Tuscany has a far more varied topography than many people give it credit for. There are some serious mountains in the north, the famous rolling hills in the centre and flat coastal plains to the east.
It’s a region famous for its art and culture, where important medieval cities such as Florence, Pisa and Siena showcase some of the world’s most significant artistic and architectural treasures. But it’s not all art and culture. Tuscany also has a lot to offer in terms of nature and adventure. There’s no denying these landscapes are spectacularly lovely, so what better way to get to know them than to blaze a trail through them. Enjoy the variety on offer – choose anything from easy rambles through olive groves and cute stone villages, to hiking hut to hut on the Apennine ridge among the eagles, wolves and bare summits.
This is an ancient pilgrimage path running from Canterbury to Rome via Tuscany. There are 16 Tuscan sections covering a total of 354 kilometres, starting at the far northern tip of the region at the Passo Della Cisa, and heading south and south-east through some of the most iconic places in Tuscany. Lucca, San Gimignano, Siena, Monteriggioni and the undulating hills that characterise much of this lovely region are all landmarks along the way. Many of the sections are quite long, and though the route only has a couple of truly mountainous sections, there is a fair amount of ascent and descent on most of the stages, making stamina a prerequisite for most of the route. Paths range from mule tracks to quiet lanes to narrow woodland trails, but all are well marked and suitable for hikers, bikers and riders. Overnight locations are often fabulous, in timeworn towns with great views and even better food. It may be a route from medieval times but it still has much to recommend it today.
The Grande Escursione Appenninica
This trail actually extends from Umbria to Liguria, but the majority of the route unfurls in Tuscany, on the ridge along the Apennine peaks that divide Tuscany from Emilia Romagna. It’s a high route with a few tricky sections with fixed cables for safety, but it was designed to be accessible to all, not just expert mountaineers, so the terrain is generally fairly easygoing and the 23 stages are not too long. There are plenty of places on the trail for overnight stops, many in small villages where you can gain an insight into local culture, and easy access to and from the route at several locations so you can select a shorter section.
Foreste Casentinesi National Park
Situated in the East of Tuscany in Arezzo province, this Protected Area of forested peaks is a great place to get back to nature. Straddling the Apennine ridge which divides Tuscany and Emilia Romagna, this forest of unusual beauty and diversity offers lots of options for the trekker. There are 11 waymarked three-day circuits which each offers two different overnight stops in refuges, agriturismi (farm stays) or hostels. Some of them include stretches of the Alta Via del Parco, a challenging high-level route which requires a good level of fitness and stamina, whereas some of the other three day itineraries are less difficult, though all cover a good distance. The park encompasses waterfalls, lakes, and several peaks over 1000 metres, including Monte Falco at 1658 metres and Mount Falterona which reaches 1654.
The Apuan Alps
A 40-kilometre long chain of chiselled peaks rises parallel to Tuscany’s northern Versilia coast, reaching a maximum height of 1,858 metres on Pania Della Croce, which is also the focus of many hikes in these mountains. Walks here are generally manageable, well waymarked and require no equipment, but they do present fairly lengthy inclines and descents so a decent level of fitness is essential. Views from the summits on clear days stretch across the sea as far as Corsica, up the coast towards the French border and inland to the Apennine ridge. Monte Forato (literally ‘pierced mountain’) is a popular destination and has a number of trails converging at its summit from both the inland Garfagnana flank and also from the coastal flank. It’s a unique thrill to sit right by the 25-metre wide hole in the rock for a rest stop before returning to your starting point. There are also some Via Ferrata sections on Monte Forato, quite exposed and requiring a head for heights, but with wonderful views.
The classic Tuscan landscapes of Chianti are draped in vines and olive groves and scattered with divine clusters of stone farm buildings. Who could resist all those lovely rippling hills just crying out to be explored on foot? Hiking in Chianti is not generally difficult, apart from the long undulations and the heat in the warmer months. Trails are well marked and present no particular difficulties. Gaiole in Chianti, in particular, is a good base for hiking enthusiasts as there are 14 hiking loops that converge on the town, many are easy rambles but some are longer and more challenging day walks, though you could easily combine two or more to make a multiday Route. The Via Sanese is a long distance hiking trail which links Florence to Siena running through Chianti, divided into five scenic stages with lots to see en route and plenty of opportunities for wine tasting.
Via Degli Dei
The ‘Path of the Gods’ traces 130 kilometres over the spine of the Apennines from Bologna to Florence. Much of the trail follows an ancient route that has linked the two cities since Roman times, and today the trek is easy to follow on gravel tracks and sealed lanes for much of its length, with a few smaller paths on the steeper sections. Apart from an adequate level of fitness to tackle the long ascents and descents, this walk presents no major challenges and can be completed in four to six days. There are numerous overnight options, from hostels and campsites to hotels and some lovely agriturismo accommodation. Unusually for a trek of this length, you will not need to carry too much, as there are plenty of places to eat and stock up with snacks and water along the way.
The Renaissance Ring
172 kilometres of gravel tracks and trails encircle Florence, the city known as ‘the cradle of the Renaissance.’ The route permits encounters with countryside, hills and several towns located around the city, and can be tackled on foot or bike. The ring has been divided into 13 stages, each one offering public transport connections into Florence allowing hikers to pick and choose which sections they want to complete. Highlights include the many castles, monasteries, churches and natural attractions along the way, and the hilly sections to the north of Florence which boast far reaching views over the Arno valley and the medieval centre of Florence.
There are potentially dozens of places to base yourself for hiking in Tuscany, but to narrow it down, consider where you are planning to do most of your walking. If you are going to focus your trekking in the Alpi Apuane or the northern Apennines, Castelnuovo di Garfagnana or Barga would make handy bases. For the Renaissance Ring or the Via Degli Dei, Florence is the obvious start or end point. The numerous walks in the Casentinesi Forest National Park are easily reached from the historic town of Arezzo, while sections of the Via Francigena can be accessed from the medieval hotspots of San Gimignano, Siena or Lucca. For walks in the Chianti region, base yourself in one of the four main hubs in the area: Greve in Chianti, Gaiole in Chianti, Radda in Chianti or Castellina in Chianti.
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