In a world so full of cookie-cutter travel plans and identikit holidays, it is quite something to come across someone who is exploring a country in her own way. Especially in terms of Italy where most visitors never seem to venture beyond the predictability of the Rome-Florence-Venice triangle.
Instead of rubbing shoulders with thousands of other tourists in front of the same old monuments and museums, Brittany Catanzaro savours Italy in its most beautiful and pure form. How? She hikes it. One trail at a time she discovers for herself crystal clear nature pools, craggy canyons and soul-inspiring views. Then she posts the pictures of her hikes online so as to share with others these fabulous discoveries, these stunning displays of Italy’s most precious art – the art of its nature.
In fact, this is how I first came across Brittany – by admiring her photos of gushing waterfalls and forest paths revealing in all their beauty hidden corners of the country I have been living in for close to two years now. Sometimes, it was all just too much to take it in. Those impossibly clear pools in the middle of a centuries-old forest, those log bridges crossing over swift-flowing rivers. For someone who detests mud and gets a bit panicky just thinking about camping outdoors, the amazing images of Italy as most of us rarely see it, both enchanted and intrigued me.
So, I had to speak to Brittany! We exchanged a few messages online and I was really chuffed when she accepted to be interviewed for my ‘Italy Through the Eyes of…‘ blog series. We arranged to meet in Parco Querini – Vicenza’s green heart – the small forest in the middle of which served as the perfect background for our photo shoot.
It was a hot day with the sun glaring up in the sky above and as I rushed breathless to the agreed meeting point, I found Brittany already there looking absolutely striking. I always get a bit nervous meeting new people, especially if I need to interview them, as establishing a good rapport is so important in order to achieve an open and genuine dialogue. I shouldn’t have worried, though, as Brittany was so great and friendly to talk to. Inspiring, too.
Honestly, after listening to her stories about hiking in the States and all over Europe, I felt a sudden urge to get myself a hiking kit, some proper shoes and do it, yes, just do it. Forget about my dislike of mud, my inner discomfort with regards to bugs and go out there and see Italy for what it is – the mountains, the caves, the clean air and the feeling of freedom which comes over you when you know that you are going beyond your comfort zone.
All through our chat Brittany was super engaging, but she really came into her element when the talk turned to waterfalls. ‘Waterfalls are gorgeous!’, she said and her arms flew up outlining the powerful stream of gushing water falling down a steep slope. ‘I don’t know what it is with me and water’, her eyes lit up, ‘I will be forever chasing waterfalls!’
Brittany told me how happy she was to move to Northern Italy and how much she was looking forward to go hiking here. ‘Waterfalls in Southern California, where I am from, dry up in the drought, but in Northern Italy they are so many and they are so gorgeous that I am always trying to see more and more of them.’ Then she explained to me what ‘canyoning’ is and added that she loves hiking through water where the path takes you through rivers and streams.
She used the word ‘beautiful’ several times. About Italy and about its nature. She stopped for a second to show me pictures of her favourite nature spots on her phone and then in the same breath took a quick shot of the tiny forest in the midst of Parco Querini, as ‘it’s sooo beautiful’. Her excitement for nature was so infectious that I followed her lead and also snapped a photo.
When I asked her about hiking tips and tricks, Brittany got serious and told me that for her is paramount to always know how she could get back from any point in the hike. Several years ago she and her friends got lost during a night hike in the States and she cut her leg. ‘It was very scary!’, she said emphatically. Since then she always makes sure that she knows how to retrace her steps.
With our ‘Hiking meets Glamour’ photo shoot done, we had a gelato in the shadows of the park’s big trees. A virtuous yogurt with fruit coulis for Brittany and a sinful chocolate for me. We continued to chat. I felt like a door had been opened in front of me – to a more beautiful and better world, where you reconnect with nature and this gives you pure joy and inner strength.
So, if you are planning to visit Italy soon or if you are already here short- or long-term, make some space in your plans to go out of the cities and experience this beautiful country from a different angle. My full interview with Brittany below will give you lots of pointers where to go and many tips how to prepare yourself. Then, go ahead and have a wonderful time!
Hi, Brittany! Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed for my blog. Let’s start with a short introduction. Please, tell me a bit about yourself.
Hi, I’m Brittany Catanzaro. I’m from California where I first fell in love with hiking and chasing waterfalls. I started off exploring local hikes that were less than an hour away and then I branched out to further hikes that were 2-3 hours away. I mainly hiked trails that lead to waterfalls. Also, during my time of exploring trails I earned my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at Cal State Fullerton. I aspired to become a college art professor but moving to Texas and then moving a year later to Italy put a hold on my career.
Where about do you live in Italy and how long have you been here?
I am lucky to live in Vicenza, Northern Italy where I am so close to the Dolomites and hundreds of trails and waterfalls. I moved here in February 2015 and so I have lived here for a little over a year.
What are your impressions of hiking in Italy?
Hiking in Italy is an amazing experience. The Italians keep their trails very clean and are big on adventures. I also love that Italians have rifugios or, in English, shelters on almost every hike, you just don’t see something like this back in California. Trails in Italy have plenty to offer whether you are looking for climbing mountains or dipping in and enjoying nature pools or exploring caves or kayaking down crystal clear rivers or chasing waterfalls and hiking through lush forests. I am very lucky to live here and have the opportunities to explore the Dolomites.
How does hiking in Italy compare to hiking in the States or any other country you have hiked in?
It is super easy to hike in Italy mainly because the trails are well marked and clean. Along the trails there are painted markers on rocks or trees. And trails will have color-coded markers, too. It is nearly impossible to get lost. And there are well marked signs that point you in the right direction. When I hiked back in the States some trails are very dirty with litter and there are graffiti on rocks and cliffs. Also, some of the trails I have hiked are not marked at all and you can get lost if you have no idea where to go. Also, trails in the States don’t have rifugios, so that you can eat if you wanted.
Which are your favourite places, sights and hikes in Italy which inspire you to keep discovering more and more of this beautiful country or ‘bel paese‘, as they call it locally?
During my time here I have enjoyed several areas to hike in: Brescia, Bolzano, Trento, Trentino, and Belluno. This summer I will also explore Cortina and will be getting started for Via Ferrata hikes where you need a harness to strap yourself into the cables as you climb mountains and cliff sides.
My absolute favourite hike so far was actually one of the first hikes I’ve done in Genova Valley, Bedole. This hike is truly wonderful because it has several large waterfalls: Cascate Nardis, Cascate di Laris, Cascata del Casol and Cascata Folgorida. What makes this nature park amazing is that you can drive to each waterfall and hike a trail to get to them. There are also wooden bridges that cross the Sarca di Val Genova river and make for a gorgeous scenery with the pine trees and the pretty blue river. You can spend several hours there exploring trails and hiking to the huge waterfalls. Each one is spectacular and hearing them gushing down the river is an amazing experience.
Another one of my favourite hikes is in Belluno, north of Lago di Mis. There are actually two hikes there and each one is fun to hike because they have gorgeous clear water nature pools. The first one we hiked to was to Cascata della Soffia and we had a blast! To get to the bottom of this waterfall and in the caves you have to walk down the river bed and find a crevice between two cliffs and walk into it. This will lead you to the tunnels and you walk through them. Once you walk through them then you have made it to the rushing flow of the waterfall and the water below is completely clear. Super pretty!
Next we found a trail that leads to the top of the waterfall and eventually through a canyon! The canyon is narrow and also has clear water which you have to walk through and it can get waist deep. The water is cold but definitely worth it. I couldn’t believe the beauty of this canyon!
We continued to walk through the water and climb large boulders and eventually made it to another waterfall and nature pool. This is where we decided to turn around since the waterfall was too steep to climb past.
Once we got back to the car we drove one minute to the next trail called Cadini del Brenton. This hike has twelve nature pools and some waterfalls. I love that there were tons of nature pools there! And the water is so clear and beautiful. We walked down to the bottom of the first nature pool and then worked our way up to the last. We even found a hidden nature pool that you start off by following a faint trail on the side of a cliff. This hidden nature pool has a medium-sized waterfall and a nice cove where we decided to eat our lunch.
The weather was perfect and warm so it was nice to put your legs in the pool. After that we hiked up to the last nature pool and then continued hiking through another canyon. I love hiking through canyons, because you never know what’s up ahead or when you’are going to find a waterfall! We eventually turned around though and we did not find another waterfall but walking through the river is all part of the fun.
How do you find new trails and hikes? Is information about hiking in Italy readily available or do you need to dig deeper to come up with a list of potential places to explore?
I use many social media sites and other apps to find my hikes in Italy and in Europe. I use Pinterest, Instagram, Google, and I mainly rely on Google Earth. I use Google Earth to look in canyons around the Dolomites to find new hikes. I turn on the panoramic picture feature and find hikes by searching those images. Then I save them on my Google Maps. I spend several hours researching hikes and saving them for future use for whenever I want to go on a hike. Also, my favourite website is worldofwaterfalls.com and they have waterfalls saved in several countries. I used to use their website in California but I forgot about it when I moved to Italy. Just a few weeks ago I remembered to use it again.
What safety-related advice would you give to both new and experienced hikers in Italy? Is there anything in terms of weather, terrain or even wild animals that they need to be aware of before going on a hike here?
One thing I learned about hiking in Italy is to be very patient with the weather. It can rain for several days and you just have to wait it out. Or the weather forecast could say that there won’t be rain and it will start to rain. I normally plan my hikes around the weather but it can be tricky during winter and spring. You do not want to be caught in rain while hiking through a narrow canyon or areas that are prone to flash floods. So, it is very important to check the weather right before your hikes.
Although I have never encountered any dangerous animals during my hikes, I still took the time to do a little bit of research to see what I might be up against. The only things I have found is that Italy has two poisonous spiders and some poisonous snakes. One spider is the Brown recluse (also known as the ‘violin spider’) which is a very small spider but comes with an ugly bite. The other spider is a tarantula and it is black and orange. The danger doesn’t come from its venom but from the possibility to being allergic to its bite.
As for the venomous snakes, there is the Asp Viper and the Horned Viper. I have encountered several rattlesnakes back in the States during my hikes. It can be scary but you just back away slowly and they won’t harm you.
What do you carry with you when you are on a hike?
During my hikes I always keep a few items no matter what hike I am doing. They are: first aid kit, fire starter, pocket insulated blanket, waterproof camera, flashlight, water/snacks/food, sun screen and a pocket knife. Some of these items are important for survival if you get lost. And I have gotten lost one time at night, too. It is VERY scary and you never want to put yourself in that situation so it is best to always be prepared.
And, finally, what would you like to tell people tempted to attempt their first hike in Italy?
Some advice for new hikers in Italy is for sure always check the weather. I think that is most important. And make sure to have food and water on your hikes. Some people just don’t think about having water or enough water and that can be dangerous. Also, it is important to have good hiking shoes with grip. I’ve noticed some hikes can get pretty slippery especially near waterfalls where the rocks are all wet.
Thank you so much, Brittany, for your time and for sharing your experiences and your advice on the blog today! Mud or not, you have inspired me to attempt my first (nice and easy) Italian hike soon!
You can follow Brittany and her hiking adventures on Instagram at @brittanywanderlust. She shares some fab photos, go have a look!
Just to let you know that the copyright of all photos from Brittany’s hikes above is owned by Brittany Catanzaro, so don’t use them in any way without her permission. The copyright of all photos from my photoshoot with Brittany is owned by Rossi Writes – scroll to the footer of this page to read it.
Do you like hiking? Have you hiked in Italy or would you love to do it? Share with me your most memorable hike or a tip to help someone attempt their first hike.