Seven of the Most Beautiful Weekend Camping Destinations in Italy
Italy is known to its inhabits as ‘the beautiful country’ (la bel paese), and for good reason. While famed for its ancient monuments, delicious cuisine, stunning coastlines, colorful politicians and beautiful people, many are unaware that the la bel paese also possesses some of the most outrageously stunning camping spots in Europe, if not the entire world. Below, we’ll take you through seven of the best, from high-altitude wild camps to relatively pampered, paid basecamps ideal for day-trips for the ‘weekend warrior’ looking to quickly immerse themselves into the awe-inspiring geography and scenery Italy has to offer.
Note: Wild camping or free camping in Italy is technically illegal. However, the generally accepted rule is that if you are camping above 6500 feet or so and not bothering anyone or their livestock, you’re free to do as you wish! If choosing to wild camp, be sure to pitch at dusk, without headlamps, and be gone in the morning. The guardia forestale make occasional excursions into popular areas to make sure everyone’s complying with their fairly draconian rules and can fine you up to $300 for any incursion…a stiff charge for a night’s accommodation without cable and a hot-tub!
Below, we let’s take a look into seven of Italy’s finest camping destinations, starting with some of the more civilized camping destinations with before moving onto the more wild and wonderful campsites.
Lo Stambecco, Parco Nazionale del Gran Paradiso
For those wishing to explore the Mont Blanc Massif, Gran Paradiso National Park and even Val D’Aosta, Lo Stambecco (‘The Ibex’) campsite offers a very friendly, scenic and conveniently placed basecamp for excursions and treks into all three locations.
While Lo Stambecco might not appeal to solitude and wilderness-seekers, for those looking to see some of the best of Europe’s mountains with a bit of creature comfort, this cozy little campsite is the ideal location. Situated on a grassy slope outside the charming little village of Valnontey, Lo Stambecco is a stop-off point on the long distance Alta Via (‘High Trail’) from Courmayeur to Champorcher and a short trek east or west will land you in some of the route’s most attractive and breathtakingly beautiful spots. Also, if you don’t mind jumping into the car and spending an hour sharing the road with Italy’s decidedly ‘quirky’ motoring public, two of the most famous mountains in climbing history – Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn – are easily reached after relatively short hikes.
Campeggio Sasso Remenno, Val Masino
Dubbed the ‘Little Yosemite of Europe’, Val Masino and the neighboring Val di Mello are just as much a climber’s Mecca and every bit as visually outstanding as their North American big brother. Campeggio Sasso Remenno offers a (fairly) civilized, idyllic, riverside camping spot within a stone’s throw of Europe’s largest free-standing boulder (Sasso Remenno) and is a short walk from the cute, rustic alpine village of San Martino. If things get a little toasty in the summer months, the Masino River – about ten paces from the campsite’s restaurant and café – is the perfect foil to the searing alpine sun!
The hiking possibilities in the area are endless. Most notable is the 3-hour trek up to Rifugio Gianetti, a mountain hut located at the foot of the famed Piz Badile and Piz Cengalo. Alternately, you could take on the epic ‘four passes’ hike from Bagni di Masino up to Rifugio Gianetti and then – eventually! – down to Val di Mello by way of Val di Zocca, wild camping wherever you please along the way – That is, if you don’t mind the 10,000ft of ascent!
Agneda, Val Vedello, Valtellina
The Orobic Alps in the north of Italy are one of the few remaining, truly wild ranges in continental Europe. There’s not a ski lift in sight and the few mountain huts remaining are usually unmanned and far less frequented than elsewhere. Compare to the Dolomites, the Mont Blanc Massif and the Val d’Aosta or Gran Paradiso areas, the trails here are blissfully quiet – if you happen to come across a tourist, it will most likely be the author himself! From the mighty fang of Pizzo di Coca, to the panoramic viewpoint of Pizzo di Rhodes and the intimidatingly named Pizzo del Diavolo (‘Devil’s Peak’), the Orobic Alps are crammed with outstandingly impressive peaks and, wending between them, some of the best walking trails in Italy.
In one of the range’s 12 northern valleys, Val Vedello, an ideal basecamp for exploring the best the Orobie have to offer is situated a few hundred meters past the tiny, stone-built and incredibly picturesque village of Agneda. The ‘campsite’ itself is no more than an enclosed patch of grass where anyone can enjoy a spot of free-of-charge camping, but boasts beautiful views south onto the Rhetic Alps and north toward the towering Cima Soliva. Although the campsite has no running water or bathroom facilities, there are plenty of freshwater streams in the vicinity…and trees!
While we have chosen to list Lo Zingaro as ‘semi-civilized’ – thus suggesting it is also‘semi-wild’ – this camping spot is perhaps the naughtiest of all our entries given that any potential camping location will be within the bounds of a national nature reserve and never more than a few miles from the park’s entry points or a scattering of domestic residences. Nevertheless, this absolute gem of a location on Sicily’s gorgeous west coast is one we simply could not leave off the list…
Home to a string of tiny, idyllic beaches – all of which can be easily reached from the trail – Lo Zingaro contains dozens of potentially heavenly camping spots, each with uninterrupted views out over the Gulf of Castellamare and the Tyrrhenian Sea. The greatest difficulty you will encounter here is choosing which of the beaches or overlooking bluffs you wish to camp on! The best time to camp in Lo Zingaro is undoubtedly in the winter, when the temperatures can still be in the high sixties and there are very few visitors to the park, particularly midweek.
For rock climbers, the trail running through Lo Zingaro culminates at the popular climbing area of San Vito Lo Capo. For literature buffs, the exquisite former of home of author Gavin Maxwell lies on the shore of a stunningly beautiful bay towards the Castellamare del Golfo (Scopello) end of the trail and is well worth a visit.
Wild as the Wind
Passo Campagneda, Valmalenco
How about sleeping with your head in Italy and your feet in Switzerland? At Passo Campagneda, in northern Italy’s Bernina range, you can do just that. Not only is the spot quirky from a geographic point of view, however, it also sets you in one of the most astounding mountain camping locations in Europe. The views in each direction are dizzyingly good and take in some of Italy’s highest and aesthetically appealing mountains: to the south, the shapely Pizzo Scalino; to the east, Gran Zebru and Ortles; to the north, Piz Bernina, Piz Palu and the giant Felleria glacier; to the west Monte Disgrazia and the Bregaglia range. The trek up to the pass is easy; the trek down is almost invariably plod with a very heavy heart…!
The area’s hiking possibilities are overwhelming, but the most impressive route passes under the tip of the hanging Felleria glacier before crossing a high pass that eventually leads down to Rifugio Marinelli, from where the views towards Monte Scerscen, Pizzo Roseg and Piz Bernina are simply sumptuous.
To reach Passo Campagneda, drive north from the town of Sondrio towards Chiesa in Valmalenco before turning right at Lanzada and following the switchbacks all the way up to Gera Lake. Leaving your car at the lake, the pass can be reached in around 2 hours on foot, heading east.
Lago della Manzina, Ortler-Cevedale Group
A short drive from the ski and spa resort town of Bormio, the Santa Caterina Valfurva road arrives at a car park in the heart of the Ortler-Cevedale group. A trail heading north climbs steeply for two or three hours before arriving at what is surely one of the most beautiful alpine lakes in the world – Lago della Manzina.
The lake’s relative remoteness means nobody is going to catch you camping here, so you can sleep easy and take in the views without worrying about any overly diligent rangers spoiling your fun. And the views are really quite something. Pitched on the north side of the lake, you will look back across to the mighty, snow and ice-covered Punta di San Matteo (3,678m), the Forni glacier and the imposing Pizzo Tresero (3,594m).
If waking to views of one of the world’s shapeliest mountains sounds appealing, Val Cedec in Stelvio National Park might just be the place for you! Wherever you camp in this amazingly gorgeous valley, you will have close-up views not only of Monte Cevedale’s stunning hanging glaciers but also of the delightful, pyramid-shaped Gran Zebru. Within Italy, perhaps only the Matterhorn (or ‘Cervino’, as it’s called on the Italian side) can rival Gran Zebru in terms of aesthetic appeal.
Expert Tip: Be sure to camp near the river, where there are plenty of little hollows to keep you secluded from any tardy hikers on the main trail to the north.
The Dolomites: Lago Pisciadu
Anywhere you choose to camp in the Dolomites is sure to provide an unforgettable experience – not many campers are able to say they once camped in a UNESCO World Heritage Site! Pitching up in the Dolomites’ more popular areas can be tricky, but along the lengthy Alta Via trails, you can pretty much pick your spot.
One of the most spectacular of these spots is to be found a short distance from Rifugio Pisciadu on Alta Via #2. Behind the Rifugio, a tiny, meltwater lake at 2,600m provides the perfect location for a night or two of peaceful and scenic high-altitude camping, not to mention a great base for exploring the highlights of Alta Via #2 itself.