Useful Vocabulary to Spend a Weekend Hiking in the Italian Alps

porticando | Wed, 09/22/2021 - 18:42
woman hiking in the dolomites

When you think of your perfect Italian holiday you probably imagine yourself strolling around the narrow streets of Rome or relaxing on the beach under the gentle Amalfi sun. And while going skiing seems an attractive scenario for the “settimana bianca” (week long ski holiday), hiking is not always the first choice for a tourist. But we know for sure, that once you’ve see the Italian Alps for the first time in your life, you’ll keep coming back over and over again. In this article we’re going to give you the necessary vocabulary to pass your best unconventional holiday hitting the Alpine trails and falling in love with them once and for all. 

From the Dolomites in the North-East of Italy to the western peaks of Piedmont and the Aosta Valley, Le Alpi Italiane can boast multiple ski resorts for your winter trips, but also a huge number of options for naturalistic excursions in warm seasons. Fare trekking (go hiking) is not only about practicing sport, but it is also a unique chance to discover a different Italy, its fascinating territory with a unique flora and fauna, new people and new dialects, and, of course, the local cuisine. The idea sounds great, but, no matter if you’re an expert hiker or a beginner, you always have to be ready for the trip. It’s extremely important not to overestimate your skills when it comes to choosing your itinerario – route. Get yourself a map of the valley you want to visit, and choose a route with a suitable difficulty level:

The letter “T” stands for “turistico” (tourist), which is good for beginners or for those who hike with children and don’t really want to sweat too much climbing up too high.

“E”,  for “escursionistico” (hiking), is great, if you feel you can handle a little bit more challenging trail. This level of difficulty requires at least minimum experience in hiking.

“EE” for “escursionisti esperti” is a trail for expert hikers. It requires a lot of experience, special equipment and an adequate physical preparation. Such trails pass on high altitudes of at least 1000-1500 meters and should be taken very seriously.

“EEA” – “escursionisti esperti con attrezzatura” is the highest difficulty level. To choose such trail you should be an experienced expert hiker ready for climbing and in possession of all necessary safety equipment.

Remember, that going for a hike alone in an unknown mountain area is always a bad idea. So get yourself a company or hire a guida alpina – a mountain guide, which would be a great opportunity to practice your Italian.

Let’s learn some basic vocabulary that you will need in the mountains:

First of all,

Le montagne – mountains

-Andiamo in montagna questo sabato? – Shall we go to the mountains this Saturday?

- Si, perché no! – Yes, why not!

Il sentiero – trail

la strada sterrata – dirt road

la mulattiera – mule track

la via ferrata – so called “iron ways” are mountain routes equipped with fixed steel cables and ladders.  

la foresta – forest

il bosco – wood

la roccia – rock

il suolo roccioso – rocky soil 

il dislivello – vertical drop

la salita ripida – steep climb

salire la montagna – to climb the mountain

la vetta – summit

raggiungere la vetta – to reach the summit

l’arrampicata - climb

la grotta - cave

il prato – meadow

il lago – lake

il fiume – river

il ruscello – brook

la cascata – waterfall

Once you get an idea which trail to choose, think about where you want to spend your night in. You can stay at a hiker camp – campeggio per escursionisti, or sleep in a tent on your own– dormire in tenda. But luckily there’s also an extensive network of mountain huts where you can book a place for a night. Such a mountain hut is called rifugio alpino. Besides, it’s also a great place where you can stop for a meal and try some typical alpine food made with local products and enjoy a shot of traditional herbal liqueur – digestivo alle erbe.

Let’s take a quick look at some traditional dishes you can try:

Polenta e salsiccia – a traditional corn flour mush with a homemade sausage

Polenta concia –  a typical dish from the Valle d’Aosta, made of polenta, Fontina cheese and butter.

Canederli – traditional bread dumplings found in the North-East of Italy (Trentino-Alto Adige, Friuli and partially in Veneto).

Fonduta Valdostana – a famous fondue dip of the Aosta Valley, usually accompanied with bread, green vegetables or potatoes. 

Spezzatino di cinghiale – a delicious wild boar stew

Crostata di mirtilli – a Piedmontese blueberry pie

Formaggi d’alpeggio - local mountain cheeses you should absolutely try. 

One of the best things to do while hiking is to buy traditional products from local farms you can meet on the way, where you can find top quality and original recipes. For example, If you hike in Piedmont, pay attention to such cheeses like toma, castelmagno, fontina, robiola etc.

When packing for your adventure, take into consideration that the weather in the mountains can be extremely unpredictable. Be sure to arrive at your destination before dark and always follow la segnaletica dei sentieri – route signs, and the map, don’t completely rely on your internet connection in the Alps.

le previsioni del tempo – weather forecast

la pioggia - rain

il temporale  - thunderstorm

la bufera – storm of blizzard

l’allerta neve – snow alert

il ghiaccio – ice

la grandine - hailstorm

il pericolo valanghe – avalanche hazard

il cielo sereno – clear sky

la scarsa visibilità – poor visibility

If the alpine weather caught you off guard, it’s sometimes possible to find shelter in a so-called bivacco, a small structure available to any hiker in trouble, a bivouac.

Here are the necessary things you should have in your zaino – backpack, depending on the route you’ve chosen:

le scarpe sportive – walking shoes, which are suitable if you opt for an easy tourist trail

gli scarponi da trekking – trail runners for more difficult trails on higher altitudes

le ciaspole – snow shoes for those who are ready to try the alpine snow 

le calze – socks, and i calzini di ricambio – spare socks

i pantaloni da trekking – hiking pants

i pantaloncini – shorts

la maglietta – T-shirt, and la maglietta di ricambio – spare T-shirt

il pile [pa-eel] - fleece

la giacca a vento – wind jacket

l’impermeabile – rain jacket

lo scaldacollo – neck warmer

il cappellino – hat/cap

l’asciugamano – towel

il kit di pronto soccorso – first aid kid

la borraccia – water bottle, which you can fill at the special fountains on you way. Such fountains – fontanelle – are usually marked with a sign acqua potabile – drinking water

la lampada frontale – head torch

la bussola – compass

i bastoncini da trekking – hiking sticks

il coltellino multifunzionale – multi-tool pocket knife

il sacco a pelo – sleeping bag

la tenda – tent

l’accendino – lighter

In case you decide to climb, you will also need special attrezzatura da arrampicataalpine equipment.

l’imbracatura – climbing harness

il moschettone – carabiner

la corda – rope

il casco da arrampicata – climbing helmet

Even the most experienced hikers can get in trouble, here are some useful phrases to learn by heart:

Aiuto! – Help!

Attenzione! – Look out!

Ho bisogno di un medico. – I need a doctor.

Ho bisogno di aiuto. – I need assistance.

Mi sono perso/persa. – I’m lost.

When trekking, your safety is the priority. Make sure to inform somebody about your hike, whether you’re alone or in group, and greet all other hikers on your way. Do not hesitate to call for help in case of any emergency and try to always stay with your group. It’s important to rispettare la montagna, treating the nature around you with respect and taking seriously even the easiest trails, so you can get the best of your hiking experience in the Alps. And while trekking, you can keep practicing your Italian with the group and even with total strangers you will definitely meet. The mountains may divide countries, but they definitely unite people. Stay with us to learn new things about the Italian language and way of life.

This language article is curated by the expert instructors from L'Italiano Porticando Italian language and culture school located in the heart of historic Turin. Accredited by the ASILS (Association of Schools Teaching Italian as a Second Language), L'Italiano Porticando offers individual and group lessons, themed courses, and cultural classes on everything from Italian cinema to Turin’s famed chocolate.