Our experts suggest 10 of the best activity and adventure holidays in Italy for 2018, including walking tours and water-based trips.
1. Footpaths and flavours of Liguria
The five pastel-painted waterside settlements of the cliff-clinging Cinque Terre, accessible only by sea, rail or on foot, are a real travel classic, but this eight-day centre-based holiday from K E Adventure reaches out into less heavily-visited parts of Liguria, too. Based in Moneglia, along the coast north of the Unesco-protected Cinque Terre, it uses trains, and boats, to access exquisite villages, pretty harbours and fragrant islands. The five key settlements are savoured over two days, walking from one piazza to the next over steep olive-lined footpaths and vineyard terraces. There’s also time for elegant Portofino, made popular in the 1850s by the British aristocracy, and for a boat trip from Porto Venere, inspirational second home of both Byron and Shelley.
Departures in May, June, September and October, from £995, full board. Flights not included, but the hosting starts with a transfer from Pisa Airport. K E Adventure (01768 773966, keadventure.com). (Andrew Eames)
- The best alternatives to the Cinque Terre
2. A picture of Italy
The market leader in painting holidays in Italy (13 years in the business and it shows) has a superb new location: the Castello di Petroia, a four-star hotel in an ancient hilltop fortress near Perugia with wonderful Umbrian vistas to capture on canvas. The week is a relaxed blend of tuition (from British artist Charles Mitchell) and painting in and around the hotel (on walking trails), with excursions to picturesque Gubbio and the ancient walled city of Urbino, the option of cookery lessons and the chance to visit the Perugia Jazz Festival. The group bonds over lunch and dinner, with fine food and top-class local wines.
From £1,680, including accommodation, meals (with wine) tuition and excursions. Flights and jazz extra. Departure June 9. Painting in Italy (0808 118 5729; paintinginitaly.com). (Nigel Richardson)
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3. Sicily from the water
A new tour of east Sicily from family operator Activities Abroad offers several opportunities for water-based fun. Its aquatic highlights include a snorkelling excursion by boat to Isola Bella Marine Park, worth a visit as much for its islet of picture-postcard loveliness, and a trip sea kayaking. For more intrepid youngsters there’s optional body-rafting trip in the Alcantara Gorges. Snug in a wetsuit, safe with a helmet and lifejacket, your young ones whizz through a laval gorge that wouldn’t look out of place in Lord of the Rings. The tour allows plenty of swimming too – the Ionian Sea sparkles beyond the back lawn of the hotel in Giardini Naxos. Other activities include a cycling trip through the Sicilian countryside and a trek up the slopes of Mount Etna. Tour prices vary by the number of activities selected.
From £985, includes flights, transfers, accommodation, meals. Activities not included (though are paid for when booking). Departures May–August 2017. Contact Activities Abroad (01670 789991, activitiesabroad.com). (James Stewart)
4. Matera, on foot and by zipwire
The “Flight of the Angel” is an 80mph zipwire ride that stretches for just under a mile between two remote villages in the “Dolomiti Lucane”, a stunning mountain area of Basilicata, in Italy’s deep south. It’s utterly exhilarating. Put together your own active holiday in the region by combining the zipwire ride with trekking in the stunning Parco della Murgia Materana near the cave town of Matera – European Capital of Culture for 2019. Antonio Manicone and Eleonora Sansone of Matera Tour Guides know the area’s remote rock-hewn chapels inside out, and offer some spectacular half- and full-day walking tours.
Zipwire flights from €30 (£25) (00 39 331 934 0456). Matera tours start at €60 (£50) for four people (00 39 328 761 4353; materatourguide.it). (Lee Marshall)
5. Cycling in Piedmont
The rolling hills of the Langhe area of Piedmont produce some of Italy’s great red wines – austere but elegant, rather like the landscape they derive from. Like Burgundy, this is a region that benefits from a village-by-village approach, and like Burgundy, it has a culinary tradition to match its wine prowess: it’s no accident that this is the birthplace of Italy’s Slow Food movement. So why not do a slow tour of the area – by bike? Headwater’s Gastronomic Barolo Cycling self-guided tour offers a gentle eight-day dawdle from historic town to historic town via feudal castles and distracting wine-tasting opportunities. You do four days’ cycling in all, with no transfer longer than 26 miles, and the cost includes bike hire, luggage transfer and all evening meals – two of them in a Michelin-starred restaurant. From £1,579 per person, flights not included (01606 828202; headwater.com). (Lee Marshall)
- View our best escorted tours of Italy
6. Hiking in the Sorrento Peninsula
Many visitors to Sorrento, Positano or Capri never get past the picture-postcard charms of the town centres. Which is a shame, because these (admittedly cute) splashes of habitation are dabbed on to the most stunning natural canvas, a place of peregrine falcons and green lizards, of ancient mountain tracks descending into cool lemon groves. To explore the wider context, try Inntravel’s self-guided “Sorrento Peninsula” walking tour, a seven-night route for confident walkers which takes in the “Path of the Gods” high above Positano, a dramatic ridge walk to the peninsula’s southern tip, Punta Campanella, and a choice of routes on Capri, including one that links the Blue Grotto with Punta Carena lighthouse, via a series of British-built military forts from the Nelson era. From £1,075 per person based on two sharing (01653 617002; inntravel.co.uk). (Lee Marshall)
7. Mountain adventures (and pampering) in South Tirol
You could opt to spend your days being pampered in the spa or lounging beside the warm-water infinity pool at the Adler Mountain Lodge – an 18-suite, 12-chalet construction built entirely of larch at an altitude of 1,800m in an alpine setting that will take your breath away. But that would be missing the point when enthusiastic young staff members are on hand to lead you on long hiking, horse riding, climbing or mountain biking expeditions, or to arrange outdoor yoga and cardio-fitness activities. There’s golf, too, a short drive away. In winter, you can strap your skis on right outside your door and set off on downhill or cross-country runs.
From around €600 for a long weekend in summer at the Adler Mountain Lodge (00 39 047 172 3000 adler-lodge.com). (Lee Marshall)
8. Wild swimming in the Apennines
With so much sea to choose from, wild swimming in Italy’s rivers and lakes has relatively few fans. But a book – Wild Swimming Italy by Michele Tameni (published by Wild Things) – reveals some spectacular bathing places in lesser-known parts of the country. The Pietrapazza – literally, crazy rock – river near the hamlet of Poggio alla Lastra in the Casentino Forests National Park is one of them. Large crystalline pools of rock smoothed over the ages by fast-flowing water, the gush of little waterfalls and great slabs of rock for sunbathing make this secret haunt in a forest clearing a true delight. Nearby in San Piero in Bagno, the Locanda al Gambero Rosso is a hotel with a Slow Food-recommended restaurant where wild herbs from the forest find their way into many of the dishes.
Al Gambero Rosso (00 39 054 390 3405; locandagamberorosso.it) opens for lunch from Wednesday to Sunday and for dinner on Friday and Saturday only. (Lee Marshall)
9. Riding in Sardinia
What is it about Sardinia and horses? They feature at some of the island’s most spectacular festivals: the equine acrobatics at Sassari’s Cavalcata festival, the jousting at Oristano’s Sa Sartiglia, the hectic bareback racing — all guns blazing — at Sedilo, to name but three. If you’re passionate about horses, you’re in the right place, and if you’re not — well, consider exploring the island on four legs, even if you’re a novice. Far and Ride (0845 0066552) offers a variety of itineraries, including trips that combine coastal rides with treks in the Monte Ferru volcanic mountain range (Rob Andrews).
10. Lake Garda for teenagers
KE Adventure's six-day trip to Italy’s Lake Garda may be a dream break for parents with teenagers in tow. From a lakeside hotel in Riva del Garda, they can pack off the kids on to a host of organised activities for all levels, from stand-up paddleboarding and windsurfing to dinghy sailing and a lot of swimming. Instruction is in English, winds are predictable – handy for beginners – and summer water temperatures are bath-like at 27˚C. Adventures on terra firma take in climbing and a mountain hike. Options for your free day include a family bike ride along the lake’s shore-path (don’t worry, it’s flat) and a daytrip to Venice. And, of course, there’s Lake Garda itself; a destination whose villages, small towns, cuisine and gelati offer a relaxing holiday for mum and dad too. Now that really would be a dream.
From £1,395, including accommodation, meals and transfers. Flights to Milan Malpensa not included. Departs June–Sept 2017. KE Adventures (01768 773966, keadventure.com). (James Stewart)
For more general advice on booking a holiday in Italy, see our Italy summer holidays guide. Our guide features expert recommendations for city, beach, villa, culture, food and drink and activity holidays.
For our other expert holiday selections in Italy see our top 10 villa holidays, beach holidays, culture holidays and food and drink holidays.