Hiking in Italy: Via Valeriana near Lake Iseo

Hiking in Italy: Via Valeriana near Lake Iseo
We discovered Via Valeriana, also called Antica Strada Valeriana, neatr Lake Iseo, Italy, quite randomly, to be honest with you. I’m happy we did though, because it turned out to be a highlight of the trip, even though we were originally not planning any hiking in Italy. While hiking I actually had an idea (again again) to start this travel blog, and that’s why I decided to write the first post about it.

I feel that this hike (together with the Lake Iseo in general) is not getting enough publicity. At least while planning our trip I didn’t see Via Valeriana mentioned much, differently from other walks of Italy, and even if mentioned, most of the information was in Italian. I found this brochure to be the most informative (although not very user-friendly, especially on the mobile), and now I also used it for some distances and names. But I don’t feel it markets this one of the best hikes in Italy just the right way, so I’ll do this route a favour by documenting it here.

…the Roman army used it to move quickly up and down to and from Germany…
(to quote our host)

Some facts:

Length: 24.3 km (that doesn’t seem scary – yet)

Start: Pilzone d’Iseo
Finish: Pisogne

Drop (what you will have to climb up and down): +1135 and -1145. For not experienced hikers this is quite a handful, but still doable, and does not require any specific equipment, except for good shoes, clothing in layers and determination. So, all in all a good start and introduction to hiking in Italy.

Time: This is the tricky one. See, it tells you 9 hours in all the official sources, but I would strongly disagree, unless you are a cyborg or a camel. You might try walking it in 9 hours straight, but this would mean no eating, no peeing and no pizza nor cappuccino on the way. And let’s agree, this is not what you came to Italy for. Another issue is the length of the day: in November it gets dark at 5pm.

As the trail goes along the Eastern side of the lake Iseo, so does the train, covering the distance between Pilzone and Pisogne and stopping in between in the towns of Sulzano, Sale Marasino, Marone and Pisogne. The trail will go away from the train and up to the mountains rather far (or rather vertically up) around Zone (name of a small town), but you also have a bus from Marone up to Zone, bringing you to the Via Valeriana.

So the good news is that you can actually go at your own pace, and when you feel that it was enough for the day, you come down to the closest station, take a train back to where you are staying and enjoy your well deserved apero. And the next morning take the train back to the point where you have finished and just continue from there. This way you can combine challenging hiking with a relaxing cappuccino in the morning and a nice dinner in the evening. Because you are hiking in Italy, and let’s admit it, you came here to eat.

It is divided into 6 stretches, each around 4-5 km. Those 4-5 km are not an easy hike though, and usually take a couple of hours, interrupted by panting of exhaustion and joy and picture-taking.

This is what I did, so now I wrap up my talk and stick to the pictures.

1st stretch: Pilzone – Colpiano

Distance: 3,5 Km
Drop: +150/- 30 mt
Difficulty: Easy

And in the beginning it is rather easy. Here we are walking out of Pilzone, two grown ups in their 30’s plus a 10-month old baby in a carrier. The path usually goes on it’s own and is pedestrian only. Sometimes you have to cross or walk under some roads, but it’s still scenic.

2nd stretch: Tassano – Dosso

Distance: 4,1 Km
Drop: +130/- 180 mt
Difficulty: Easy

The road continued smoothly, olive groves on the side, lake views in abundance. We passed small ancient villages, but in most of them there was no cafes or restaurants, at least now in the off-season. So make sure to take some food with you, and you can actually rather easily and pleasantly stroll the first and second stretch in one go. Which we did, and then came down to Sale Marasino, had a little dinner and took a train home to Pilzone. – this is actually not true, but it is what I wish we did. In reality we came to Sale Marasino, lost baby shoe, walked around trying to find it, and then I became very upset, and didn’t want to eat. We did find the shoe 3 days later by accident, though. But once again, don’t do it, just have a nice dinner instead.

In between the second and the third stretch we actually spend some days visiting the town of Iseo, Monte Isola and Edolo. But after this break we decided to come back to finish the full Via Valeriana, and I am very glad we did. – at this point my husband asks me “Are you really?”

3rd stretch: Dosso – Colpiano

Distance: 4,1 Km
Drop: +220/-165 mt
Difficulty: Easy

This stretch actually took us very long for two reasons:
a. I carried baby Mark (before and after that my husband did), and it turned out I am far from ready to hike with 10 kg extra weight on me – but always ready to moan.
b. By lunch time we accidentally came across a restaurant, where a lot of pasta, meat, polenta and salads happened. Not only it took 1.5 hours to finish a regular Italian lunch, but we also moved very slowly afterwards.

4th stretch: Colpiano – Zone

Distance: 4,8 Km
Drop: +400/- 50 mt
Difficulty: Medium

This was not an easy one. You have to climb quite a lot, and somewhere in the middle the stretch is interrupted by a man with two big dogs without a leash and a hay-fork, who asked, if we were Russians and then told us detailed directions in Italian, while we dived down to avoid the hay-fork, when he turned round to point in the right direction. This is probably not stated in your usual guidebook.

The weather didn’t look good, and when we discovered a bus from Zone down to the coast to Marone, where we could catch our train, we decided to take it. During the 40 minutes waiting time we even managed to visit a locals-only (at least at that time) café for baby changing, baby nursing, and drinking yet another espresso, which I very much regretted later.

5th stretch: Zone – S. Bartolomeo

Distance: 4,1 Km
Drop: +235/ -355 mt
Difficulty: Easy (as stated in official sources. Easy my ass! Absolutely not, because by this time you are tired of all the scenery, but the road goes both up and down quite steeply)

So, the last day we came back to Zone by bus to finish walking this Valeriana.

As you can see, I took not many pictures during this stretch – that’s because towards the end the main motivation was to actually finish this route. And I’m glad we did. And it was beautiful around, but not as easy as I expected. The first part of this stretch is a good path (you can see it in the first picture), but this path is also going up. And it is followed by a steep climb down through the forest, now also a bit slippery because of the fallen leaves. But then (after what seems like an eternity) you get out of the forest, see the mountains and the lake, and Pisogne below, and almost feel the urge to run down and get a pizza.

6th Stretch: S. Bartolomeo – Pisogne

Distance: 3,7 Km
Drop: 0/- 365 mt
Difficulty: Medium-easy

The last stretch wasn’t even clearly marked, but we didn’t really care. We saw that it started pointing towards Pisogne, even though there was no info on the exact distance. It wasn’t long, but the climb down proved to be not much easier than the climb up. The last bit (probably some 1.5 km) the path enters the village of Govine, and then smoothly continues to Pisogne. We arrived to Pisogne during the “no food time” (between 2 and 6 pm it’s almost impossible to find a place with a kitchen open in a small town). Instead of eating we had a nice coffee in café San Marco, where our Marko played with the local coffee drinkers, and after this jumped on the train, which took us back to Iseo for dinner.

I am not experienced hiker (well, more experienced now than a week ago), but this seemed to me one of the best hikes in Italy I have done so far and a very good start: quite challenging and at the same time still doable even having a baby with you. And as any experience of hiking in Italy it did have both great views and an option to stop for food and drinks and then continue later – and both of these are very important to me.
The only thing we kept wondering about was why the hell did the Roman army chose this route to “quickly move up and down to Germany.”

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  1. Paolo
    November 10, 2017 / 4:00 pm

    Me and my wife walked it in less than 7 hours…but we are locals from the lake and used to walk on mountains. You are right, if you want fully enjoy the experience, it takes definitely 2 days.
    This one is well known and the track is easy to follow but there’s hundred of paths and hiking routes all around the lake and in the nearby mountains.

    Romans armies didn’t used this way to Germany. They took the easier Brenner way through Verona and Valdadige mainly (as the German medieval Emperors did coming to Italy). But the lower part of Valcamonica had been occupied by Romans, defeating the local popoulation of Camunni, and there was the Roman big colony of Civitatis Camunnorum (nowaday Cividate Camuno) that was the Roman political center for the rule on Valle Camonica. Valeriana way was the connection through Brescia (the roman Colonia civica Augusta Brixia) and Cividate Camuno.
    Also in medieval times, Valcamonica was badly connected with the plains, connections was mostly run through boats. Land connection was the hard path you walked. Or in alternative land connections passed through Valtrompia and passo Crocedomini (approx 1900mt high).
    Due to this geographical isolation the Valley, depending on Brescia from a political point of view, frequently rebelled and fought unsuccessfully for autonomy.

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