Think Italy and it’s likely that big names like Rome, Venice, Sorrento and Lake Garda will spring to mind. But we think it’s time people turned their attention to some of Italy’s quieter corners and hidden gems – places that might not appear on must-see itineraries or bucket lists, but that offer up a quintessentially Italian experience, along with far fewer tourists.
The alternative Tuscany: Puglia
Visitors flock to Tuscany for its rolling hills, pretty towns and patchwork of sunflower fields and vineyards. But not many of them would think to head down to Puglia, the heel of Italy’s boot. Here, you’ll discover wide open spaces, ancient olive groves (there are said to be more than 50 million olive trees in Puglia) and a rugged coastline. As for pretty towns, you’ve got places like Alberobello, home to Puglia’s famous cone-roofed trulli houses; Ostuni, whose whitewashed buildings have earned it the nickname ‘White City’; and the beautiful baroque city of Lecce. The region’s cuisine is just as famous as Tuscany’s, too, featuring top-quality olive oil, fresh seafood and ear-shaped orecchiette pasta.
You could also try: The Tuscan towns of Marti and Pienza tend to fly off most people’s radars, as do many of Umbria’s hillside towns.
The alternative Sardinia:Elba
Sandwiched between the Tuscan coast and the French isle of Corsica is the little island of Elba. Napoleon was exiled here back in 1814, escaping after less than a year – although why he’d want to leave is anyone’s guess. Elba is one of Italy’s most photogenic islands, boasting beautiful beaches, forest-cloaked mountains and pastel-coloured towns. The clear waters are perfect for swimmers and snorkellers, while the hills are ideal for walkers and nature lovers. A ride on the slightly scary cable car takes you to the top of Monte Capanne, where you can enjoy views across to Tuscany and Corsica with a bottle of Elba beer (brewed with natural island spring water) in hand.
You could also try: Ischia. This volcanic island features thermal springs, lush landscapes and some of the best sandy beaches on the Neapolitan Riviera – yet it attracts far fewer visitors than its glamorous neighbour, Capri.
The alternative Rome: Bologna
Bologna, the capital of Emilia-Romagna, has picked up a fair few nicknames in its time. La Dotta (the learned) is a reference to its university, Europe’s oldest and a must-see while you’re here. La Rossa (the red) is a nod to the city’s architecture – red-brick medieval buildings and terracotta roofs – as well as its political ties. La Grossa (the fat) stems from the excellent cuisine here. Don’t leave without picking up regional goodies like parma ham, balsamic vinegar and parmesan cheese, or trying local favourites such as tortellini in brodo (in broth) and tagliatelle al ragù (the real spag bol).
The alternative Sorrento: Cilento
A hundred kilometres or so south of Sorrento is a region the Italians like to keep a secret: Cilento. Mostly covered by a national park (Italy’s second largest), it’s home to rolling hills, olive groves, woodland and traditional villages, plus a coastline carved with bays, coves and grottoes. The medieval town of Castellabate and its seaside neighbour, Santa Maria di Castellabate, are must-visits, as is Paestum, a UNESCO-listed collection of imposing Greek temples. You’re still in reach of the Neapolitan Riviera’s more well-known spots – a couple of hours’ drive will get you to the Amalfi Coast, where you can explore pretty towns like Amalfi, Ravello, Minori and Positano.
The alternative Lake Garda: Lake Orta
Lake Orta lies on the western side of the Italian Lakes region, next door to Lake Maggiore. It’s a small, but perfectly formed lake, with a mountain backdrop and a pretty island topped by a basilica. The lake’s main town is sleepy Orta San Giulio, which comes with cobbled streets and attractive medieval buildings. In the hills above the town you’ll find the Sacro Monte di San Francesco – a group of UNESCO World Heritage-listed chapels decorated with beautiful frescoes. Orta’s island is called Isola San Giulio, and is home to a working monastery and a 12th-century basilica. Follow the paths around the island (named the Way of Silence and the Way of Meditation) for beautiful views and close-ups of the ivy-covered monastery buildings.
You could also try: Lake Iseo is another lesser-known lake. It lies between Lake Garda and Lake Como, and is ideal for those who want to get away from it all.
For more destination options, visit our website www.citalia.com.