Ancient trails in the Italian Apennine Mountains: the Salt Paths

This is a repost of my last year’s blog on the Salt Paths, a network of hiking trails in Italy. Stretching for hundreds of miles along the Italian Apennine Mountains  from the inland planes and cities of Piedmont and Lombardy they connect to the Ligurian Coast, jutting on the Mediterranean Sea.

Used since prehistory, and later by Roman troops, these trails had been trekked by salt merchants during the Middle Ages until the 18th century, transporting salt from the coast.

After a short resurgence during World War II, they went forgotten for decades. These trails are now enjoying a sort of rebirth, gaining new popularity among Italian and international hikers.

The Salt Path itinerary from Piedmont to the Coast

The climate of the coastal region of Liguria is mild and the nearby sea a good source of food.

To supplement their diet the   inhabitants of this region, the Ligurian people, also extracted salt from the sea and bartered it inland for meat and grains.

Salt was, then and for a long time, a very important commodity, so vital that legionnaires during the Roman Empire were partially paid with it. The word “salary” comes from “salt.”

The most common mean of transportation for salt was backpacking, eventually supported by mules, thus carving an intricate network of paths along the Apennine Mountains sloping to she sea.

The Apennine Mountains

Churches and inns were built along paths and local rulers began to impose duties and taxes in exchange for security and the right to  cross their lands.

Many dynasties were founded on the commerce of salt and the control over its routes.

Posting stations were built and soldiers were posted on the trails to protect merchants.

From small posting stations soon entire villages and then prosperous small town towns were established such as Bobbio and Uscio.

The use of this web of trails for commerce purposes ended around the 18th century, but gained a new popularity during World War II.   Groups of Italian Partisans fighting German troops used these abandoned and overgrown paths to reach their hideouts on the Apennine Mountains, smuggling supplies and weapons to launch their attacks.

Today the Salt Path trails are experiencing a sort of renaissance thanks to a dedicated group of volunteers i.e. Club Alpino Italiano (CAI – Italian Alpine Club.

Such organization, in the recent past, has restored and marked this web of mountain paths nicknamed “the Salt Paths”,  making an area of Italy still virtually unknown until a short while ago accessible to international hikers.

Wild horses on the Italian Salt Paths

Despite still relatively unknown many hikers, from Italy and around the world, now hike these trails year round and are rewarded by lovely scenery, possibly a glimpse of wild life such as wildboars, wolves and horses having escaped from domestication and become wild. One can also admire quaint villages, breathtaking views, awesome food, and lastly, the Mediterranean Sea.

Arriving to the Mediterranean Coast, after hikes that can be long or short, depending on your choice, can be a huge reward!

Portofino, Italy - End of the hike

Portofino, Italy


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