It’s natural to think of dazzling architectural wonders and cultural landmarks when Italy comes to mind, but to many thrillseekers, the Italian icons are just launching points of adventure. From coastline-gazing on kayaks and alpine hiking to exploring mysterious caves deep underground, Italy has an outstanding array of opportunities for adventurers of all ambition levels. Consider these possibilities if you’re looking to elevate your adrenaline levels while feasting on some of the lesser known wonders of Italy.
Explore an Underwater Medieval City
More than 2,000 years ago, Julius Caesar and Cicero were known to regularly visit the city of Baia along the Bay of Naples in southern Italy, where the Roman elite had vacation homes and enjoyed the many spas built over the natural hot springs. But now the resort city that drew Roman aristocracy in ancient times has been completely covered by rising sea levels, which has turned the area into a natural attraction for thrill-seekers. While the most adventurous scuba divers will get a full view of the incredible statues and mosaics that are now underwater, the site also makes for terrific snorkeling and you can also charter a glass-bottomed boat to get a look without even having to get wet.
The region surrounding Baia also comes with other exploration opportunities, particularly for those eager to gather some eye-popping views of the Italian coastline. By Kayaking along the Neapolitan coast, you’ll get a chance to see rich green gardens and rugged rock formations–like the Faraglioni di Capri–on your way to hidden sea grottos and various other points of intrigue. You’ll also see ancient ruins up close that are not accessible at all by foot. While kayaking Naples during the day can be on the mildly thrilling side, more experienced kayakers can check it out at night for an extra layer of adventure and mystery.
Hike the ‘Path of the Gods’
The Amalfi Coast in southern Italy is great to look at it from a distance, but it is even better to explore up close and personal by hiking between the small coastal towns of Agelora and Positano. Over eight kilometers of mostly cliff-hugging pathways, the Path of the Gods trail shows off blooming orchids in the spring and beautiful foliage in the fall, though it’s also popular in the summer as well. Allegedly named for a lover of Hercules, the famous pathway offers some of the greatest coastal views in southern Italy in addition to connecting the charming small towns that once formed the basis of a sea-trading empire.
Though the trail isn’t especially grueling in either direction, heading west from Agelora to Positano will offer a very mild, slightly downhill walk that makes it extremely easy to lap up the stunning visuals from high above the Tyrrhenian Sea. You can also skip to the middle in Praiano for an abbreviated version of the trek, though a 1,000-stair climb behind the St. Domenico Convent will still give you an opportunity for a workout. With plenty of hotels in the area that provide shuttle service to the starting and endpoints, all you have to do is remember to bring enough water and enjoy the scenery.
Climb to the Top of St. Peter’s Basilica
One of the most popular destinations in Italy, St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome is generally considered a must-see for its cultural significance and beauty, but it also contains a behind-the-scenes look at Michelangelo’s 16th-century masterpiece that many visitors miss. Up a windy and narrow 551-step staircase, visitors eventually emerge at the very top of the dome looking down directly over St. Peter’s Square, the Vatican Gardens, Sistine Chapel, and a panoramic view of Rome. Though not for the claustrophobic, the climb is also the perfect starter-level adventure for those hoping to keep moving on the trip and offers another great way to experience one of Rome’s most famous icons.
Check Out the Dolomites
A part of the Southern Limestone Alps in the northeast corner of Italy, the Dolomites mountain range showcases a stunning display of alpine beauty and natural treasures that make it an organic gathering point for thrillseekers. The region also has a fairly astonishing range of hiking trails that cater to all levels of skill and endurance. On an easy day-hike, visitors will pick their way through lush evergreen forests and deep blue alpine lakes–all backed up by the towering peaks of the Alps, which can be snow-capped during parts of the year. While the less strenuous hikes focus more on the valleys and meadows that make up the area, there are also plenty of hikes that take visitors up into the mountains and require a bit of stamina and athleticism.
But an afternoon trip to the Dolomites just might not be enough considering everything there is to offer. The area is also a very popular spot for multi-day backpacking excursions that give visitors a chance to see the full scope, which can include visits to the quaint little Italian villages sitting at the base of the mountains. There are also opportunities to hike from “rifugio to rifugio,” or “hut to hut,” allowing for easy overnight accommodations. For groups that have members with physical limitations, visitors can also utilize the gondola system to help with some of the more difficult parts of the terrain. From afternoon trips to weeks-long adventures, the Dolomites offer a choose-your-own style expedition that makes it a perfect region for adventure travelers.
Exploring the Frasassi Caves
Located in Genga, Italy (Ancona Province) in central Italy, the Frasassi Caves have been a spot of importance since at least the early part of the 11th century and today offer an exciting opportunity to see one of Italy’s better-kept secrets. The caves themselves’ offer some astounding eye candy, including a crystallized lake of calcium carbonate and a whole assortment of nooks and crannies to explore. Outside of the main caves, there are also other caves in the area that have their own secrets and ancient mysteries and interested visitors can even inspect a chamber that’s home to a large bat colony. Although a relatively easy two-hour tour is ideal for beginners, guests can head out on an extended tour that heads into the system’s narrower passages.
But the Frasassi Caves themselves are only the beginning, as the surrounding hiking trails give you some more stellar glimpses of the mountains and countryside as you stretch your legs. Ultimately, most hikers will end up at the Sanctuary of Santa Maria infra Saxa, an ancient chapel built directly into the mountains, that is believed to be about 1,000 years old. The other impressive building along the way is the Tempietto Valadier, built nearly 200 years ago under the guidance of Pope Leo XII. Like many of the best spots in Italy, the Frasassi Caves have a terrific combination of adventure and history that make them well worth the trip away from the more beaten paths and tourist hubs of Italy.