High-Altitude Adventure in Italy’s Alps

Italy's Alps provide high-altitude adventure in the off season.

By: By Liz Brown

Only Online

Scroll down for information about outdoor adventure companies that offer hiking trips in the Italian Alps.

The Details

Alpe Pintas
39-340-742-0463
www.alpepintas.it

Rifugio Pontese
39-012-480-0186
web.tiscali.it/rifugio.pontese

Turismo Torino
39-011-535-181
www.turismotorino.org

Adventure Companies

The following outdoor adventure companies offer hiking trips in the Italian Alps and offer a 10 percent commission (except where noted):

Boundless Journeys offers the Tour de Mont Blanc itinerary. The nine-day trip includes inn-to-inn hiking in France, Italy and Switzerland.

Boundless Journeys
800-941-8010
www.boundlessjourneys.com

Mountain Travel Sobek offers several packages including Hiking the Grand Paradiso. The nine-day journey offers stunning scenery, colorful wildflowers, pine forests, lunar scree fields, sparkling lakes, gigantic glaciers and majestic mountain views.

Mountain Travel Sobek
888-831-7526
www.mtsobek.com

Country Walkers offers several Italy excursions, among them is its Piedmont tour. Clients can hike through sun-baked landscapes, fortified towns and taste the region's remarkable cuising on a seven-day, six night outing.

Country Walkers
800-464-9255
www.countrywalkers.com

Among other Italian treks, Backroads' Mountain Majesty in Northern Italy takes clients to vivid green meadows, charming rifugi and prized national parks for a six-day, five night adventure.

Backroads*
800-462-2848
www.backroads.com

*Commission varies.

For clients who have already “done” Italy’s major cities and are seeking a new Italian experience, a visit to the Alps in the summertime provides a breath of fresh air — quite literally. 

Hiking at Gran Paradiso National Park// (C) 2010 Liz Brown

Hiking at Gran Paradiso National Park// (c) 2010 Liz Brown

The mountains in this legendary range feature some of Europe’s highest peaks, span several countries and are often considered to be winter destinations. Their snow-capped peaks conjure images of whooshing down the slopes on skis or inching along challenging, icy terrain clad in parkas and boots with steel spikes. But these great mountains offer ample opportunity for active exploration (and balmier weather, no less) from June to September, too.

In the lower elevations, vibrant wildflowers sprout up from blankets of green grass covering pastures and hillsides where contented cattle graze, the weathered bells around their necks ringing out across the otherwise quiet landscape. Nearby, artisanal cheesemakers use their herds’ milk to craft regional specialties, just as their ancestors have for generations. Evergreen trees dot the landscape, crystal-clear streams gurgle and the higher mountain peaks remain snow-covered even in summer, providing awe-inspiring views from below.

Coupled with the fresh mountain air, this bucolic setting couldn’t be further from the bustle and congestion of Milan or Rome, and it offers Italophiles something major cities usually don’t: a chance to commune with nature and discover this country’s rural treasures.

One of the best ways to experience the Italian Alps in the summer is on foot. Well-marked networks of hiking trails are abundant and span a wide array of skill levels and elevations. And rustic mountain rifugi (refuges) that have long provided hikers and climbers with food, shelter, information and first aid remain open for business. Along with Alpine restaurants and inns, these oases enable travelers to savor outstanding local cuisine and hospitality while resting midway through, or upon completion of, an invigorating trek.

Self-guided hikes are one option, but excursions with an English-speaking guide deliver a richer experience, giving clients insight into fascinating local lore, culture and flora and fauna. Guided outings offered by adventure travel companies range from day trips to 10 days or more and include accommodations at Alpine inns and hotels that are far from rustic along the way. Tours of Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest peak, typically cover Italy, France and Switzerland with itineraries lasting longer than a week. For independent types, Turismo Torino e Provincia publishes a free, handy guide to itineraries in the Torino area and includes information on accommodations, guides for hire and directions.

An ideal base for exploring the western Alps in Italy is Turin (Torino), the capital city of the region of Piedmont (Piemonte, meaning “at the foot of the mountain”), which is surrounded by the Alps on three sides. A bird’s-eye view can be enjoyed on a clear day from the lookout atop the Museo Nazionale della Montagna in Torino. The well-curated exhibits inside this museum are also worth a look for anyone interested in mountain history, sport or culture.

Easy, low-elevation hikes with gustatory rewards can be found at Alpe Pintas, a recently renovated farmhouse set into the verdant hills at Orsiera-Rocciavre Park in the town of Alpe Pian Usseaux, a short drive from Torino. Alpe Pintas is managed by an agricultural cooperative and showcases the natural bounty of the region, including exceptional cow and sheep cheeses, meats, liquers and other specialties. Many of these can be enjoyed at a beautiful group lunch served inside or enjoyed at picnic tables outside with the bonus of spectacular 360-degree views (reservations are required). Afternoon hikes with a naturalist are offered daily, or hikers can venture out on their own.

Those seeking more challenging trails in the western Alps will find them at Gran Paradiso National Park (Italy’s first national park), which is also easily accessible from Torino. The terrain here ranges greatly in elevation from its valleys to its peaks and rewards hikers with glacier and lake views as well as glimpses of wildlife. Ibex (a type of mountain goat), marmot, rabbits, golden eagles and other bird species are among the animals likely to be seen.

Rifugio Pontese awaits weary trekkers at more than 7,000 feet, the conclusion of a 45-minute hike along Teleccio Dam. Hikers trade in their boots for slippers at the door of this small, renovated lodge, then gather around the wood-burning stove in the dining room while caretaker and host Mara Lacchia stirs a pot of polenta and prepares other tasty, traditional Italian fare in the adjacent kitchen.

Simple dorm-style rooms and bathrooms are available at this refuge and are typically utilized by those headed to higher elevations for more rigorous hiking or climbing the following day. Day hikers, on the other hand, can head back down the trail, refueled after a satisfying lunch and a hearty serving of Mara’s perfect tiramisu. The fresh mountain air and awesome views from Rifugio Pontese are certainly worth the climb, but it’s that delectable dessert that will have this hiker making the trek again one day.  

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