Genius Loci Travel was founded with the idea to give our clients the possibility to experience the ‘real Spirit of Italy’, which also means an in-depth exploration of the ‘cultural roots’ – which as a walking tour company we have transformed in a series of ‘Cultural Routes’.
Some – but not all! – of these routes are listed by the Council of Europe as ‘European Cultural Routes’, like the so-called ‘Via Francigena‘, the most famous of the pilgrim roads from northern Europe to Rome. But with thousands of years of history and many different ‘occupations’ there are many more historical ‘cultural’ routes in Italy. There is an increasing interest for these routes and ‘historical paths’ get created everywhere. Mostly on the traces of a Saint (and there are many saints in Italy!), but also on the traces of the Normans or the Byzantine Empire.
The Network of Ancient Roman Roads
Of course there are the old Roman roads, perhaps the Romans’ most impressive achievement, and most important contribution to modern Europe. At its peak, the Roman Empire extended from Scotland (Hadrian’s Wall) to Egypt and Mesopotamia. Thousands of years later, monuments of Roman glory and imperialism still stand throughout the whole area, and so do the roads!
Perhaps the most famous of these roads is the Via Appia, the “Regina viarum” (‘Queen of all roads’), which leads from Rome to Brindisi, now on the list to become UNESCO ‘Cultural Heritage’. The Via Appia is a unique road which leads you through some stunning (and unknown) areas of southern Italy. Along many stretches you can still walk on the same Roman pavement as 2000 years ago, but other stretches are busy roads today. Projects to make these roads ‘walkable’ are plentiful, but for the moment they can hardly be recommended as ‘walking routes’. Please contact us in case you want to walk (part of) the Via Appia – we’ll show you the best bits only!
The Via Cassia – Via Francigena
Only the name ‘Tuscany’ already makes people dream about rolling hills, cypress-lined lanes and beautiful vineyards. And they are all there! But there are very few areas where this quintessential Tuscan landscape is still intact, and did not (yet) collaps under the impact of big tourist buses. Some of our favourite hikes here lead through the stunning rolling landscape of San Gimignano. Not only the Via Francigena but also several other great walks can be enjoyed here! And after the exercise of the day it’s great to know that you can relax on the grounds of your beautiful agriturismo, which blends in perfectly with the landscape. Some other stunningly beautiful walks can be done in the Val d’Orcia, which landscape is rightly listed as World Heritage by UNESCO. Wandering through the vineyards to a medieval abbey and sleep in a monastery or in the heart of a medieval town is a unique experience.
Medieval, Bourbon and ‘Byzantine’ Roads – The Empire & the monks
All over Italy during the medieval times, new roads were built. Some of these were built in addition to the network of Roman roads -which continued to be used!- some provided only short deviations, some were built in areas where there were no Roman roads in place. Famous examples of ‘new’ roads are the ‘Via Vandelli’ (between Tuscany and Emilia), the ‘Via Maestra dei Villaggi’ along the Amalfi Coast, and the Tuscan and Venetian road network. In southern Italy many new roads were built by the Bourbon dynasty, often called Via Regia (‘Royal Roads’). Also the walks on the traces of the Byzantine monks have become popular recently. Several of them have become ‘Saints’ and semi-religious routes follow their supposed traces.
The ‘Arab-Norman’ Routes of Sicily
Located on the northern coast of Sicily, Arab-Norman Sicily boasts a series of nine civil and religious structures dating from the era of the Norman kingdom of Sicily (1130-1194), mainly located in Palermo, the Capital at the time: two palaces, three churches, a cathedral and a bridge, as well as the cathedral of Monreale, just south of Palermo, and the cathedral of Cefalú, to the East.
Collectively, they are an example of a social-cultural syncretism between Western, Islamic and Byzantine cultures on the island which gave rise to new concepts of space, structure and decoration. They also bear testimony to the fruitful coexistence of people of different origins and religions (Muslim, Byzantine, Latin, Jewish, Lombard and Norman/French)!
Several ‘cultural routes’ follow their traces.
The route of the Phoenicians – Sicily & the Mediterranean
Unlike the Amalfi Coast, or the ‘Cinque Terre’, where you can find a large number of beautiful hikes relatively close to each other, the best hikes in Sicily are far apart. Therefore do not try to ‘do’ Sicily in a week or even less. The island is big and varied, and offers all possibities for a relaxed walk to a strenous hike, from strolling between ancient temples at Segesta or Agrigento to climbing active volcanoes. Some of our favourite hikes are combined in a unique tour of the South-East: the hike up to Mt. Etna, but also the stunning walk in the Pantalica Canyon, a unique blend of nature and ancient history, and the walk through Baroque Ragusa down into Ibla. On the other side of the island there is of course the stunning Zingaro Nature Reserve, but also the short stroll between the temples of Segesta and the climb onto the ‘Rocca’ above Cefalù are worth mentioning. And even the area of Corleone, tragically known for its mafia, has some great hikes to offer.
And what did we forget?
A lot! The ‘Green Heart of Italy’, Umbria, offers many great hiking possibilities, there is of course the Mont Blanc and the region of the ‘Italian Lakes’. Did you know that Lake Como offers some great hiking for example? The Trentino has more than just the Dolomites and who has heard of the trails in Calabria and Basilicata? Even the well-known islands in the Bay of Naples, like the famous & fashional Capri offer some ‘off-the-beaten-track’ hiking.
JUST CONTACT US ! We’ll be happy to get you on the right trail in every corner of Italy! You’ll see Italy really is one of the most scenic, stunningly diverse countries on Earth, ideal for both the avid hiker as well as for those who want to discover the ‘dolce vita’ during a leisurely stroll.