What is it like to go hiking in Tuscany?
You start in dense forest, with occasional views of tree-covered slopes stretching to the horizon. You climb higher to see bald-topped mountains in the distance and tile-roofed villages dotting the hillsides. You emerge in a cluster of houses as quaint as the hobbits’ Shire, where you relax with an espresso before continuing on to a grassy summit with a panoramic view. You walk down the other side to a botanic garden, another village, and an amazing dinner in your family-run hotel.
Hiking in Tuscany combines variety of scenery with the fact that people still live and work in these mountains – as shepherds, farmers, gatherers, cooks, and hoteliers.
The reason I love Tuscany hiking so much is that it’s so … civilized. In America we’re used to wilderness, which offers its own charms, of course. But one can quickly get used to hiking from a medieval village to a monastery to an abandoned church to a winery in one day.
One of my favorite Tuscan hikes I’ve discovered so far is the Pania di Corfino, in an area north of Lucca called the Garfagnana.
In Italy, you have states (like Tuscany) but also regions (like Chianti), and the Garfagnana lies between two of the great mountain ranges of central Italy: the Appenines on the east, running the whole spine of the country, and the Apuane Alps on the west, supplying all the marble for the great statues of Florence, Pisa, and Siena.
Here’s a little trip to the Pania di Corfino.
Lucca, Corfino, and the Mountains
Lucca, about an hour west of Florence, is a pretty big tourist attraction, and rightfully so. It’s a complete, walled medieval city, with the walls intact all the way around. People walk or bike on top of them and wander the streets within them. From any high point in town, you can look out to the north and see towering, rocky peaks. On a clear day, you can see more to the east. In between those is a wide, lush valley, filled with villages and rivers and wild places – the Garfagnana.
Corfino is not the biggest town up there, but it is a sweet one, and it sits at the foot of one of the more visible landmarks within the Garfagnana: the Pania di Corfino (here’s an image, from parcobike.it). Near as I can tell, pania just means “high place.” Seen from below, this pania is a towering cliff hundreds of feet high – your destination for the day, if you’d like.
Corfino is just over an hour’s drive from Lucca, if you don’t hit traffic or get lost (good luck), but my suggestion is to base in Corfino at the wonderful Hotel La Baita. Baita translates as “chalet,” but my Italian friend says it’s more like a shepherd’s shack, where someone spends the summer tending the sheep and making cheese. “The last building,” he called it, and in this case that makes sense; the trail to the Pania starts just behind their parking lot, and once you start walking, it’s only minutes before you’re past all the buildings, climbing through the oak and chestnut forest.
Some more shots of the hotel:
Hiking From Corfino to Campiana (~2 Hours One-Way)
Take the #56 trail to the right – and how can you not? It’s signed for “Fonte Dell’Amore,” or “spring of love.” More on that later. It’s a moderate climb for a while, eventually showing views of Corfino below and spectacular cliffs in a side valley below.
In the distance are the peaks of Parco Nazionale Appeninno Tosco-Emiliano, where even greater hiking adventures await. This is like a warm-up for the hut-to-hut adventures one can have there.
The CAI 56 Trail rolls along, with slight ups and downs as it winds around a long ridge, then climbs through a wonderful forest to join a creek.
And then one comes to the “spring of love,” where a sign indicates that some couple first met here. Too bad I can’t find anything else online about it. But the water is fantastic!
A few minutes after this, you start to see buildings through the trees, and soon you arrive in the impossibly charming 16th Century village of Campaiana.
Follow the trail up to the road and you’ll even see a small restaurant, Il Fungo, or The Mushroom.
My 2014 hiking group stopped here for coffee and (after the summit) lunch. Folks can even hang out here for a bit while others head for the high country.
Up to the Pania di Corfino
From Campaiana, you have options: hike back to Corfino on the 56 or 58 trail, the latter being a bit more open and shorter, but also steeper downhill. Or you can head for the summit, some 700 feet and 40 minutes above you.
There, you can make a loop back to Campaiana, or continue down the other side towards Corfino.
If you want the summit, take the CAI 64 (red and white) Trail (also the blue-and-green Airone 1 trail) to the summit, then either return to Campaina (perhaps for desert) or head down the 1 or 64 towards Parco Orechielle, where you can find a nice botanic garden as well as a visitors center, restaurant, and viewing area for bighorn sheep and other animals.
Our group visited the top, had an awesome lunch back at Il Fungo, then headed back to Corfino on the 58 Trail. As always, some nice views were had on the way back:
Back in Corfino, where we spent the night at the Baita (50 Euro per night, including breakfast), we got back in time for a quick shower before our very tasty four-course dinner for about 20 Euro: soup, pasta, meat with sides, desert. Mom is the chef, dad the waiter, daughter runs the hotel, kids are in training.
The hike took us six hours, which is about the middle of the options. Just to Campaiana and back is four, and doing the whole loop with the gardens and walking back to Corfino is probably seven.
The hike from Corfino to the Pania di Corfino is a perfect introduction to all that hiking in Tuscany can be. It’s all about the villages, the forests, the high country, the food, the history, and the views. It doesn’t have pure wilderness like we’re used to in America, but hiking in Tuscany, to places like Pania di Corfino, is a pretty magical experience.