Italy's rock-climbing secret: the Apennines

Climbing Destinations
July 16, 2021

The Apennines are Italy's best-kept secret. Forming the rugged spine of the Italian peninsula, this mountain range extends 1,350km from Liguria in the north-west to Sicily in the south, with peaks never reaching the 3000m-mark.

Think of pristine landscapes through rocky ridges, extensive forests, wild animals, ancient villages and trails established long ago by traders, pilgrims, and shepherds, and little affected by mass tourism. The gentle slopes hide an incredible number of climbing spots, where you can enjoy thousands of beautiful sport routes on limestone, but also boulders, multi-pitches, and even alpine classic routes. Here we would like to give just a taste of some gems of rock and scenery spanning from the northern part of Apennine Mountains to Abruzzo in the Centre (the Southern part is described in ‘Italy - The South’ section of this book), hoping it would convince you to explore this lesser-visited part of Italy. 


Starting from the North-West of the Apennine, in Emilia, is Bismantova. An island of rock that resembles somewhat Sigiriya in Sri Lanka or Uluru in the Australian outback, topped by a grassy plateau. This rocky conglomerate of compact sandstone has vertical walls of 100m-150m and more than 250 routes, from single-pitches to modern and classic multi-pitches. Thanks to the many expositions, you climb here in all seasons. Grades range from easy-4th to 8b. The style is unique and technical, full of slopers, cracks, and chimneys, and often lines are quite hard to “read”. Beware, though, that the beauty of the place often attracts a lot of climbers: during sunny weekends and holidays, you would be better off continuing your trip south, to Camaiore.


Filippo Romoli in Candalla, Camaiore © Daniele Paolini

Camaiore is a gem hidden in the Tuscan hills. A small medieval village, majestic limestone cliffs, the Apuan Alps behind, and the Mediterranean sea in front. Only 20’ drive from Pisa and its reclining tower, 10’ from the beaches of Versilia, and 30’ from the Cinque Terre and Chianti region. There are 1000+ routes, with some easy lines at the Sant’Anna di Stazzema crag, but with a greater concentration of harder ones: 500+ in the 6th range and 500+ above 7th. This should not come as a surprise since the main bolter here is the Mountain Guide Roberto Vigiani, one of Italy’s climbing legends. He runs a shelter “Camaiore Hostel” and a shop “Prorock Mountain Store” right in Camaiore village. The best season is from March to November. Do not miss the long athletic tufas in the Candalla Alta crags and the crazy crimps in San Rocchino. Closeby, there are also scenic multi-pitches climbable even in summer, on the Procinto Tower and the alpine big-wall Pizzo d’Uccello.

The Local climber in the area is Roberto Vigiani. Experienced climber, alpinist, bolter, Mountain Guide and owner of the climbing shop ProRock in Camaiore.


Let’s continue our trip down the Apennines: next is Marche, best in mid-seasons. In Gola del Furlo you find 80 lines on grey-and-yellow limestone in a lush gorge. For summer, enjoy the slabs with sharp drops of Fonte Avellana and the nice crags around Piobbico like Murabilandia and Rio Vitoschio. Move south to the Gola della Rossa and Frasassi Natural Park and its caves: a karst wonderland of stalactites and stalagmites. There are hundreds of routes for all levels! We recommend the crags of Altromondo, Gorgo Vivo, Moai, Sulfuria, and the unique Tempietto: 20 lines on the wall of a cave where sits a white-marble temple! It is a religious site, so avoid weekends and any shouting. For hard routes, don’t miss the famous Cingoli, with its orange overhanging walls with black stripes. If you are a boulderer, go to Meschia (Nuova) for a sandstone paradise under chestnut trees overlooking Sibillini peaks: it sits on private land, so be especially respectful and leave no trace. 

Valadier's temple creates an unique atmosphere in Il Tempietto climbing spot. Here you can climb on beautiful limestone cheered by the tourists.
Not the most remote crag on Planet Earth, but definitely one of the most picturesque © Luca Parisse


Time to cross the Apennines, on the gentle hills of Umbria and Lazio. Stop first at Pale di Foligno: a limestone wall with 150+ routes, topped by a stone monastery. Moving south, Ferentillo offers 220 lines from 4a to 8c+/9a, from 15m to 120m long, immersed in a scenic landscape, close to the impressive Marmore Waterfalls. Near Rieti, check out the sustained 230 routes in Grotti - quite crowded on sunny days! This winter-crag prides an incredible limestone rock with holes, single- and two-finger pockets on vertical and overhanging walls, with routes up to 9a.


What better way to finish this tour than with Apennines’ highest peaks? The Gran Sasso National Park, a summer spot with alpine sceneries. The worst-kept-secrets are the classic and modern multi-pitches up Corno Piccolo: a piece of Dolomites nested here. For a true adventure, pack some crashpads and move to one of the rustic mountain huts around Monte Aquila, Vado di Sole, Vallone delle Cornacchie, and Valle del Monte and climb the hundreds of limestone blocs. The rock is demanding, but compact, full of pockets and crimps. The Parisse brothers, strong local boulderers, discovered and mapped lines from easy grades up to 8a+!

Even though Gran Sasso is widely known for its alpine multi-pitch routes, it can offers prime-quality boulders and lines.
Parisse Brothers made it reality, publishing a guidebook named "Magia di Calcare" © Luca Parisse


Cover photo @ Luca Parisse

Special thanks to Francesco Gentilucci and Sofia Morgante for their support and help.

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