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


On ancient merchants’ footprints: the Italian Apennine Mountains

This is a repost of my last year’s blog on the Salt Paths: Hiking ancient merchant trails connecting inland cities of Northern Italy to the Mediterranean Coast across the Apennine Mountains.

I hosted hiking tours on the footprints of ancient salt merchants in late Summer month with local guides & co-hosts Lorenza and Gianni. More hikes are scheduled for Spring and Summer of 2017.

Our group of hikers on our first day on the Salt Paths in Piedmont

In 8 days we hiked on separate path stretches, not following one single specific trail, starting from the quaint village of Pontecurone in Piedmont, Italy, eventually reaching the Mediterranean Sea at Portofino, on the Italian Riviera.

Italy - Area of the Salt Paths

Italy – Area of the Salt Paths

We “immersed” ourselves in more than 2000 years of history as these ancient routes had been used by prehistoric populations inhabiting these regions, later by the Romans and throughout the Middle Ages by salt merchants and their mules to transport salt from the coast to Italian inland cities.

Mount Antola

Mount Antola, Piedmont

One  of the most ancient paths, trailing high on the crest of Mount Antola (about 500 ft) on the Ligurian Apennines, offers hikers the opportunity to admire a majestic landscape in the Italian regions of Piedmont, Lombardy, Emilia Romagna, Liguria: unobstructed mountains’ views, deep valleys dotted with small hamlets, distant creeks, the Mediterranean Sea peeking among the summits at some point.

As a matter of fact, after a few days of hiking in the remote distance all members of our group could catch a glimpse of the far away Mediterranean Sea and the Ligurian Coastal villages of Rapallo, Portofino, Cinque Terre, our final destination.

We spent the night at lovely B&Bs in small villages, in the past centuries thriving posts along the Salt Paths.

Due to the huge value of salt throughout history, praised as preserving agent, essential human and animal diet component and as flavor enhancer, simple rest stations along these Apennine Mountains’ trails evolved into villages and later in larger towns with their own economies, such as  the ancient small town of Bobbio, which thrived in the Middle Ages.

Originally a convent during Roman times, the city of Bobbio became a central and favorite stopover for merchants and pilgrims during their journeys.

Enriched by the taxes imposed to merchants,  it provided rest and protection to caravans, also a spiritual haven to thousands of pilgrims en route to Rome. A Roman bridge (the Humpback Bridge built, according to a legend, by the devil), medieval churches, an ancient abbey (the Abbey of St. Columbanus) and a mosaic of byzantine origin stand as witnesses of thousands years of history.


The Humpback Bridge in Bobbio

We spent our nights at “agriturismos” – the Italian version of country B&Bs – which also provided our amazing and overly abundant evening dinners.

In the morning, after healthy breakfasts we slowly descended from the top of mountains to more gentle trails among forests of beeches and chestnuts.

Along the way, we passed small alpine huts, distant castle ruins, towers and farms. Eventually the sea got closer, and we could feel the salty breeze in our nostrils.

Before reaching the coast we still had time to experience another village, with its own traditions and legends. At Uscio, we visited a church built 1000 years ago, spared from destruction by the locals’ struggle against the bishop’s plans to demolish it to build a bigger one.

Close-by, we were led through a 200 year old factory Trebino Roberto featuring a private museum of the company’s main manufacturing product: church tower bells. The factory still produces tower clocks for churches all over the world. Some of their tower bells are at the Vatican, others in other main Italian churches.

Through a splendid forest our last section of trail took us to the beach town of Portofino, on the Ligurian Coast. Portofino, Italy - End of the hike

Portofino is a picturesque, half-moon shaped seaside village with pastel houses lining the shore of the harbor, shops, restaurants, cafes, and luxury hotels.

The green waters reveal abundant aquatic life. A castle sits atop the hill overlooking the village.

The vegetation had changed and the salty aroma blended with the perfume of maritime pines, colorful houses lined the harbor.

After a 8 day hike along ever changing trails, crossing wooded area, bare peaks, quaint village, we reached our destination, the Ligurian Coast, not too far from the famous Cinque Terre, the place where everything started, the origin of the Salt Paths.

We celebrated the end of our hike with a scrumptious Italian gelato!

For other incredible hiking trails in the world, check out the top 50 long distance hiking trails in the USA at: –