Italy's fortes extend beyond its galleries, wardrobes and dining rooms. The country is one of nature's masterpieces, with extraordinary natural diversity matched by few. From the north's icy Alps and glacial lakes to the south's fiery craters and turquoise grottoes, this is a place for doing as well as seeing. Not bad for a country not much bigger than Arizona.

Please check the latest local travel restrictions before planning any trip and always follow government advice.

Amalfi Coast 

Italy's most celebrated coastline is a gripping strip: coastal mountains plunge into creamy blue sea in a prime-time vertical scene of precipitous crags, sun-bleached villages and lush woodland. Between sea and sky, mountain-top hiking trails deliver Tyrrhenian panoramas fit for a god. While some may argue that the peninsula's most beautiful coast is Liguria's Cinque Terre or Calabria's Costa Viola, it is the Amalfi Coast that has seduced and inspired countless greats, from Wagner and DH Lawrence to Tennessee Williams, Rudolf Nureyev and Gore Vidal.

Turquoise seas and cinematic piazzas aside, the region is home to some of Italy's finest hotels and restaurants. It's also one of the country's top spots for hiking, with well-marked trails providing the chance to escape the star-struck coastal crowds.

Italy, Sicily, Taormina, view to hotel with Mount Etna in the background
Hotel with quite the view of Mount Etna in the background. ©Westend61/Getty Images

Mount Etna

Known to the Greeks as the 'column that holds up the sky', Mount Etna is not only Europe's largest volcano, it's one of the world's most active. The ancients believed the giant Tifone (Typhoon) lived in its crater and lit the sky with spectacular pyrotechnics. At 3326m it literally towers above Sicily's Ionian Coast. Whether you tackle it on foot or on a guided 4WD tour, scaling this time bomb rewards with towering views and the secret thrill of having come cheek-to-cheek with a towering threat.

Since 1987 the volcano and its slopes have been part of a national park, the Parco dell'Etna. Encompassing 581 sq km and some 21 towns, the park's varied landscape ranges from the severe, snowcapped mountaintop to lunar deserts of barren black lava, beech woods and lush vineyards where the area's highly rated DOC wine is produced.

The craggy spires of the Dolomites tower above Santa Maddalena in the Val di Funes
The craggy spires of the Dolomites tower above Santa Maddalena in the Val di Funes. ©Matt Munro/Lonely Planet

The Dolomites

Scour the globe and you'll find plenty of taller, bigger and more geologically volatile mountains, but few can match the romance of the pink-hued, granite Dolomites. Maybe it's their harsh, jagged summits, the vibrant skirts of spring wildflowers or the rich cache of Ladin legends. Then again, it could just be the magnetic draw of money, style and glamour at Italy's most fabled ski resort, Cortina d'Ampezzo, or the linguistic curiosity of picture-postcard mountain village Sappada. Whatever the reason, this tiny pocket of northern Italy takes seductiveness to dizzying heights.

Europeans flock here in winter for highly hospitable resorts, sublime natural settings and extensive, well-coordinated ski networks. Come for downhill or cross-country skiing and snowboarding or get ready for sci alpinismo (an adrenaline-spiking mix of skiing and mountaineering), freeride, and a range of other winter adventure sports including those on legendary circuit Sella Ronda. This is also a beautiful summer destination, offering excellent hiking, sublime views and lots of fresh, fragrant air.

Alps style house next to Lake Como, Italy on a beautiful summer day ©Alexandre Rotenberg/Shutterstock

Lago di Como

If it's good enough for the Clooneys and vacationing Obamas, it's good enough for mere mortals. Nestled in the shadow of the Rhaetian Alps, dazzling Lago di Como is Lombardy's most spectacular lake. Its lavish Liberty-style villas are home to movie moguls, fashion royalty and Arab sheikhs, while the lake's siren calls include gardens at Villa Melzi d'Eril, Villa Carlotta and Villa Balbianello that blush pink with camellias, azaleas and rhododendrons in April and May. 

For those less flush, Como's lush green hinterland promises bags of free, wonderfully scenic hiking. The mountainous terrain means that opportunities for taking bird's-eye views of the lake and its towns are numerous. And with a fraction of the visitors drawn here compared to Lake Maggiore or Lake Garda, Lake Como and its surrounding area offer the traveller the chance to enjoy a real sense of discovery.

Parco Nazionale d'Abruzzo, Lazio e Molise

Italy’s second-oldest national park is also one of its most ecologically rich. Established by royal decree in 1923, it began as a modest 5-sq-km reserve that, little by little, morphed into the 440-sq-km protected area it is today. The evolution wasn’t easy. The park was temporarily abolished in 1933 by the Mussolini government. It returned to the fold in 1950 only to face further encroachment from housing construction, road building and ski developers.

The park has managed to remain at the forefront of Italy’s conservation movement, reintroducing and protecting wild animals such as the Abruzzo chamois, Apennine wolf, lynx, deer and – most notably – Marsican bear (the park has Italy’s largest surviving enclave of these threatened animals).

Today the park extends over three regions, with over half of it covered in thick beech forest. Thanks to its long history, it receives more visitors than other parks – around two million annually.

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