bolzano. Tucked in the valley of Alto Adige, Bolzano is a perfect blend of Central European and Mediterranean cultures, modern and historic architecture, urban life and nature. The historical centre is charming and rich with cultural sights and churches with the 5,000-year-old Ice Man, the world’s oldest naturally preserved human body, as one of its main attractions. If you’d like to arrive sooner, the city offers numerous trails for those who wish to take a walk through parks and vineyards or go farther out to explore castles, abbeys and charming boroughs.
We then move on to Brixen or Bressanone where we will be based for 3 nights.
We’ll do a leisurely warm-up walk to the Augustinian’s Monastery of Novacella established in the 12th century and producing wine since then. Still today, regular canons live and work here according to the rules of their order. Surrounded by terraced vineyards, its location is stunning. Having been lavishly provided with farms and land, among which were also vineyards, the Abbey of Novacella winery is among the oldest active wineries in the world. As proven by archeological finds, viticulture has been practiced on the protected slopes of the Isarco Valley for more than 2,500 years.
The next day, we go by cablecar up Mount Plose, one of the most beautiful areas in South Tyrol, and begin our hike at 2050m and gradually ascend to 2336m. along a wide and extremely panoramic gravel track.
We’ll stop for lunch at the Rifugio Schatzerhütte which is known for its excellent cuisine. This cozy alpine hut was completely refurbished in 1998, taking care to retain the authenticity and character of its beautiful alpine setting. For those interested, the Museo della Farmacia (Pharmacy Museum), presents quite a fascinating journey through the history of pharmaceutical drug-making with various instruments on display, from pill press machines and suppository molds, to jars and packaging used by the pharmacy for more than 400 years.
Next is a drive to the small, quiet and suggestive Val di Funes, an enchanting valley that runs from the Valle Isarco to the heart of the Puez-Odle Nature Park, the most beautiful massif of the Dolomites. Rugged peaks towering into the blue sky above, green meadows covered in a sea of colourful flowers and enchanting forests characterise the landscape here.
We move on to the picturesque village of San Vigilio and stop at a famous “loden” factory, loden being a thick and heavy but also soft, durable and water/resistant fabric made from mountain sheep fleece. We will then also visit Brunico or Brunick and during our hike through high mountain pastures, enjoy lunch at a 16th century farmhouse. Then it’s off to Corvara to do a 10km walk at 2000m at Col Alt.
Our final hike will be from Passo Pordoi to finish off with spectacular views of the glacier-covered Marmolada, “Queen of the Dolomites” and later reward ourselves on the terrace of a rifugio with a plate of creamy polenta with melted local cheese and mushrooms and a pint of beer.
Via Francigena, or “road from France”, was the main connecting route between northern and southern Europe, carrying merchants, armies and pilgrims. In the Middle Ages, Via Francigena was the major pilgrimage route t Rome from the north.
We can meet directly in Lucca or arrange transfers for you from Pisa or Florence. In Lucca, we will explore the historical centre and stroll along its medieval walls. We then go to Altopascio where Tuscany’s largest hospice for medieval pilgrims once stood then continue to San Miniato to begin our walk through country lanes with beautiful vistas of the rolling hills of Tuscany. We finish in Gambassi Terme and stop for a picnic lunch along the way.
From Gambassi we walk towards our next destination, San Gimignano,whose towers are so tall we can spy them from a distance. We can enjoy some lunch and explore the city before checking in to our country inn on the outskirts of town. From there we walk to the next hilltop medieval town on the route, Colle Val d’Elsa, mostly known for its crystal glass production.
The next day we then go to the ancient abbey of Coneo to start our walk towards Monteriggioni, a tiny circular walled town used as fortress during the conflict between the Florentines and the Sienese people. We then transfer to Siena where our local licensed guide will take you on a private tour of the city to visit the Duomo and other main sights like the Piazza del Campo where the Palio, the famous horserace, takes place annually. The first part of our week-long itinerary finishes here.
One may choose to complete the entire route in one trip, or continue the 2nd part meeting us in Siena another time.
We begin the 2nd part of the Via Francigena in the tiny hamlet of Merlo where we visit a fascinating Etruscan museum before setting off on our walk through woodland, open fields and vineyards, stopping for a picnic along the way. We follow the pilgrim trail to the top of Montalcino where we shall be based for a couple of nights.
We then briefly visit San Quirico d’Orcia before beginning our hike towards Bagno Vinoni famous for its hot springs. This was a favourite spot for pilgrims to rest and tend their weary feet. We proceed to beautiful Bolsena which is rarely crowded and abundant with black volcanic sand along the shores of the largest volcanic lake in Europe. After visiting the ancient town, we walk along the lake and go up to Montefiascone known for its Est Est Est wine which critics say have a more interesting origin to its strange name than the wine itself. We certainly need to have a taste before heading for Viterbo, our next stop.
We make a detour from the Via Francigena to visit some amazing Renaissance gardens such as the Villa Lante where we will find an outdoor table with a built-in natural wine cooler, Bomarzo with its menagerie of fantastical monsters, and Villa Farnese with its delightful waterworks.
On the final stretch of our journey towards Rome, we will stop at Lake Vico to enjoy a short picnic before finishing with a visit of Sutri and its Roman amphitheatre. Our walk along the Via Francigena ends here. Transfers will be arranged to take us to Rome, the Eternal City.