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If the museums, galleries and espresso are not enough to occupy your time in Italy, there are plenty of options for the active and adrenalin-seeking. The Italian Alps, in particular the Dolomites, offer well-marked trails and strategically placed refuges for the long-distance hiker. Be prepared, even in summer, for sudden changes in the weather. The Apennines also have good hiking trails, especially in the Parco Nazionale d'Abruzzo and the Sila Massif in Calabria. Other options include the challenging but well-marked trails in the Apuane Alps in Tuscany, and the spectacular hikes in the rugged eastern ranges of Sardinia, such as Gennargentu.

There are plenty of excellent ski resorts in the Italian Alps - particularly in the Dolomites, which have the most dramatic scenery. The five major resorts are Cortina d'Ampezzo in the Veneto; Madonna di Campiglio, San Martino di Castrozza and Canazei in Trentino; and Courmayeur in the Valle d'Aosta. The ski season generally extends from December to late March, though there is year-round skiing on Mt Blanc, the Matterhorn and in the Valle d'Aosta.

Windsurfing and sailing are extremely popular, and at most beach resorts it's possible to rent boats and equipment. Cycling is a great way to see the country. The only problem is that 75% of Italy is mountainous or hilly, so you will need some stamina and a good bike. Popular cycling areas include the hills of Tuscany, and the Valnerina in Umbria. The tortuous, winding road up the Passo Stelvio is for masochists only.


Religious, cultural and historical events pepper the Italian calendar. The pre-Easter Carnivale is closely associated with Venice; Holy Week Easter processions are especially flamboyant at Taranto, Chieti and Sicily; and Florence explodes a cart full of fireworks on Easter Sunday. Festivals honouring patron saints are also particularly colourful events; for example the Fiestas di San Nicola in Bari and San Gennaro in Naples, the Festival of Snakes in Abruzzo (May) and the Fiesta of Sant'Antonio in Padua (June). Events betraying more than a hint of history include the Race of the Candles and Palio of the Crossbow in Gubbio (May), the Sardinian Cavalcade (May), the Regata of the Four Ancient Maritime Republics (which rotates between Pisa, Venice, Amalfi and Genoa, and is held in June), Il Palio in Siena (July & August) and Venice's Historic Regatta (September).

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