If you’re expecting Rome, Florence, Venice, Pisa, Verona or the Amalfi Coast then read no further! Of course you’d love those places – who wouldn’t! But if you are visiting Italy for the first time then that’s where you will head towards anyway.
We’ve been lucky enough to visit Italy on many occasions over the years. We’ve been drawn back to favoured campsites, beaches and towns over and over but, even when retracing our steps, we always try to include someplace new.
What a treasure trove Italy is! My difficulty here is selecting 10 and I’m changing my mind every 5 minutes….
Located about 90km south of Naples, this is possibly a UNESCO World Heritage site you’ve never even heard of. Its worth the trek to see the 3 Greek temples which are among the best preserved in the world. The place won’t be overrun by tourists and you can walk through the columns and appreciate the grandeur and size of the constructions.
I know I’m always going on about Bergamo but its really a lovely town in which to spend a night or two. Located in Lombardy, about an hour north of Milan, you reach the upper town via funicular. There you can enjoy the cobbled street and squares, the beautiful churches and city walls and of course the views of the surrounding countryside.
Close to the Adriatic and a few hours from Bologna, this is another spot that’s a bit off the beaten track and therefore not swamped by bus tours and cruise ships. Ravenna is home to an amazing 8 UNESCO World Heritage sites. Here you will find several religious buildings adorned with stunning Byzantine mosaics. The historical centre is pedestrianised and there are plenty of piazzas in which to enjoy a coffee or, if you prefer, there are great wine bars! Dante is buried here.
Located on the edge of a rocky ravine, this ‘City of Caves’ is finally coming into its own as the 2019 European Capital of Culture. Once labelled the ‘Shame of Italy’ , this is a rags to riches story. The complex of cave dwellings which housed families for generations, was mostly emptied in the 1950’s but restoration began in the 1980’s and its now trendy to eat and sleep here. You should try and visit before its hit with too much of a tourist boom!
Siena is often included as part of a day tour from Florence and while it is small enough to be explored in a few hours, its also a lovely town to experience in the evening when the daytrippers have departed. Its particularly famous for the Palio – a very competitive horse race around Piazza del Campo – where 10 jockeys riding bareback, represent their districts and the rivalry is intense. (The photo above was taken [2003 I’d say] on August 15th – the eve of one of the races. We just happened to be in town for the practice. The place was packed as you can see – locals were wearing their district colours. On the side streets, long tables were being laid for street parties).
The largest location on my list, Milan usually only gets a look in after Rome, Venice and Florence have been ticked off. We ourselves never bothered with it until a few years back and loved it once we got there. Its home to the massive Gothic Cathedral that took almost 6 centuries to build, and also the location of Leonard’s ‘Last Supper’ but the city has lots more to offer and is well worth a few days attention.
Just 30km from Pisa, this town is most famous for its well preserved walls. Popular with day trippers from Florence and Pisa, its another lovely place to enjoy in the evening when the tour buses leave. The walls have been converted into a park that runs 4km around the city. You can walk or rent bicycles and enjoy the skyline with its towers and steeples before descending into the piazzas for your coffee or aperitif.
Lazise is a personal favourite, having camped here many times over the years. It has a lovely location on Lake Garda and very convenient as a base for exploring the lake and Verona. There are lots of family attractions in the area. The walled village is perfect for an evening stroll – after your pizza and before your gelato! (I took this photo – of the men in my life! – from the shore at Lazise, probably 1996)
Like its more famous neighbour Pompeii, Herculaneum was destroyed by Vesuvius in 79AD. It was covered with much more ash and lava which helped with preservation so even floors and doors are still intact. It was wealthier than Pompeii and the town is full of beautiful buildings with stunning frescoes and mosaics. Skeletons are on display in one of the houses. Smaller and less touristy than Pompeii, it makes for a fascinating tour.
There’s more to Bologna than food but this is one place in Italy where you really should take a food tour or cookery lesson . Home to the oldest university in Europe, it is famous for its porticos, stretching about 40km around town. Built to the height of a man on horseback, they are not only beautiful to look at but provide a useful shelter from sun and rain!
Nearly made the list!…. Ferrara, Gubbio, Lucca, Puglia, Ostuni, Agrigento
Then of course there’s Pompeii, Vesuvius, Cince Terre, Perugia, Spoleto, Orvieto, San Gimignano……
What an amazing country!