Italy's distinctive shape, like a boot jutting into the Mediterranean Sea, maybe the country's best known geographical feature. While the proximity to the sea has had an unquestionable influence on the nation, many other major landforms of Italy are equally prominent in its development and noteworthy from a geographical perspective.
The Alps and the Apennine Mountains
The Alps form part of a large, discontinuous chain of mountain ranges spreading across Europe from North Africa's Atlas mountains all the way to the Himalayas. In Northern Italy, the mountains mark the country's northern border with France, Switzerland and Austria. The highest peak of the mountain range, Mont Blanc, sits squarely on the Italian and French border. The Dolomites region, an area of the Alps in northeastern Italy, is notable for its distinctive column-like limestone formations. Extending southward from the largely east-west stretch of the Alps, Italy's Apennine range is the backbone of the Italian peninsula, running more than 600 miles in length but rarely exceeding 50 miles across. Select from numerous available hikes throughout the mountains, or head to one of the iconic ski resorts dotted throughout the Alps to enjoy snowy slopes in the winter.
Italy has among the most famous active volcanoes on earth, with Vulcano, Stromboli, Etna and Mount Vesuvius all threatening eruption at any time. In addition to the well-known powerhouses, the country has a broad range of volcanic features and evidence of past eruptions. The Seven Hills of Rome at the Tiber River, for example, are the result of volcanic activity. Most of the volcanoes on the peninsula are clustered toward the western coast near the Adriatic Sea, stretching from Tuscany in the north and southward to Sicily. Vesuvius is a popular tourist destination and UNESCO heiritage site since it's towers over the ancient Roman ruins of Pompeii, which are easily visited from Naples.
In between Italy's Alpine borders and the Lombardy Plains to the south, the central Italy’s lake district features many large freshwater bodies of water. Shaped by glaciers from the Quaternary Ice Age, the subalpine lakes are exceptionally deep and ringed with unusually fertile soil. For example, the bottom of Lake Garda is almost 500 feet below sea level at its lowest point. Given the high elevation of the surrounding land, that puts Garda's depth at 1,135 feet. Lake Como is even deeper, with its lowest point nearly 1,000 feet below sea level. Garda is the largest lake, spanning 145 square miles. Enjoy the views from one of the resorts or lakefront hotels on Lake Como, a high-end destination just north of Milan and east of Venice, famous for its celebrity visitors.
The Italian Islands
An extremely narrow and long peninsula, Southern Italy culminates in a cluster of islands at its southern end in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Many of the islands are volcanic in origins, such as the Aeolians and the Pontines. Others are formed from limestone, such as Capri. Montecristo and Gorgona are granite. Some of the most famous isles, including Elba, Sardinia and Sicily, are combinations of various rock types. The largest of the Italian islands is the island of Sicily, at nearly 10,000 square miles. After Sardinia, only slightly smaller, the rest of the islands are tiny by comparison, each less than 100 square miles. Include one of the islands into your Italy itinerary by booking a boat tour or by taking a cruise.