In October 2016 The then 33-year-old Italian Yuri Basilicò was hiking alone across the island of Corsica, France, when he got lost in the fog. Basilicò heard a donkey screaming in the distance and followed the noises in hopes of finding the way. Instead, he met three Swedish hikers who were also lost. While they waited for the weather to improve, they shared a meal and before parting, one of the Swedes asked Basilicò, “Do you know Sentiero Italia?” Basilicò had never heard of it.
Sentiero Italia (Trail Italy) once crossed the Alps, ran across the peninsula in the Apennines, and jumped to Sicily and Sardinia: 4,350 miles, crossed six UNESCO World Heritage Sites and 15 national parks. Basilcò was so obsessed with this forgotten trail, the traces of which could only be found in a few outdated blogs, that he convinced two of his friends, Giacomo Riccobono and Costanza Brini, to leave anything.
“It would be an unusual continuous expedition on one of the longest paths in the world,” said Basilicò.
(Photo: Sara Furnaletto)
Sentiero Italia was founded in the 1980s by Riccardo Carnovalini, founder of the Sentiero Italia Association, after which the trail was named, and Club Alpino Italiano, who provided thousands of volunteers to build it. Carnovalini’s idea was to create a long distance hiking trail that crossed the Italian peninsula – something like the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail. He wanted to show that Italy was not just about Pope and food, but also about a breathtaking country with a strong mountain culture.
“Its length didn’t matter because it crossed a multitude of extraordinary places,” said Carnovalini. “Italy has the magic of continually changing landscapes, which is not common in other parts of the world.” During the Cammina Italia, a national event organized by the Club Alpino Italiano, Carnovalini walked the entire route in 1995 and thousands of people took part in different stages. Shortly after the trip, however, interest waned and the route was abandoned – until last year.
basil and his friends started a nonprofit, Va ‘Sentiero, to pay for the logistics. After two years of preparation, the crew quit their respective jobs on May 1, 2019 and set out to walk the entire length of this trail. Riccobono, the communications expert in charge of Va ‘Sentiero’s logistics, said the goal of the expedition was to leave a digital footprint of Trail Italy so that it could be accessible to others. With high quality videos, a lively Instagram page, GPS coordinates and weekly updates, the team completes what Carnovalini had planned 40 years ago. The expedition was originally supposed to take place over 14 consecutive months, but harsh winter conditions and COVID-19 forced it to spread out over three years so the team could go home in the coldest months. They are expected to finish the very last mile in September 2021.
As in the US, many Italians fled to the mountains to get rid of the pandemic, and some took part in the expedition and accompanied it for a few days or more. As the occupation left, more people joined. Thanks to social media, the group grew every week. On certain days, up to 100 people went with the Va ‘Sentiero team.
They posted detailed information about the stops, schedule and difficulty of each section on the website and invited followers to join the hike. People can sign up on the site, come with local meetings, or randomly join the group and go for a walk with them. A worker in an alpine sanctuary that housed the team decided to hike and stayed for 2.5 months. So far, around 1,500 people have gone with the group.
Basilicò, who considers himself an introvert, was initially nervous about the introduction of people he did not know would join the walk. Not to mention the logistical difficulties of leading and managing such large groups. But as the first few days went by, he quickly realized that the trail acted as a filter and, above all, attracted hikers who loved the mountains as much as he did and knew how to take care of themselves.
“Many friendships and loves were born,” said Basilicò. He described the people who joined as the expedition’s greatest gift.
In August 2019, 33-year-old market analyst Roberto Cirilli decided to spend his summer vacation with the group crossing the Alps. “Going for a walk together was an inestimable pleasure and a lot of fun,” said Cirilli, describing the dinners with locals, who were soaked with plenty of homemade wine. “We have re-established contact with those who live in remote places. We walked on tiptoe even when we were wearing boots. “
Costanza Brini, a 27-year-old teacher who was on the road for a week and then back for two more weeks, agrees with Cirilli, warning, “This is not an organized vacation.” Autonomy is still the rule, and everyone Participants can decide whether they want to spend the night in one of the fitness studios, shelters or hotels – often provided free by locals – or alone. And it’s not an easy path: unexpectedly strong winds in the Apennines, sudden weather changes, an abundance of ticks in the Eastern Alps. The Va ‘Sentiero team initially suffered from inexperience and warned of the psychological challenges of being on the road for several months.
(Photo: Sara Furnaletto)
Basilicò does not see Va ‘Sentiero as a very serious expedition, but as a means to symbolically unite Italy and bring some economic benefits to remote cities and villages: places like Codera, a hamlet in the Alps on the border with Switzerland, just through a two-hour hike can be reached. More than 500 people lived in Codera in 1933 and today there are only a handful of locals left.
Va ‘Sentiero is already bringing some results: followers go on Trail Italy and visit people like Antonio and Stefania, a young couple who decided to open an off-the-beaten-path farm, Agriturismo il Riccio, in Laghi di Monticchio.
“You are an example of a company that could benefit from slow, sustainable tourism revitalizing the path,” said Riccobono.
In 2019, Centro Alpino Italiano started renovating Trail Italy. While the section of the path that led through the Alps is clearly marked, the route in southern Italy is hardly signposted. The hope is, however, that the entire path will soon be marked and connected.
“This path allows us to see an unknown part of Italy that preserves an identity that has disappeared in the rest of the country,” said Basilicò.
As the pandemic restricts travel, this journey through stunning Italian landscapes is forcing those who join to rethink how to approach travel and encourage them to move more slowly. It is relatively easy and straightforward to join the hikers of Va ‘Sentiero: keep an eye on the website where the hiking plan for 2021 has just been published. The expedition resumed in April 2021 and will cross the tip of Italy, explore Sicily and end in Sardinia in September. Baslicò anticipates hundreds more will join for the final stretch of the trail and hopes thousands more will walk using the digital footprint they leave.
Main photo: Sara Furnaletto