Over 43 million visitors pound the streets each year in Italy, heading to the Holy Trinity of Rome, Florence, Capri and Venice. There is no denying that these are all must-see cities. But Italy has much more to offer the tourist who is prepared to veer off the beaten path.
In actual fact, there are so many relatively unknown places to choose from, it is hard to know where to start. Anywhere you dig in Italy, you will uncover Roman remains; anywhere you travel, you will stumble across hidden treasures: Renaissance art in tiny churches, well preserved castles on rocky crags, beautiful sandy beaches, and delicious food in back street tavernas. The following list barely scratches the surface of the delights you will find when you go off the beaten path in Italy.
1. Try visiting the truly unique trulli in Alberobello, located in Puglia. The trulli are limestone houses with conical roofs, dating back to the fourteenth century. Alberobello has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, because it is one of the best preserved examples of ancient architecture in Europe. You can see over 1000 of these picturesque buildings, still used as everyday dwellings by the local people. Some have been converted into guest houses, so you can even stay in one.
2. Bologna is a city lying smack on the route between Venice and Florence, but most travellers do not bother to alight from the train. They therefore miss one of Italy’s gems: a historic city with miles of arcades lining the streets, leaning towers, magnificent churches. One of these – Santo Stefano – actually consists of seven churches built one after the other on the same spot, each one overlapping with the previous one. In the space of a few metres you can walk from one architectural style to another. Bologna is also the home of lasagne and tortellini, a gastronomic delight.
3. Lago d’Orta is a little known lake just west of the more famous Lake Maggiore, and about an hour and a half north west of Milan. Your first stop here should be at the charming town of Orta San Giulio, which has a town hall built on stilts, dating back to 1582. Climbing the hill nearby you will discover 20 chapels dedicated to Francis of Assissi, each one fascinating in its own right, and offering spectacular views over the lake. Back on the lakeside, take a boat to the tiny island of San Giulio, a haven where Nietzche wrote ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’.
4. Many tourists never make it further south than Pompeii and Vesuvius, but there’s another volcano to see – Mount Etna – in Sicily. Taormina is a great place to stay, within sight of the volcano; indeed you can take a trip to a recent lava flow from here. There’s a Greek amphitheatre up on the cliff top with amazing views over the Mediterranean. Sicilian culture is all around, the beach is not far away, and the weather is guaranteed to be hot.
If you love Italy, but just wish you could enjoy it far from the madding crowd, take a trip to one of these best off the beaten path sites. You will not be disappointed!