Italy is a mountainous country, made up of more than three quarters of hills and mountains, many of which are higher than 700 meters. The highest area is the Monte Rosa massif on the Italian-Swiss border in the north. The highest peak is the Dufourspitze, no less than 4634 meters high. Just across the border with France, in the northwest is the highest European mountain, Mont Blanc, 4807 meters high. The landscape of Italy is diverse and beautiful.


De Alps dominate the landscape of Italy to the north. This mountain range originated in the early Tertiary, about 60 million years ago. This happened because the continent of Africa collided with the former Europe. Scientists claim that the aftermath of that collision still continues and that the Alps are still increasing in height as a result.

Landscape of Italy: the Alps in Italy

The Alpine region encompasses the whole of northern Italy. The Alps consist of hard rocks such as granite, gneiss and shale. In the eastern part of the Alps, the Dolomites, there is a much softer rock: magnesium lime, which previously consisted of old coral reefs. The highest point of the Dolomites is the Marmolada, 3342 meters high.

Huge lakes

Passignano sul Trasimeno
Passignano sul Trasimeno on Lake Trasimeno (photo: Hennemieke Konings)

The shape of the Alps mainly due to weathering and erosion. In the Pleistocene the glaciers expanded and they eroded deep valleys. On the edge of the Alps, this created deep basins that filled with melt water and thus created the favorites of Dutch holidaymakers: Lake Maggiore, Lake Como and Lake Garda.

Another large lake in Italy – the fourth lake in size – is the Lake Trasimeno (Lake Trasimeno) which lies between Tuscany and Umbria.

The Po Valley

If you as a holidaymaker enter the north of Italy via Switzerland, the flatness of the country is striking. The landscape of Italy in this area is characterized by the Po Valley, named after the River Po. This area was once the sea, but now it is home to the wealthiest cities and a number of major highways.

This Po Valley (in Italian 'la Pianura Padana') is about 500 km long and because it is irrigated by the Po and its many tributaries, it is very fertile. In this area repeatedly floods occur as a result of the settling in the bed of the river. East of Venice is the smaller Adriatic Plateau.

On the Po Valley, the Italian landscape looks a bit like the Dutch one
On the Po Valley, the Italian landscape somewhat resembles the Dutch (photo credit)


The Apennine peninsula, the famous 'boot' of Italy, has as its backbone the Apennine Mountains, a branch of the Alps with a length of about 1000 kilometers through the landscape of Italy. This mountain range characterizes almost the entire boot from north to south. On both sides of the mountain range is hill country and along the coast a narrow strip of lowland. The Apennines form a watershed; to the east of the mountains the rivers cut through the hills and to the west there are many plateaus between the hills.

Mount Etna

The landscape of Italy is also characterized by volcanoes. In the south there is still active volcanism and there are about a dozen volcanoes that have erupted more or less recently. In the last century there have been eruptions on Vesuvius (1185 meters), the last of which occurred in the war year 1944. Stromboli and Etna in Sicily are much more active (in 2007 there was another large eruption on Etna, but smaller eruptions are available all year round).

At a height of 3263 meters, the fiery Etna rises above everything. The volcano is immediately recognizable by the eternal plume of smoke. There are regular eruptions, sometimes up to three times a year. Lesser activity occurs year round on Etna.

Active Volcanoes in Italy
Active Volcanoes in Italy

Climbing Mount Etna

This map shows the various landscapes of Italy well
This map shows the various landscapes of Italy well

Despite this imminent danger, many people live at the foot of the volcano. The soil there is very fertile. Tunisia is only 150 kilometers south of Sicily. Sicily is on the same level as southern Greece, northern Tunisia and southern Spain. Sicily is separated from the Italian mainland by the only three kilometer wide Strait of Messina. There have been plans for a bridge for hundreds of years, but they have never progressed beyond the planning stage.


There are also many sulfur (solfatars), gas (fumaroles) and carbonic acid sources (mofets) and mud volcanoes. On the island of Vulcano near Sicily you can bathe in the warm mud. Be aware that the sulfur gets into your skin and you can smell it for weeks afterwards.


The only glacier of the Apennines, Calderone, is located in the rugged Gran Sasso area and is the southernmost glacier in Europe. The highest mountain of the Apennines is the Gran Corno (2914 meters) in the Abruzzo region (Abruzzo).

Italian Islands

Sicily and Sardinia are the largest of the Italian islands. The first island is about the size of Belgium. Smaller islands include Elba, the volcanic Lipari Islands (with the volcano Stromboli), Ischia, Procida and Capri.

The Apennine Peninsula and Sicily are earthquake zones caused by the fracture edge of large subsidence areas in the Mediterranean Sea and in the Italian landscape. Unfortunately, we have regularly seen the consequences of this on news images about Italy in recent years. Read more about the Italian Islands.