Thoughts of Italy evoke numerous images that span the senses: foodies might immediately bring to mind a sumptuous melt-in-the-mouth pasta dish with rich wild boar ragu; culture vultures may gaze longingly into the horizon as they contemplate the cultural wonderment to be found in the great Renaissance cities of Florence, Venice or Siena; sports fans may view the passion on display on the pitch and in the crowds at any Serie A match as second to none; and oenophiles will take a deep breath and try to recall the mellifluous yet complex flavours of their favourite Italian wine.
And it is wine – and the fantastically picturesque countryside that abounds in Italy’s many wine regions – that is the focus of this article. So read on for our pick of the top five wine and walking holidays Italy has to offer.
Extending from the east of the magnificent Lake Garda to timeless Venice, the Veneto region is Italy’s major wine producer of the northeast (more highly regarded by most than the Friuli region that is further east still). With the vast volume of wine produced here has come a wide variety in terms of quality, but fish out the top tipples and you will be rewarded handsomely. For instance the Breganze wines – made from a Bordeaux blend – are worth trying, with those produced by Maculan being the best of the lot.
The walking in the area – like most Italian wine regions – is varied and rewarded, especially if you take in the contrasts of the Lake Garda region and the city of Venice itself. In between the two you will find rolling hills, vineyards and olive groves aplenty, while Padua and Este are well worth taking strolls around, especially the latter with its impressive 14th century mediaeval walls.
Staying in the north but heading to the west side of the country, the Piedmont region has so much to offer walkers and wine-lovers alike (and they are far from mutually exclusive passions, of course). It is one of the top wine-producing areas in the country, with a vast array of styles from flirty, light whites through tongue-tickling sparklers to the big, booming reds that leave a lasting impression on all who quaff them.
The brashest of all the Piedmont reds is, of course, Barolo – a tannin-filled bang of a bottle in its youth, the Barolo mellows exquisitely within a few years to bring forth a spectrum of flavours that never fail to surprise and delight. With some great producers releasing great vintage after great vintage (including the likes of Altare, Cavallotto and Giuseppe Mascarello) you simply have to try a few glasses (or bottles) if you happen to be within a hundred miles of this area.
And what an area it is too, from a hiking perspective. The hills appear almost to ripple in the light breeze as vineyards and sunflowers clothe them. Trails meander through mighty oak forests or alongside undulating fields as you wander from exquisite town to exquisite town (not least the town of Barolo itself, which is well worth a visit).
Tuscany boasts some of the best Italian trekking holidays as it literally has something for everyone. From the elegance and splendour of its culturally rich cities and towns (Florence, Siena, Pisa and many more) to the famous rolling hills, quaint hamlets and fantastic, hearty cuisine, visitors to the region cannot fail to embrace it. The wine isn’t bad either!
Don’t fall into the trap of focussing solely on Chianti in Tuscany. While it is undoubtedly a wine that (should you avoid the lower end) is full of power and character, there are so many more to sample. One of the wines that would be almost criminal to miss is the Brunello di Montalcino, made from a particularly refined clone of the Sangiovese grape. For fans of white wine, sample the Vernaccia di San Gimignano, produced within sight of the famous town of San Gimignano, whose historic centre is one of the many UNESCO World Heritage sites in the region.
Sardinia is often overlooked as a serious wine producer, but it punches above its weight in terms of the quality of its best tipples. The best of the Monica variety, for instance, is a very drinkable Beaujolais-like red while for a bit more oomph try the Cannonau, a full bodied almost inky wine in good years.
Sardinia is also a fantastic place for hikers, and with plenty of beaches on which to relax after a few days of treading paths, you could get a very refreshing mix of walking and relaxation, with great seafood and decent wine to help with the latter.
The Liguria region is easily accessible from the commercial centre of Genoa, and while its wines are not as renowned as those of some of the aforementioned regions, the best of those coming out of Cinqueterre and Rossese are certainly worth seeking out, the former being a dry white using the Bosco grape, the latter for their fairly sturdy and stoic reds.
This region more than any other mentioned has some of the best hiking trails available anywhere in the country: emerald coves, rugged cliffs and bays that appear from nowhere, the panoramas to be found in the this region of the country are worth the trip in themselves, and the wines are just an added bonus.