A beach on Lake Garda in Italy in the summer.
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Sustainable and responsible tourism in Italy

Although the ubiquitous red tape of Italy’s political system can often slow progress, the country has made vast strides in sustainability in recent years.

It’s now easier than ever to explore Italy in a sustainable way with agrotourism, a swathe of km-zero restaurants, and sprawling cycle and walking trails that weave across the country.

Tuscany may be the home of the rural Italian escape, but avoid the crowds and head to one of Italy's other green regions to discover the myriad of opportunities for slow, meaningful travel.

Overtourism in Italy

Italy has struggled with overtourism in the past, resulting in locals calling for restrictions in some areas. After the pandemic, people are rethinking what a holiday in Italy should look like.

Skip Cinque Terre, Tuscany, Rome, Venice and Florence in summer, or maybe just do one and add other nearby lesser known spots to your itinerary.

Slow travel means staying a night or two in a small town instead of just taking a day trip, savouring fresh Italian food, and getting to know the land and the locals instead of ticking attractions off of a checklist.

Green destinations in Italy

Lake Garda has become one of the main green destinations of Italy. Visit the beaches of Gordone, hike the Ponale path, or cycle the Valle Dei Laghi trail. Travelling slowly means there’s plenty of time to take in some natural relaxation at the Colà Hot Springs, enjoy a gastronomic food tour, and taste DOP wines from the region.

Or head to the Emilia Romagna region with its 10 cycle routes (Ciclovie dei Parchi) that roll through the hills of Bologna from the Po Valley to the Apennines.

There’s also the Via Francigena, a pilgrim's path that once led from Canterbury to Rome, which guides you through 145 km of Emilia Romagna’s traditional villages and sweeping mountain passes.

Supporting local businesses and communities

Once only popular in Tuscany, Agritourism farmstay breaks are becoming more popular across Italy. Head to Umbria, Calabria, Sicily and Sardinia to stay with locals and discover enduring traditions, warm hospitality and seasonal home-grown food.

There is also a huge slow food movement in Italy, with ‘KM Zero’ restaurants available in most areas. It makes sense that this global movement has found a real foothold in Italy. Avoid the picture-on-menu tourist traps and seek out better food while supporting local communities and sustainable initiatives.

An easy way to check where food is from is to look out for denominations like DOP on products, as they show that it’s locally produced.

Choosing ethical tours and experiences

Some aspects of Italy are yet to catch up with the rest of the world especially when it comes to animal rights. Global organisations are calling for closures of Italy's five dolphinariums as conditions violate national and European laws (these are Rimini, Oltremare, Acquario di Genova, Fasanolandia and Zoomarine).

Instead, visitors can head to the Pelagos Sanctuary, a marine protected area where visitors can take boat trips to see giant fin whales, sperm whales, Risso’s, striped and bottlenose dolphins.

Sardinia is often missed on a trip to Italy, but it's home to wild landscapes and some fantastic ethical experiences like visiting Europe's last wild horses in Giara di Gesturi.

In Isili, visit archaeological sites of the Nuragic civilization to learn where Sardinia got its name the ‘Island of Giants’.

Respecting local customs and traditions

Putting a lock on a bridge, sticking gum on a wall in Verona, or scribbling some initials on the Colosseum leaves nothing but bad feelings with locals. As with anywhere, respecting the country you are visiting and leaving nothing but memories is a goal for every sustainable traveller.

In Italy, disrespecting food and religion are two ways you can easily upset the apple cart. It's important to always dress appropriately for churches and religious buildings and remain quiet while inside.

When it comes to food, try to pronounce dishes the Italian way; even if you are way off the server will appreciate the effort. Oh and never ask for ketchup!

Minimising impact on the natural environment

When hiking in Italy’s beautiful national parks it’s important to follow the local guidelines to preserve biodiversity as well as the natural beauty. For example, open fires and wild camping are often banned to reduce the risk of wildfires.

Always try to stick to the main trails to avoid damaging flora and fauna, and make sure to check whether swimming is permitted in a lake or river before jumping in.

Further reading

Visit Italy has some fantastic sustainable itineraries for inspiration for your next trip, from the plateaus of Sardinia to the green valleys of the Trentino-Alto Adige region.

Legambiente Turismo lists hotels, restaurants and farm-stays that meet eco-friendly criteria from environmental associations in Italy.

Planning a trip to Italy? Read our Italy travel guides.

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Jo Williams

Author - Jo Williams

Jo Williams is a freelance writer with 10 years' experience working in travel and tourism. A Brit who got fed up with the 9 to 5 corporate life, she sold everything to become a full-time wanderer.

Jo has travelled to over 70 countries and worked throughout Europe for a major tour operator. She hopes to inspire you to work less and travel more.

Last Updated 8 September 2023

Italy

Italy is one of those countries that has something for everyone, from food, beaches and mountains to art and ancient history.