Get Active in Italy: Top 5 Breaks for 2014

La dolce vita is all very well, but if you’d like to boost your exercise quota beyond lifting and lowering a glass of wine on your next trip to Italy, we’ve got some great ideas. Walking and cycling are still the most popular and accessible activity holidays in Italy, and you don’t need to be a triathlete to enjoy them.

Your desired level of activity will make it easier to decide where to go, with Tuscany and Umbria best for gentle activity around historic towns. Sicily, Le Marche, the Lakes region, and the section of the Sorrentine Peninsula above Amalfi are also full of possibilities. Wherever you want to explore, make sure to book your car hire in Italy well in advance this summer.

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Walking the Cinque Terre

Break away from the crowds and explore the hauntingly beautiful Ligurian coast, with a hike through the Cinque Terre (“Five Lands”) National Park, a Unesco World Heritage site where steep, craggy hills descend to the sea, pinned by five lively fishing villages. The area lies halfway between Pisa and Genoa, with the towns spread out along a 16km stretch of spectacular coast, none more than a two-hour walk from the other.

Catastrophic storms and floods in 2011 closed most of the walking trails from Vernazza, but some €8 million of investment saw them fully reopened for 2014. You can hike the three principal routes from Vernazza: the Sentierro Azzurro (“blue path”) extends north-west along the coast to Monterosso; the same coastal route heads south-east to Corniglia; and a third 8-shaped trail winds its way inland to Vernazza’s hilltop sanctuary.

Walking in the Dolomites

If you’re looking for mountain thrills and dependably fine weather, head for Italy’s craggy apex, the Dolomites. Fans of other Alpine regions may prefer the abundant greenery of the north, where the weather is less reliable, but you cannot fail to be impressed by the pale, towering cliffs, the peaks speckled with snow, and the dominant blue skies.

There is a strong Austrian influence, with most locals speaking fluent German. Bolzano is your gateway to the Dolomites, and Castelrotto (or Kastelruth), 27km away, makes a good base for exploring Alpe di Siusi, the most extensive alpine meadow in Europe. Even if you are not a seasoned mountain climber, you can enjoy this Alpine region’s spectacular peaks.

Choose from stunning mountain trails or gentler forest routes, and enjoy the blissful comfort of some exceptional hotels. With excellent accommodation standards and superb cuisine, you won’t feel any hardship, no matter how strenuously you exercise. Senales Valley (or Schnals) on the Austrian border is perfect for a more relaxing week of walking and sightseeing, with attractions including extensive waymarked paths, the stylish spa town of Merano, and Otzi, the Copper Age man discovered in the ice.

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Walking in the Umbrian Mountains

Discover the wilder side of Umbria in Sibillini national park, a place far removed from the rolling pastoral landscape and pretty hill towns of Italy’s heart. The Sibillini mountains are crowned by Monte Vettore, a 2,438m peak overlooking the astonishing Piano Grande – an elevated, mountain-ringed plain blanketed in snow in winter and in wild flowers in summer.

There is abundant potential for walking and mountain biking on historic trails and paths designed for peasants’ carts.  You can pick up your rental car in Perugia, from which it is a 130km drive to Sibillini. Plan your itinerary so that you can alternate your thigh-busting days with trips to the nearby classic low-country towns of Assisi, Bevagna, Montefalco and Spoleto. You should also try to make time for the Abbazia di San Pietro in Valle, a medieval abbey with some exquisite Roman sarcophagi in the Romanesque church, the nave of which is embellished with a large cycle of fine Romanesque frescoes.

Cycling Sardinia’s Sinis Peninsula

If you prefer to explore on two wheels, Sardinia’s peaceful roads and breathtaking coastline make it perfect for biking. Rent a bike, bring your own, or organise a guided cycling tour on the Sinis peninsula, on the southwest of the island. Rent a car from Alghero Fertilia airport and make your way along the coast to San Salvatore, 158km away.

Starting on the Sinis peninsula, see the ruins of ancient Tharros, wind your way around the Costa Verde and the dunes of Piscinas, explore the ancient mines of Sulcis, pedal around the island of Carloforte and Sant’Antioco, and pedal around the Costa del Sud to Pula. You won’t need any extensive training to prepare for a cycling holiday in Sardinia. Covering about 50km per day, you can complete the tour of the Sinis Peninsula in about a week.

car hire ItalyCycling the Tuscan Coast

If you’d like to combine a cycling holiday with some intensive beach relaxation, a leisurely 300km tour of the Tuscan coast might be for you. You can enjoy the peace of quiet roads and cycleways, untroubled by strenuous climbs. Indeed, the best way to truly experience Pisa, Lucca and the coast is to get up on a bike and explore the old town centres and charming villages – not to mention the glorious, white beaches.

From the vast expanses of sand at Versilia, on the northern Tuscan coast, to the combination of reef and sand at Grosseto, in the south, the quantity and quality of beaches are remarkable. Feel the sun on your face as you pedal between the sea and the acres of terraced olive groves and lush vineyards and discover the lesser-known side of Tuscany, with its  gentle hills, medieval hamlets, picturesque harbors, and famous wineries.

Relax in the evening over sumptuous cuisine, and sample the wares of the renowned wine region of Bolgheri, home to celebrated labels Ornellaia, Sassicaia, and Grattamacco. If you make the worthwhile detour to the island of Elba, you can take in Populonia, a deeply evocative Etruscan site.

No matter how far off the beaten track you venture in Tuscany, however, don’t expect to get any part of it to yourself: All of that beauty comes at a price, and that price is crowds. For this reason, avoid the region in August.

This is just an aperitivo for anybody interested in taking an active Mediterranean break. Book car hire in Italy, and you can make the most of your time al fresco.