Had your fill of Roman treasures? Not a fan of browsing a palazzo’s worth of Renaissance portraits? Then these Italian museums and galleries are for you. From Ferrari showrooms to Piedmont wine banks – sink into Italian culture without a Michelangelo in sight.
1. MUSMA, Matera
MUSMA (Museum of Contemporary Sculpture Matera) burrows into the heart of the sassi – the ancient cave dwellings of Matera that locals lived in right up until the 1950s. Weird and wonderful sculptures decorate hewn-rock rooms and courtyards that are works of art in themselves.
There’s another great reason to visit Matera: it’s the European Capital of Culture for 2019. Watch this space for the full event schedule, but past cities have hosted art shows, food festivals, live music and behind-the-scenes tours.
- Address: Museo della Scultura Contemporanea, Via S. Giacomo, 75100 Matera (MT)
- Entry fee: €3
- We recommend: Stay a night or two in the atmospheric sassi hotel Sextantio le Grotte della Civita, before driving to the neighbouring region of Puglia. Here, you can hop between clifftop towns like Ostuni and Polignano a Mare.
2. Limonaia del Castèl, Lake Garda
You’ll find the Limonaia del Castèl in Limone (of course), a village on the north-west shore of Lake Garda. It’s an ode to the importance of lemon farming in Lake Garda in the early 18th century. Over the years, various owners have added to the citrus orchard, planting grapefruit, kumquats and chinotto (best known for flavouring San Pellegrino drinks).
The location is half the charm – it staggers down centuries-old terraces that stripe the foothills of the mountains.
- Address: Limonaia del Castèl, Via Orti, 9, 25010 Limone Sul Garda (BS)
- Entry fee: €2
- We recommend: Limone is a little town, so why not balance your stay here with a few days in the Shakespearean city of Verona? Alternatively, top or tail your holiday to Limone with a Dolomites tour.
3. Wine Bank, Pollenzo
If any Italian region is going to have a wine museum, it’s the heart of the Slow Food movement – the vine-striped Piedmont Countryside. In fact, the tiny town of Pollenza has been dedicated to the craft of fine wining and dining since the 19th century, when the University of Gastronomic Sciences set up shop.
The Wine Bank is the highlight. You can trace the cellars, read all about the millennia-old art of Italian wine-making, and treat yourself to a tasting session. Or you could sign up to workshops that range between talks covering Italy’s top wine regions to team quizzes.
- Address: La Banca del Vino S.C., Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, 13 – 12042 Pollenzo, Bra (CN)
- Entry fee: Self-guided tour: €3; guided tour with three wine tastings: €15; guided tour with five wine tastings: €20
- We recommend: Pair countrified Pollenza with the foodie city of Turin (you could even pop into to the National Cinema Museum at no. 6).
4. Christ of the Abyss, Liguria
Most people head to the lovely harbour town of Portofino without ever realising that one of the best works of art is just out of sight – to be precise, 15 metres below sea level.
Christ of the Abyss is an underwater sculpture that dates back to 1954. Boats putter above the statue’s raised arms, but you’ll get a better view on a scuba diving trip that takes you to a nearby shipwreck, too.
- Address: San Fruttuoso, Province of Genoa
- Entry fee: Free. To get a good look, though, you’ll need to book a diving trip.
- We recommend: Explore the whole coastline of Liguria, from Genoa in the north to the Cinque Terre in the south.
5. Enzo Ferrari Museum, Modena
Museo Casa Enzo Ferrari showcases the high-speed artistry of Enzo Ferrari – car designer and Modena’s local son. Restored workshops, photo galleries, experimental engine rooms, driving simulators and a race track all come part and parcel. And it’s all wrapped in a swooping glass showroom topped with a Ferrari-yellow roof.
- Address: Via Paolo Ferrari, 85, 41121 Modena (MO)
- Entry fee: €16 for adults
- We recommend: Spend a good week exploring this part of Emilia-Romagna. Modena, Bologna and Parma are all a short train trip away from each other, making the basis of a great foodie holiday.
6. National Museum of Cinema, Turin
The National Museum of Cinema is a bit of an architectural marvel. It’s housed in the 19th-century Mole Antonelliana – the iconic monument of Turin. After kicking back in the ground-floor cinema or wandering through immersive light and sound shows, you can hop in the lift to the roof for sweeping views over the boulevards and rooftops of Turin.
- Address: Via Montebello, 20/A, 10124 Torino (TO)
- Entry fee: €11
- We recommend: Make it a double city trip by continuing on to stylish Milan. Alternatively (or also) head to Lake Maggiore, which is a traditional retreat for aristocrats, poets and artists.
7. Castel del Monte, Puglia
You might recognise the medieval Castel del Monte – it’s a bit of a rising star in the film world, popping up in Wonder Woman and Tale of Tales (and the Italian €1 coin).
It’s the shape that’s most intriguing, thanks to the octagonal body with eight octagonal towers. To this day, no one really knows why this UNESCO World Heritage Site was originally built, although it’s doubled as a prison and shelter for farmers over the centuries.
Best of all, you can climb to the top of Castel del Monte (in the footsteps of actors Bebe Cave and Toby Jones, no less) and take in 360-degree views of the Apulian countryside.
- Address: Strada Statale 170, 76123 Località Castel Del Monte, Andria (BT)
- Entry fee: €5
- We recommend: Our self-guided Puglia driving tours. The Authentic Puglia route ticks off Castel del Monte before looping around the Apulian and Basilicata countryside via Ostuni and Matera.