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The unique legacy of Southern Italy deserves all the recognition but receives little acknowledgment outside of the major tourist destinations of the Amalfi Coast and Pompeii. History envelopes the plains, mountains, and coastline as some of the oldest settlements on the peninsula with ancient Greek cities, such as Sybaris and Paestum, established centuries before the beginnings of the Roman Republic. Beaches, woodlands, mountains and national parks preserve the beauty of the natural history and elements of the layers of the regional cultural sagas.
The macroregion, referred to as the Mezzogiorno, encompasses the smaller states of Abruzzo, Puglia, Basilicata, Campania, Calabria, Molise, Sicily, and, depending on map and the uniqueness of the cultural connection, the island of Sardinia. The area encompasses nearly 29,000 square miles with an estimated population of over 14 million as of 2010. Famine, overcrowding, disease, and a thirst for adventure brought new commercial outlets and ports to the shores of Southern Italy between the 8th and 7th centuries BC, developing a new Hellenic civilization developing over time through interactions with native Italic and Latin societies.
After the fall of the Roman Empire civilizations ranging from the Byzantine Empire, Normans, Arabs, the Lombards, Spanish kingdoms, and Austrian aggressors have conquered the different regions across Southern Italy leading to a unique melting pot of Mediterranean, Continental, and Central European culture. The range of the architecture, art, and landscape surprises newcomers, along with the legendary welcoming personalities of the locals.
Since the reunification of Italy, an economic divide has separated the southern regions from the northern regions. A lack of effective land reform and industrial development has kept the growth low, with locals relying on their agricultural and artisanal goods, leading to a history of organized crime and high emigration rates.
Chefs at home and in restaurants fervently observe the Slow Food movement, which aligns with the values of traditional regional cuisine, including a long connection to the tomato. The colors of the waters shift between the Tyrrhenian and Adriatic seas. Volcanos heat majestic pools and cause the landscape to rumble. Prehistoric discoveries decorate sea caves and hidden grottoes.
Family and friends share laughs through rich stories, gossip in the cafes, and take long lunches to enjoy a portion of the day. It isn’t surprising to visit a small village or quiet shop and end up dining at the family table with curious and excitable locals as you experience the best Workation destinations in Italy.
Locals have begun to refer to Abruzzo as Italy’s last unspoiled region. Blessed with national parks, pristine beaches, and serene villages, and Roman ruins, the prestige of the landscape and the culture has fallen under the radar due to a global fascination with more familiar regions, such as Tuscany, and a series of natural disasters over the decades. Abruzzo covers more than 4,100 square miles, with a population of 1.3 million as of 2010.
The border lies 50 miles east of Rome to touch the corners of Lazio and connects to Le Marche in the north, Molise to the southeast, and the indigo waters of the Adriatic Sea to the east. High and steep peaks connected to the Gran Sasso, Laga, and Mount Majella slopes shape the hilly contours of the landscape spreading to the Adriatic coastline, with the tallest peak of Corno Grande reaching over 9,550 feet above sea level. Long stretches of beaches mix sand and pebbles extending from the north to the south of the region.
Monasteries, castles, and charming villages pepper the hinterlands and coast. Geographically the region looks like it belongs in Central Italy but culturally, linguistically, historically, and economically, Abruzzo has a stronger connection to Southern Italy. Settlements in the region have occurred since Neolithic times. The regional nomenclature dates back to the Latin word Aprutiium leading into the Middle Ages. The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was the largest state of Italy before the reunification and reigned over Abruzzo from the Middle Ages until the mid-19th century.
The terrain is strong, the people are welcoming, and the region is considered one of the lushest in all of Europe offering access to unique and memorable activities easily part of the best things to do in Italy during your Workation. The Apennine Mountains in the east divide the climate between alpine terrain and the Mediterranean temperatures to the east. Precipitation decreases with the altitude providing more rainfall on the slopes exposed to the west, with the winds gently pushing the clouds over the Adriatic for a softer rate of precipitation, reaching nearly 24 inches of rain per year on the coast and up to almost 80 inches of rain per year near the border of Lazio. Economic growth in Abruzzo depends on the industrial sector connected to mechanical engineering, transportation equipment, and telecommunications.
Agriculture in Abruzzo relies on small farms producing high-quality products, such as wine, cereals, sugar beets, potatoes, olives, and dairy products, and saffron. Continental and internal tourism has increased over the last decade compelling more Europeans and Italians to visit the nearly 40 protected areas, charming medieval towns, or lavish preserved castles. Active travelers venture to Abruzzo to bask in the thrills of skiing, snowboarding, or sledding in the winter and trekking, mountain biking, sailing, fishing, canoeing, or windsurfing in the summer. Gastronomes find passion for the wine, olive oils, and cuisine connecting rustic seafood dishes with the pastoral flavors of the rugged mountains. Honey often coats the regional desserts, acting as a perfect analogy for the abundance of natural beauty, captivating charm, and hidden glamor Abruzzo contains.
L’Aquila is not only one of Abruzzo’s four provinces, but is also the capital of the southern region. The province encapsulates the diversity of the landscape through the dimensions of the mountainous slopes, snow capped summits, and lush plains. Of the four provinces of Abruzzo, L’Aquila is the only province without access to the Adriatic Sea.
The drama of the natural, pristine terrain plunges into the serene streets of the picturesque city in view of the tablelands, valleys, and vineyards. The history of the city dates back to the Middle Ages under the reign of Frederick II, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and King of Sicily.
According to local tradition, the king connected 99 existing villages to bring together a powerful city that could stand against the dominance of the papacy. The city of L’Aquila became autonomous as the second city of the Kingdom of Naples until the period of prosperity ended with the arrival of the Spanish viceroy Philibert van Oranje, who established Spanish feudalism across the countryside. Earthquakes have plagued the city and the province since at least 1315, when monks accounted for the December 3rd event damaging the church of San Francisco.
In 2009 a large earthquake decimated the historic city, turning the precious center into impassable streets with tumbling and torn cobblestone. Life has returned in the nearly 10 years since the staggering earthquake but signs of its effect remain clear in the form of scaffolding and cranes speckling the skyline. With many of the sites in the city damaged from the earthquake, tourists have taken to passing the capital of Abruzzo. What remains is a picture of resolve, with residents, art, and architecture refusing to fold in the face of nature’s adversity.
The 15th-century Basilica di San Bernardino was refurbished to its original state reflecting the early 19th-century restructuring after the upheaval of an earlier earthquake. The mausoleum holds the remains of St. Bernardino of Siena, a 15th-century Franciscan priest. One of the few monuments open to visitors of the city is the Fontana delle 99 Cannelle, The Fountain of the 99 Spouts, which has become a symbol of the city. The number is connected to the villages brought together to form the greater city under Frederick II. 93 spouts, not 99, decorate the perimeter of the fountain representing intricate faces.
The small town in the northern province of Teramo is located inside Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park. Archeologists have discovered traces of human presence in the area dating back to the Neolithic era and Upper Paleolithic age. Settlements of a town from the Middle Ages set the foundations for the 13th-century streets and walls commissioned under the reign of the Kingdom of Naples. Civitella del Tronto acted as a border town between the boundaries of the kingdom and the Papal states, until its capture by Napoleonic forces between the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The fortified town sits on a hilltop at nearly 2,000 feet above sea level and is home to the largest fortress in Italy, reaching nearly 270,000 square feet.
The dramatic walls and towers dominate the town’s skyline of golden facades with a backdrop of Montagna dei Fiori, Campli, and Monte Ascension. The narrow-cobbled lanes of town provide a maze of restaurants, cafes, private homes, and hidden staircase leading to the convent or sudden dead ends. The mysterious stairs eventually lead to the fortress gateway marked by the main palace containing the Governor’s house and the Church of San Giacomo. The ramparts provide elaborate views over the town and the countryside spreading from the mountain ranges as far as the pale blue of the distant Adriatic Sea.
The Abbey of Santa Maria in Montesanto was once one of the most powerful abbeys in the region but declined between the 12th and 15th centuries. The edifice has been restored to its pristine 13th-century state highlighting the Medieval architecture. Civitella del Tronto not only offers a unique look at the powers in conflict during Italy’s nearly 2,000 years of separation between the Roman Empire and the Reunification, it also offers an exciting and serene place to indulge in the splendors of the country’s famous southern hospitality and historic architecture away from the tourists in the overcrowded monuments of more famous cities, towns, and regions.
The ancient hillside village of Navelli incorporates breathtaking views and golden stone houses for a look at the heritage and contemporary culture of the secluded streets. The relatively unknown village has earned a place on the list of Italy’s “Most Beautiful Villages.” When the sunlight spreads over the hillside, the houses glow with a pale golden hue unusual for the region.
Stone arches link the homes and act as a part of the accommodations. Cobbled streets wind through the unique medieval architectural features, including big wooden doors, metal balustrades and arched windows. Engineers built steps directly into the rocks and designed stone hands as embellishments through the medieval and Renaissance periods.
An antique shepherd’s trail once guided flocks over the mountains between settlements, until farmers established a village to bask in the comforts of the lush hills and valleys on which their sheep could graze. Houses overlooking the streets became popular as the city grew so parents could watch their children. A blackened wall represents the presence of an antique communal bakery house, blacksmiths, and a winery that would cook and process the grapes. San Sebastiano Church stands beside the 17th-century Santucci Palace near the top of the hill.
A fortress once crowned the summit, suggested in the medieval turret now holding a bell tower. The oldest gateway in the city is the Porta Castello and is located in the oldest part of the village. An earthquake in the mid-15th century inspired the villagers to build three more gateways and larger walls to support the historic main gate. The walls continue to surround the village streets. Circular basins once acted as managers for donkeys to rest after returning from a day hauling stone or carrying heavy loads. Residents continue to work the fields below, producing quality olive oil and wine, along with the notable purple crocus flower, saffron.
The small but mighty cooking ingredient is worth its weight in gold blooming between October and November each year. Harvesters collect the bright red stigma each morning when the flowers have opened before slowly roasting the ingredient over hot coals to preserve the flavor and nutritional properties. Restaurants in town specialize in highlighting the distinctive flavor of saffron with chickpeas or pasta. 80 farmers grow the prized spice on small plots of land that yield large results.
The small town of Atri has a huge reputation, represented in a 19th-century poem by the American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow entitled, The Bell of Atri. The ancient city of Picenum was located less than 10 miles from the Adriatic Sea and positioned between the rivers Vomanus and Martinus. Historians believe the town has Etruscan roots but have not found any evidence to help prove or support the theory. Romans established a colony in the 3rd century BC, which fell to the forces of Hannibal during the Second Punic War. Archeologists have discovered coins connected to the city of Picenum, which brought about the origins of Atri.
The historic center offers magnificent views overlooking the Adriatic Sea, sharp mountains, and remarkable calanques, steep-walled inlets formed by centuries of erosion. The city has preserved the history of the architecture and culture connected to the dukes of Acquaviva from the 14th to the 18th centuries. The 13th-century cathedral stands on the foundations of the former Roman baths. Elements from the original Roman mosaics continue to decorate the floor and are visible through glass panels installed for visitors and preservation.
The simple design aesthetic impresses visitors nonetheless through a cycle of 40 15th-century frescoes painted by Andrea de Litio. The most popular representations are The Coronation of Mary and The Massacre of the Innocents, the latter of which is located in the apse. The 14th-century duke’s palace was established above the Roman cistern and heavily renovated in the 16th century.
Antique frescoes highlight the grandeur of the former duchy inside the Town Hall and on display in the Museum of Medieval and Renaissance Musical Instruments. Music lovers travel from all over Italy to enjoy concerts at the Municipal Theater. Outside of La Scala in Milan and the Teater San Carlo in Naples, the theater in Atri provides excellent acoustics reminiscent of an amphitheater of a grand city. Locals produce delicious pecorino cheese and delightful pan Ducale, an almond pizza that satisfied the cravings of the Dukes of Acquaviva.
Campobasso is the regional capital of Molise and sits at nearly 2,300 feet above sea level. The sprawling center has a pocket-sized historic center decorated with Romanesque churches. The city acted as the administrative center of the region during the 19h century and experienced expansion based on an orthogonal design punctuated with lavish gardens. The altitude provides a cool climate year-round, similar to the cities of Lombardy. The foundations of the city existed before the arrival of the dukes of Lombard with defensive walls built over the remains of the ancient fortification Sunni.
Campobasso lost its strategic significance after a defeat at the Norman conquest, turning the defensive stronghold into a significant trading and administration post. The Monforte and Gambatesa families ruled over the grounds between the 14th and 18th centuries before the local residents abandoned the old city for the lush landscapes of the lower valley. The Old town has a semicircular design along the slope of a hill known as Monte, topped by the Monforte Castle. The dramatic walls create a striking gray square fortress with crenulated embellishments. The church of San Giorgio stands beside the castle on 10th-century grounds representing the city’s tradition of reconstituting its past. The city retains an association with the craftsmanship of blades first documented in the 14th century. Archeological relics include Villaggio di Campomarino, a prehistoric settlement offering insight into the rich heritage of Molise and the capital of Campobasso.
A number of castles pepper the mountainside outside of the capital, including the grand architecture of the Castle of Gambatesa and the quiet splendor of Castello d’Evoli Castropignano. Regional cuisine fills the cafes and restaurants embodied in the local caponata, a delicious dish consisting of cooked vegetables, wheat, vinegar, and anchovies. In the summer the streets blossom with color from the Flower Festival and overflow with excitement during the Festival of Corpus Christi, referred to as the Festival of Mysteries. Understanding the value of the miracles and mysteries provides an understanding of the history of the city, its regional importance, and the significance of religion in daily life and culture.
Many regions in Italy have been touted as the New Tuscany or the Next Tuscany, in an attempt to drum up interest for tourists tired of the high prices or overbearing crowds of Italy’s most popular region, however, Molise, a region many visitors to Italy have never heard of, is a discovery far better than the traditional highlights of Tuscany. The cultural history and heritage of the region connects to the traditions of the south and was connected to the region of Abruzzo until 1970. It is the youngest region in Italy and covers over 1,700 square miles. The region contains two provinces, Campobasso and Isernia.
The modest population of approximately 300,000 residents allows Molise to act as the perfect destination for any type of getaway, from skiing to sunbathing. Historically the region has shared many myths, beliefs, and ancient histories with its neighbor and former associate, Abruzzo, but emigration of the youth to the economic powerhouses of the north have left the small towns in the mountainous areas nearly empty and the beachside communities rich in cuisine and places to stay. Molise maintains over 20 miles of sandy coastline connected to the Adriatic Sea within view of the Tremiti Islands.
The stunning massif of Monti delle Meta shapes the borders between Abruzzo, Lazio, and Molise with a peak reaching nearly 7,400 feet above sea level. The southern edge of the massif sloping over the border into Molise is known as Le Mainarde, and consists of calcareous mountains forming the peak of Monte Cavallo at almost 6,700 feet above sea level.
Roman and pre-Roman settlements populate the regional museums and scenery around the small towns of the two-distinctive province. In the winter, tourists mainly from Italy or around the European continent venture to Campitello Matese to enjoy the comforts of a resort that boasts the most snowfall in central-southern Italy.
The plain located inside the Massif of Matese provides sizable slopes capturing the attention of skiers, snowboarders, or fans of sledding. The woodland scenery accentuates the festive ambiance and captivating character of the landscape. When the snow melts over the beech forest, trails provide a fabulous place to trek in search of a tranquil moment in nature. The quiet pace of life in the hills travels down to the coastline to reach an unspoiled paradise populated by small towns supported by the fishing industry and the draw of tourists from outside of Molise happy to indulge in sailing, sports fishing, or lounging beneath an umbrella.
Molise is also the capital of bagpipes in Italy featured in the town of Scapoli. A local museum is devoted to the classic musical instrument, showcasing the history of the piece in Italy and the reason for its fandom. Beyond the mountains and shoreline, Molise also hosts countless castles, abbeys, and sanctuaries representing Renaissance, Romanesque, and Gothic architecture for nearly a millennium. The terrain encourages sheep farming and cuisine influenced by the surrounding regions, including popular dairy products and locally produced wines.
In the passed-over region of Molise stands the unassuming village of Pietrabbondante, which stands on a tall rock controlling the shepherds’ tracks of Celano-Foggia and Sprondasino-Castel del Giudice Tratturi. The historic center boasts a stunning history dating back three millennia as the Samnite capital of Bovianum Vetus.
The Romans first mentioned the site in Plinius’s transcripts Naturalis Historia. In the Middle Ages the city acted as the capital of the region under the reign of the Lombards who divided their territories into thirty-four separate counties. Megalithic remains pepper the landscape around the foothills of puncturing summits of Morg Caraceni.
The charm emanates from its position at nearly 3,400 feet above sea level encompassing an area of 10.5 square miles. The craggy limestone rocks protruding from the lush foothills contrast the orange-tiled rooftops of the ascending town. Baroque portals and windows decorate the church of Santa Maria Assunta and the main square embodies the enchanting ambiance of the small town through a series of quiet cafes and restaurants offering tasty meals surrounding the large central statue of a Samnite soldier.
The statue was put in place in 1920 as a tribute to the soldiers of World War I. The ruins of a Lombard castle loom above town on the edge of the towering cliffs at 3,600 feet above sea level, which acted as the mansion to the Borrello counts.
The town of Agnone blends art and history with effortless ease in Upper Molise and is considered the “Athens of the Samnites,” located 16 miles northwest of the regional capital of Campobasso. The pre-Roman settlement grew as the most powerful base in Bovianium, north of the present-day city. The important archeological vestiges consist of the Oscan-Samnite ruins after the Sulla destroyed the Samnite settlement. The city also hosted the Oscan Tablet, which is now on display in the British Museum. The bronze tablet dates back to the 3rd century BC and with inscriptions of the alphabet providing insight into the spoken language of the ancient civilization.
During Medieval times the city acted as an important center of the Lombard kingdom at the heart of a collection of monasteries, hermitages, and agricultural colonies. Medieval architecture continues to decorate the skyline of the town with 19 churches peppering the skyline with spires and a Renaissance portal embellishing the Church of San Marco adorned with a copper lion.
The town rises out of the rocky spear of the mountainous terrain at an elevation over 4,500 feet above sea level. The town remains known for the Pontificia FOnderia Marinelli, a historic foundry producing bells for nearly 1,000 years. It has been noted as one of the world’s oldest companies and remains under the direction of the Marinelli family.
A museum inside the factory displays a large selection of bells produced over the millennium, Artisan craftsmen continue to work in the factory, making it possible to watch as workers toll away casting the musical religious artifact.
Pope John Paul II visited the factory in 1995 and a large collection of bells can be found in use at the Vatican. The charm of Agnone derives from the pleasant mixture of nature, secular, and spiritual character reflected in the encircling mountains, high-altitude plains, and Medieval architectural design.
On the 24th of December, the town fills with the sounds of church bells and bagpipes as people of all ages dressed in traditional clothes carry 13-foot tall torches down the main street to form a sensational river of fire.
The festival creates the largest Christmas fire event in the world and developed over the years from an ancient pagan festival of light. During the last week of August Agnone holds the festival of Serenata per la Mia Bella, reenacting a legendary serenade. The men stand below a balcony and sing love songs pleading with a young woman to let the groom see her before the wedding day. The girl sings her response in a cycle that lasts until both groups grow tired.
Campania is a region of contrasts, highlighting the wildest riches and intense hues of the water and landscape alongside decadent palaces, villages painted with pastels, and panoramic views sweeping across coastal hills to the horizon. The region embodies the passionate lifestyle for which Southern Italy is known, committed to slower pace during the day and enjoying the simple pleasures of every moment. The roots of civilization in the region run deep, with the ancient peoples consisting of the Osci, Aurunci, and Ausones dating back to the first millennium BC.
The Greeks arrived on the continent and established colonies in the 8th century BC leading to the 4th century when the Samnites engaged with the Roman Republic. The rich pastures and splendid countryside fascinated the Romans and led to the first Greco-Roman society. During the Middle Ages, the region fell under the reign of the Byzantine Empire and the Lombards. The Normans created a smaller independent state before submitting to the rule of the Kingdom of Sicily, bringing elements of Spanish, French, and Aragonese culture.
The sun-drenched region encompasses nearly 5,250 square miles along the Italian Peninsula brushing against the Tyrrhenian Sea to the west, Lazio and Molise to the north, Puglia to the east and Basilicata to the southeast. The volcanic activity has enraptured visitors for over a millennium with tourists interested in viewing the radiant peak of Mount Vesuvius, which stands at nearly 4,200 feet above sea level in view of the Bay of Naples, best known for its eruption that destroyed the port city of Pompeii.
The Mediterranean climate provides pleasant temperatures throughout the year. The economy is focused on the agro-food industry producing mainly fruit and vegetables. The industry has expanded over the decades t o include flowers grown in greenhouses.
The main source of income from the agricultural industry derives from producing over 50 percent of Italy’s nuts and a large portion of the tomato crop. The Gross Domestic Product per capita in the region is less than 67 percent of the national average, highlighting the steep economic gap between the incomes of North and South Italy, with the bulk of industry concentrated in the Naples metropolitan area.
The tourism industry adds a sizable percentage to the regional economy centered around the locations of Naples, the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii, and the island of Capri, welcoming visitors with incredible wonders connected to ancient Rome, historic Greek colonies, and lavish villas dotting the expansive shoreline.
Italy’s third-most populated city has shed most of the detritus from its former reputation and replaced it with a character exuding color and vibrancy to capture the fascinating culture and history of the historic cityscape. The streets contain contemporary and ancient elements for an ambiance both intimidating and welcoming. The distinctive and aggressive atmosphere garners strong emotions, leading to a large and immediate divide between visitors who hate or love the complexity of the seaside city.
The historic heart of the city reflects the compact lives the former inhabitants of the Kingdom of Sicily had, while the greater expanse of the urban sprawl represents the shift in lifestyle and the excess of people with a population of over 3.11 million people in the greater metropolitan area. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world with residencies beginning in the Bronze Age with Greek settlers. The Allies bombed Naples the most out of any Italian city during the Second World War, allowing the local government to focus on rebuilding with contemporary design and planning focused on establishing transport and business links worldwide offering a variety of ways to travel around Italy and beyond.
The volcanic soil of the greater metropolitan area feeds into the soil and the crops, thereby enriching the produce. The epicurean heavyweight presents locals and tourists with celebrated seafood dishes, delicious street snacks, indulgent sweet treats, decadent pizzas and pastas, and aromatic coffee, especially when following Workation’s Guided to Italian Coffee Culture.
The spontaneity of the city is catching, providing excitement on any given day with opportunities to view the world’s historic treasures, stroll through the elegant halls of castles, or observe breathtaking sculptures before participating in a conversation with a friendly local eager to learn about your hometown. The anarchic city of legend retains prominence beyond the streets of Via Toledo and Spaccanapoli, while the dazzling city overcomes the shadows of the less glowing past by showcasing the Duomo, Basilica Santa Restituta, Galleria Umberto I, and the Castel Nuovo, crowned by the awe-inspiring galleries in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale.
The renowned stretch of coastline on Campania has fascinated movie stars and Roman aristocracy, novelists and passing visitors for over two millennia. The rugged coastline dips into the Bay of Naples and wraps around the peninsula in view of the Isle of Capri. Lemon trees, olive groves, and vineyards exploit the volcanic and coastal terrain, thriving on the steep terraces overlooking the coastline.
Fishing villages have decorated the shores for centuries, recently growing from the affluence drawn by the opulent history and luxurious scenery of stacked pastel homes, decadent restaurants, pebbled beaches, and breathtaking views. The shoreline consistent with the Amalfi Coast stretches from 25 miles between Vietri sul Mare in the east and Positano in the west, consisting of 13 municipalities steeped in classic Mediterranean climate between the Sorrentine Peninsula and Gulf of Naples.
Compare Cinque Terre and Amalfi Coast for Workation and quickly find the charm of the Amalfi Coast and how its beauty is not relegated to the noted three towns and the island of Capri when visiting Campania. In actuality, the lesser visited towns of Conca dei Marini, Praiano, Alstrani, Scala, Minori, Tramonti, Maiori, Cetara, and Vitri sul Mare offer a number of historical and natural attractions, along with significant cultural interests away from the crowds found at Amalfi and Positano, including the hidden charms of the Emerald Cave.
Traveling outside of the comfortable path trodden between Naples and the Amalfi Coast is an invigorating and unforgettable experience, especially when coupled with discovering a hidden treasure like Marina di Pisciotta in the province of Salerno. A popular legend across Italy begins with small towns or grand cities growing out of the tradition of Troy. Pisciotta continues to harbor the mythology that the first residents on the hill overlooking the water fled from the fires and invading army of the fabled city.
Saracens sacked the city in the 10th century AD. The Caracciolos, Sanseverinos, and Pappacodas families reigned over the city from the 13th to the 19th centuries. The small, Southern Italian coastal town embodies the perfection of a postcard. The historic streets rise above the lush green hills with a backdrop of indigo and turquoise waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Pastel-painted homes compress narrow lanes leading to hidden chapels and picturesque piazzas. Old men shade their faces with wide-brimmed hats and play cards on café tables while sipping espresso or chatting with longtime friends.
A clean and friendly beach stands between the foothills and the water. Olive groves give a quintessential Mediterranean touch to the ambiance navigable on an ancient path known to locals as La Chiusa. The imposing façade of Palazzo Ciaccio watches over the countryside and the fishermen’s cottages scatter the coastline recalling a history associated with the sea and anchovy fishing. Flat-white pebbles pave the beach amidst the sand across the half-mile stretch of shore connected to town.
The great geological and historical area of Vesuvius National Park encompasses over 50 square miles and highlights the dramatic peak of the eponymous volcano made famous by its eruption in 79 AD that decimated the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum now located in the province of Naples. The volcanic activity feeds nutrients into the soil, allowing the nearly 615 different vegetable species growing on the rich landscape to thrive with fortified flavor, which helps sustain the more than 225 different species of wildlife.
Different lava flows continue to decorate the landscape along the Naples-Salerno freeway. The park was established in the 1990s to include the volcanic landscape and the distinctive properties of Pompeii and Herculaneum. A second notorious eruption occurred in the mid-17th century and lasted for several days, claiming the lives of 4,000 people and up to 6,000 animals. The latest eruption occurred in the 1940s causing the elliptical crater to depress more than 650 feet.
Different species of broom grow in the oldest lava substrata, while on Monte Somma maples and Downy oaks grow. Buzzards, kestrels, and sparrowhawks nest around the foothills accounting for a small percentage of the more than 100 different bird species residing in the area. The great cone reaches a peak of more than 4,200 feet above sea level and provides a walking path with views into the steaming caldera. The Colle Umberto hosts the Volcanological Observatory, which was established in the 1840s.
Mountains border the plain surrounding the town of Avellino, located approximately 30 miles northeast of Naples. The history of Avellino began before the Roman conquest of Campania was the center of the Samnite Hirpini two miles outside of the contemporary streets. Coins uncovered during archeological digs over the years found proof of trade between Velecha and the ancient town with findings of coins in the area. Rome conquered Abellinum in the 3rd century BC and the city was then Christianized in 500 AD, when it became the episcopal seat of the region.
Goths, Vandals, and Lombards conquered the province over the corresponding centuries before the region joined with the Principality of Salerno. Agriculture remains a healthy part of the local economy consisting mainly of tobacco, viticulture, and hazelnuts. The industrial sections of the province make engines for Fiat, Opel, Lancia, and Alfa Romeo and consist of factories connected to the Fantoni Group, Densi, Salvagnini, and Aurubis. Ancient ruins protrude near the outskirts of the modern village, including remnants of the Roman Forum, baths, and an aqueduct.
A Romanesque crypt was built over a Roman villa. The latter was established in the 2nd century BC and abandoned after the eruption of Vesuvius two centuries later. The 16th century church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, along with the remains of the Lombard castle in Piazza Castello, provide elaborate puzzle pieces to the remarkable history of the tranquil town. Hollywood featured the village in the HBO hit series The Sopranos, mentioning that Tony Soprano, the mob boss, has family roots in Avellino.
The dramatic and varied scenery of the southern region of Basilicata deserves more praise and attention than it receives. The large area overtakes nearly 4,000 square miles and borders Puglia to the east, Calabria to the south, and Campania to the west. Two thin stretches of coastline touch the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Ionian Sea. Although the landmass covers a large area, the population of Basilicata is small, with a density of 150 people per square mile as of 2013.
Traces of human presence in the region date back to the late Paleolithic era with archeologists uncovering signs of Homo erectus and fossils from the Late Cenozoic era. Settlements of the Iron Age were located near the plains and river at Agri and Sinni in the late 8th century BC. Ancient history began with Greek settlements in the late 8th century established at Siris and spreading across the Ionian coast. Rome conquered the region in the latter half of the 4th century before extending across the whole region in the 3rd century BC with the construction of the Appian Way.
German-speaking peoples overtook the region after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the mid-6th century before the Lombardy Duchy of Benevento became the ruler of the Basilicata. Charles V stripped the barons of their lands and replaced them with the loyal families in the 15th and 16th centuries before the formation of the Neapolitan Republic and the reign of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. A deep state of poverty blanketed the region for centuries, with residents of Basilicata slowly emerging from the insufficiencies after World War II.
Italian author Carlo Levi published his account of his banishment from the Fascist regime of the 1930s in a book entitled Christ Stopped at Eboli, classic of Italian literature depicting the impoverished state of the people and towns of Southern Italy that did not abate until the 1980s. In winter, the highest peaks of the region maintain a blanket of snow suitable for skiing, snowboarding, and sledding.
In summer, the grassy fields and rugged hills provide the perfect escape for mountain bikers, cyclists, and hiking enthusiasts. Lakes, rivers, and the coastline offer destinations to raft, canoe, sail, fish, or scuba. The region is known for its hot sauces and production of durum wheat used to make homemade pastas and decadent cuisine with a focus on lamb dishes.
The capital city of the eponymous province is also the capital of Basilicata, located at nearly 2,700 feet above sea level. Remains of the historic gates continue to decorate the outskirts of the city after being destroyed and rebuilt over almost a millennium due to massive earthquakes in the 13th, 17th, and 20th centuries, along with heavy bombings during the Second World War. The first settlement in the region was located at a lower elevation nearly six miles outside of the contemporary city center under the rule of the Lucani of Potentia.
The settlement sided with Rome during the war with the Samnites and Bruttii and rebelled against the Roman defeat at Cannae in the 3rd century BC. In the Middle Ages the capital fell under the reign of the Lombard Duchy of Benevento. Saracens and Normans also conquered the city before the episcopal see took power in the 12th century. The Neapolitan Republic took power over the city in the late 18th century before the powerful French army declared Potenza the capital of Basilicata in the early 19th century.
The contemporary ambiance blends with the remains of the city’s history through a mixture of ecclesiastical highlights and the traffic-free city center straddling the high ridge from east to west. The dramatic stone walls of the Guevara Tower acts as one of the main draws in the heart of Potenza.
Matera is described as a “jewel of Basilicata,” a “reflection of ancient civilization,” and, in the 1980s, “a national embarrassment.” The area of what is now Matera was first settled in the Paleolithic era before the Romans of legend established the city in the 3rd century BC under the name Matheola. By the 7th century, Matera had fallen to the Lombards as part of the Duchy of Benevento. German and Byzantine emperors fought for supremacy over the region in the 9th and 10th centuries until the Normans swept in from Puglia in the 11th century.
In 1943 the inhabitants of the city rose up against the German occupation to become the first Italian city to fight against the Wehrmacht. The primeval look of the famous caves and rugged cliffs plunging into the ravine has brought regard to the scenery in connection to ancient Jerusalem, inspiring filmmakers to film their movies on location at Matera, including Mel Gibson’s 2004 The Passion of the Christ and Timur Bekmambetov’s 2016 version of Ben-Hur. The city was also the setting of Carlo Levi’s novel 1945 memoir Christ Stopped at Eboli, which became a film in the 1970s depicting the impoverished state of Italy’s forgotten southern regions.
The ancient setting holds weight due to the city’s claim as one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in Western Europe. Neolithic caves that housed people over 7,000 years ago remain visible from the center of the medieval streets on the opposite cliffs of the ravine. The entire town is an Unesco World Heritage Site divided into sections of the preserved medieval architecture of the upper level and the hidden troglodyte settlement located inside the rugged terrain.
Since becoming an Unesco World Heritage Site in the 1990s, Matera has become more popular with tourists from Italy and around the world happy to travel off the beaten path in search of a uniquely Italian experience. Like many of the Unesco World Heritage Sites In Italy to Visit on Workation,the best way to enjoy Matera is by soaking in the daily ambiance emanating from the streets, architecture, and cave dwellings for a true taste of the town. The oldest part of the medieval town is the center crowning the rocky plateau.
Antique stairways carved into the rocks connect the cobbled lanes and the subterranean districts once abandoned by the locals after the government forcefully removed the residents in 1986. The crumbling aged structures of the city and people residing in ancient caves beneath the elevated lanes and architecture became a blight on the progressive agenda of the contemporary government. A resurgence of interest in the caves has brought prestige to the former signs of poverty with locals turning the distinctive features into restaurants, hotels, and museums depicting life for those who once inhabited the network of cavernous homes.
The region of Puglia, also known as Apulia, is located at the heel of Italy’s boot-shaped peninsula. Although the region is not one of Italy’s traditional tourist destinations, it has grown in popularity for travelers interested in discovering the distinctive charms of baroque towns, whitewashed homes with unique design, thriving olive groves, lavish orchards, and the crystal-clear turquoise waters of the Ionian Sea.
Puglia encompasses nearly 7,500 square miles bordering the southern regions of Molise to the north, Campania to the west, and Basilicata to the southwest. The Adriatic Sea creates the longest coastline of any mainland Italian region beginning at Gargano on the northern promontory and touching Salento at the southern tip of the peninsula.
The archeology of the region provides one of the richest experiences in Italy with excavated artifacts and cities dating back to the Mycenaean Greeks of the Bronze Age. Castles in the region date back to the Holy Roman Empire and the reign of Frederick II before Puglia fell under the powerful reign of the Kingdom of Naples, known in the 13th century as the Kingdom of Sicily. Barbary pirates from North Africa sacked the city of Vieste in the 16th century and Turks occupied the coastline throughout the region’s history, competing with the Venetians for supremacy of the Adriatic Sea.
The majority of the economy derives from agriculture specializing in food processing. Puglia also specializes in footwear and textiles. The regional dialect of the Italian spoken in Puglia reflects the distinctive cultural history of the different peoples who have settled, reigned, and lain claim to the resources, including the Spanish, Venetians, and Turks. In isolated pockets near the southern tip of Salento, residents speak a modern dialect of Greek known as Griko. In the town of Faeto, the locals speak a rare dialect of Franco-Provencal.
The Mediterranean climate provides a consistent, refreshing temperature throughout the year spanning Italy’s gorgeous terrain, which accounts for the least mountainous landscape in Italy. The pleasures of the region are drawing more and more Italians and Italian enthusiasts happy to venture away from the known wonders of Rome, Florence, Venice, and the Amalfi Coast.
The regional splendors are contending for equal footing against the Italy’s more famous cities, towns, and regions with the opulent architecture of Lecce, the interesting homes of Alberobello, the ancient Forest of Umbra in the north, and the sundrenched seaside at Salento in the south. The fascinating history of Puglia survives in the museums and in the daily lives of regional residents, from the language they speak to the homes in which they live after having endured decades of hardship familiar to residents of Southern Italy, whether due to emigration to the north or poor quality of living standards.
The reputation of the south has changed over the past 30 years, with Puglia leading the charge of thriving local agriculture and destinations adored by tourists and Apulian denizens alike. Many travelers use the ports at Bari or Brindisi to catch ferries to Albania, Greece, or countries connected to the former Yugoslaiva but the region continue to captivate visitors through the history, culture, and the cuisine, the latter of which is focused on large quantities of produce including chicory, broccoli, olives, and citrus fruits.
The hilltop village overlooking the Tyrrhenian coast is one of the most beautiful pearls of Italy, yet remains relatively unknown to outsiders. A considerable number of historic churches and chapels gave rise to the nickname “the town of 44 churches.” Archeologists have uncovered evidence of the first settlements dating back to the Paleolithic era between the 15th and 14th centuries BC. A village grew over the headland of La Timpa, eventually growing to become a center for trade until the 2nd century BC when the Romans conquered Lucania.
The fall of the Western Roman Empire led to the reign of the Byzantines and control by the Saracens in the 7th century AD. Leo III the Isaurian traveled to Maratea in the 8th century bringing the remains of Saint Blaise and built the cathedral outside the heart of town over the ruins of the ancient temple of Minerva. Normans conquered the town in the 11th century and the prominence of the baroque period flourished in the 18th century with the construction of many of the town’s 44 churches.
The peaceful atmosphere provides impressive views of the steep wooded slopes with glimpses of the sea through the pass. Small beaches and a marina decorate the shoreline beneath a hill crowned by a magnificent statue of Jesus. The town draws Italy aficionados and those eager to enjoy the rich but slower pace of Italian life around the Gulf of Policastro between the resort area of Maratea Porto and the seaside settlement of Acquafredda. The best way to enjoy the town is through exploration at your own pace.
Wander the lanes and indulge in the outdoor cafes at the main square of Piazza Buraglia. The town is gorgeous in the sunlight and at night. Coves and pebbled beaches pepper the nearly 20 miles of coastline with hidden caves reachable only by boat and decorated with captivating stalactites and stalagmites.
Colorful houses adorn the hillside in view of the turquoise and indigo water. The winding streets contain secluded alleyways with charming shops dedicated to selling local specialties and handcrafts, including brightly painted ceramics. Tower ruins continue to rise along the coastline, impressive yachts moor in the marina alongside understated fishing boats.
As the capital of Puglia, Bari is the leading commercial and industrial center for the region, often passed over by tourists on their way to Greece or across the Adriatic on the deluxe ferries. The metropolitan city is one of the two economic centers of Southern Italy, second only to Naples. The Peucetians settled the city around the 7th century BC before the port passed under Roman rule by the 3rd century. The city remained of little importance until the 11th century under the rule of Robert Guiscard.
The Byzantines used the city as their main port connecting to Southern Italy until the stronghold fell to the Kingdom of Naples in the 16th century. The city today feels like two separate towns connected by a maze of narrow streets stretching to the edge of the peninsula. The more contemporary neighborhoods on the outskirts of the historic city center have broad avenues reaching southbound and connecting to the busy boulevard of Corso Vittorio Emanuelle II, the street that separates the new from the old.
The airport offers budget flights from the United Kingdom, providing new life to the city and the surrounding region through international connections. Bari suffers from a bad reputation across Italy but has shed its darker image to create light and captivating character emanating from local art galleries, the bustling fish market, and the historic headland reaching into the Adriatic Sea.
Residents of the city cook with three typical ingredients found across the region, namely wheat, olive oil, and wine enriched with a variety of locally produced fruits and vegetables. Women continue to sit at long tables making orecchiette, the scent of focaccia dressed with roasted cherry tomatoes and olives emanates from the bakeries. The former city walls continue to wrap around the edge of the old city center representing the best of culture and history preserved through time.
The village of Specchia stands out from other towns and cities in Puglia due to its fascinating position at the base of Serra Magnone, one of the highest points in the Lecce Province. The village is located less than 25 miles east of Gallipoli and south of Otranto. The charming neighborhood at the heart of the historic town is considered one of the most beautiful of Salento, the southern peninsula of Puglia. Monuments decorate the cobbled, pedestrian-friendly lanes wrapping around the spontaneous Medieval and ancient architecture hiding stairways and narrow alleys.
In 2004 the village received the title of I Borghi più Belli d’Italia, “The most Beautiful Village in Italy,” and was honored with the Eden Award as European Destination of Excellence in 2007 focused on the best of the continent’s emerging rural destinations. The streets provide views over the surrounding countryside farmed by the 16th-century architecture of Palazzo Risola in Piazza del Popola, which was built over the foundations of the former medieval castle.
The Church of the Virgin Mary was constructed in the 15th century and the bell tower was rebuilt to the specifications of the original structure in 1945. The antique church of Saint Euphemia was established in the 10th century, followed by the church of Nicholas of Myra in the 11th century. The village has buried telephone and electric poles to keep the integrity of the 19th-century skyline intact. Locals have also restored historic underground oil mills once used to produce olive oil.
The small town in the Bari province is renowned for its unique architecture spread across the hillsides. The town was first mentioned in written history during the 16th century under a land act granting the first 40 families farming parcels. The abundance of rich minerals in the territory provided unique properties with which the residents could build their homes with dry stone without the need for mortar. The houses became the first trulli.
Count Giangirolamo II required residents under his protection to build houses out of stone to keep the community from needing to pay taxes to the greater aristocracy. King Ferdinand IV of Bourbon decreed the small village a royal city, freeing the locals from feudal serfdom and their need to pay taxes on their homes and parcels. The town rests at an elevation of 1,365 feet above sea level with a total area of 20 square miles. The limestone features on the stacked, corbelling homes represent prehistoric techniques with the oldest structures dating back to the 14th century.
The Rione Monti district has over 1,000 trulli and the neighborhood of Rione Aia Piccola has nearly 600 trulli. The UNESCO World Heritage Site protects the fantastical homes. The town’s name derives from the primitive oak forest of Arboris Belli, which translates to “beautiful trees.”
Piazza del Popolo has a belvedere offering the best view of the fascinating town, encompassing the conical rooftops and whitewashed walls decorating the undulating hills Small shops line the pedestrianized streets and sell local produce. Serene cafes and trattorias serve al fresco options accentuated by the gorgeous ambiance of the architecture.
Ostuni is a maze of whitewashed walls and cobbled alleyways on a hilltop located less than five miles away from the Adriatic Sea. Humankind first settled in the region surrounding Ostuni in the Stone Age, with the foundations of the town set by the Messapii people, a pre-classical tribe of around the 7th century BC. Hannibal destroyed the city during the Punic Wars before the Greeks rebuilt the settlement under the name Astu Néon, or “New Town,” being less than 45 miles away from the Greek coastline.
The town fell under the reign of the Norman County of Lecce after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 10th century. The Normans built the city center atop the hill, located at more than 750 feet above sea level and crowned with a large castle and elaborate thick walls. The city passed under the reign of the Duchess of Bari, who protected humanists and people of the art world, subsisted against attacks from the Turks who controlled the Balkans, and eventually joined the Kingdom of Italy during the Risorgimento in the 1860s.
Old town continues to draw tourists mainly from Germany and England due to the dramatic contrast of the bleached walls of the city rising above the emerald treetops like a pearl. The largest building in the historic neighborhood is the Ostuni Cathedral, which stands near the Bishop’s palace. The cathedral is known for its rose window containing 24 carved sections representing every hour of the day. Fortified estate farms decorate the countryside, including the masserie San Domenico, which was once held by the Knights of Malta. The elevated position of the city provides remarkable views to the sea from the streets and piazzas.
Ostuni connotes the end of the fascinating trulli region and the beginning of the hot and dry Salento peninsula. On Saturdays, the archways and staircases fill with people excited by the vibrant produce at the morning market. The doors on the street shine vibrant shades of blue, turquoise, and green, decorating houses built in the Greek style or containing ornate Baroque details on the windows. The heart of the city bustles around Piazza della Liberta in which the statue of San Oronzo stands. Residents credit the statue for saving the city from the plague in the mid-17th century.
The coastal city stands less than 20 miles south of the Bari, the capital of Puglia, and is known for the dramatic cliffs, crystal clear waters, and delicious seafood cuisine. Archeologists have unearthed the prehistoric history of the surrounding region in the nearby locality of Santa Barbara. Classical history dates to the ancient Greek settlement of Neapolis with unearthed coins referencing the destination as a center for international commerce. Roman ruins consist of a bridge connected to Via Traiana, the ancient road constructed as an extension of the Appian Way. Successive invaders ranged from the Huns to the Normans long before the serene decades following Italy’s reunification.
The town casts an enchanting ambiance equal to its most captivating native son, Domenico Modugno, who wrote and performed the international hit Volare. Local restaurants and cafes show their pride for the song by playing different versions throughout the day, especially when tourists arrive from around the world to bask in the endless sunlight and crystal-clear waters. Four watchtowers once guarded the historic town under the Romans and continue to demarcate the former borders of the ancient city.
The main portal of Arco della Porta was the town’s original entrance and still leads to the majesty of the historic city center, home to the 13th-century Mother Church. The cliffs contain secluded caves and frame hidden coves for quiet reflection along the stoic water and white-pebbled shoreline. On Sundays, residents of Bari travel to the smaller town to watch the waves crash against the cliffs and visit the caverns filled with water. Shops known as cornetterias, which specialize in Italian croissants, provide sweet aromas in the historic center contrasting the briny sea air.
The harbor was an important port marking the crossroads of cultures and commerce for the Adriatic Sea, garnering Greek, Arab, Spanish, and Byzantine influence over the picturesque waters for centuries. The marina now holds an armada of fishing boats, the smaller of which pepper the small beaches. The former cathedral at the center of town offers exhibitions of Vivarini and Stefano da Putignano. The gorgeous grounds of Abeey of San Vito are dedicated to Polignano a Mare’s patron saint providing a wide terrace and arcade for views to the water. In May, the city hosts an annual kite festival. The skyline turns into a ballet of colorful banners dancing above the coastal cliffs. If the seaside town interests you, find new ideas for your trip by visiting our Italy Workation packages.
The capital of the province of the same name is located in the remote area at the heel of Italy’s famous boot. The creamy limestone casts a soft golden glow over the city at sunrise and sunset highlighting the Baroque architectural masterpieces. The streets create a kaleidoscope of alluring buildings, daily life, and marvelous vistas. Mythology and history combine when learning the history of the city, whose roots locals claim date back to the time of the Trojan Wars. Archeologists have found remnants of the Messapia people and many Roman ruins from the 3rd century BC.
Emperor Hadrian moved the city two miles northeast of its original location, building a heater and amphitheater in connection to the Hadrian Port. King Totila of Ostrogoth sacked the city during the Gothic Wars before it was rebuilt under the reign of the Easter Empire. The Saracens, Lombards, and Hungarians all ruled over the city Until the Norman conquest of the 11th century. The Kingdom of Sicily defeated the Normans and turned Lecce into one of the most influential cities in Southern Italy. In the 17th century the kingdom assembled a new line of walls to protect the streets and people from the Ottomans.
It is no secret that Lecce is the only destination south of Naples famous enough to draw groups of tourists on its own merits due to its complex history, picturesque lanes, and enchanting baroque architecture. Guidebooks and historians have overused the term “Florence of the South,” when referencing the beauty and artistic integrity of Lecce, placing the city on an equal level with one of the most famous cities in all of Italy. Shops, restaurants, and art studios provide a glimpse into the daily lives of locals amidst the Baroque designs and half-buried Roman ruins.
The town is divided into two main focal points surrounding Piazza Sant’Oronzo and Piazza del Duomo. The former consists of the civic heart of Lecce with a large, open plan blending ancient and contemporary culture. The excavated Roman amphitheater is located near the statue of a bishop perched on a column representing Sant’Oronzo. The column once marked the end of the Appian Way, which connected the city to Rome. The latter piazza is the traditional cathedral square but instead of having a large, open space showcasing the grandeur of the ecclesiastical heart of the city, the cathedral stands on the corner of the tightly enclosed piazza alongside the soaring figure of the bell tower.
The Italy of Vespas and siestas still exists in Calabria, the most southern region on the mainland. The corner bordering Basilicata in the north, and surrounded by the Tyrrhenian and Ionian seas contains a wild mountainous interior, gorgeous pebbled beaches, and an uncensored version of the sweet life for which Italy is known, without the touristic makeup hiding the rough edges of more popular regions, such as Tuscany and Lazio.
The peninsula jutting into the toe of Italy’s boot has one of the oldest records of human presence in the country dating back to 700,000 BC during the period when evolving Homo erectus left traces of their travels around coastal areas.
The figure of a bull on a cliff known as “Bos Primigenius,” dates back to 12,000 years in the Cave of Romito at Papasidero leading to the first villages in the region at around 3,500 BC. The Classical age began in 1,500 BC with a tribe called the Oenotri. Greek mythology claims the peoples as their own, who followed their king to the shores of Italy and the mountains at Calabria. Greek settlers founded an assortment of colonies along the southern coasts, including Rhegium, birthplace of one of the famed nine lyric poets, Ibycus.
The Bruttii in Calabria sided with Hannibal during the Second Punic War in the 3rd century. Romans called the region Calabria Bruttium during the reign of Augustus as the empire absorbed the territory as the third region of Italy. After the sacking of Rome, Calabria fell under the reign of the Ostrogoths, Byzantines, Saracens, and Normans before falling under the reign of the Holy Roman Empire. In the 19th century, the region experienced a series of peasant revolts against the Kingdom of Naples.
Rural areas provide historic charm revealing the ruins of once-great cities. The coastal villages provide views to the nearly 500 miles of coastline. Hot air carried over the Mediterranean from North Africa makes the east coast dry and warm year-round while the mountains receive snow in the colder months. The diversified economy has allowed the region once known for its poverty to emerge as an industrious territory focused on manufacturing foods, beverages, and tobacco.
Farmers produce olive trees and oranges. Windsurfers, kite-surfers, and scuba divers travel to the coastline with rafters and skiers venture to the Lao River and Mountain slopes. The region is known for its spicy dishes, extra-virgin olive oil, wines, and honeys, along with the classic pastas made from traditional methods, easily making it one of the top regions to find what to eat and where in Italy. From Greek bronzes to provinces containing one of the 100 most beautiful beaches in the world, Calabria has stepped hidden in the shadows of its notorious past and emerged all the better for it.
The City of Two Seas is the capital of Calabria and the eponymous province. The greater metropolitan area encompasses approximately 40 square miles and reaches an elevation of more than 1,100 feet above sea level at its tallest peak. The history of the city dates back to the ancient Greek settlers who colonized the region more than 3,00 years ago, establishing the land of Scolacium. The population thrived under Greek and later Roman rule. Archeological excavations have uncovered regional activity dating back to the Iron Age with the people of Vitulo.
The choice land of the region provided a safe location for settlers and a territory connecting to two different seas. The Saracens, Normans, and Venetians controlled the region over the course of a millennium after the fall of the Byzantine Empire. The Mediterranean temperature allows for cool springs and autumns due to the sweeping winds. The current regional economy pertains to services, mainly medium and small companies connected to the local markets.
The first resort city of the Catanzaro region is known as Soverato, and is located less than 25 miles south of Catanzaro city neighboring the ancient village of Montepaone and the shores of Costa dei Saraceni. The nightlife pulses with discos and clubs. Active travelers explore the landscape outside of the city by trekking, mountain biking, and climbing the rugged cliffs. Beachgoers indulge in windsurfing, scuba diving, and water skiing. The bakeries provide aromas of wheat bread and chefs from the quiet restaurants or inside their private homes enjoy olive oil and hot chili peppers in the cuisine.
The ancient seaside town of Squillace is located on the gulf of the same name in the province of Catanzaro. The city’s name derives from the ancient port of Scylletium. The contemporary city center grew from the Longobard and Saracen invasions of the 7th and 8th centuries, building over the established Roman ruins, who in turn developed the foundations of the Greek settlers at Skyllétion. Residents continue to tell the legend of the city’s founding, which began when the mythological warrior Ulysses escaped from Troy.
Historians believe Athenian settlers first claimed the city before it fell to the tyrant of Syracuse, Dionysus I, in the 4th century. Squillace joined forces with Hannibal during the Second Punic War and fell under the rule of the Roman Empire in the 3rd century BC. Much of the city retains its flair from the Saracens with embellishments from the 18th century after an earthquake changed the skyline of much of the city. The 15th-century castle once hosted elegant balls and lavish décor but became a prison during the reign of Bourbon, who hosted promoters of the Reunification revolts in the mid-19th century.
The city is also known for the prized terra cotta, which has boosted the local economy for more than two millennia, documented first by the Roman statesman and writer Cassiodorus. The town gave rise to the pignatari style of ceramic art, which connotes the earthenware container used for cooking over an open flame. The 18th-century Duomo was built over the foundations of the Norman cathedral and continues to house notable artistic works. The outer neighborhoods contain sculpted stone portals decorating noble buildings leading to the Palazzo Pepe in Piazza del Municipio.
A stone memorial tabled connotes the place of the former Roman aqueduct that ran through the city centuries dating back to the 2nd century AD. The Byzantine castle continues to dominate the skyline of Squillace providing the layers of the city’s history dating back to the Byzantines. The ramparts and towers offer a stupendous view of the Jonic coast and the gorgeous city center. As with many cities around Italy, when visiting Squillace, there isn’t one destination that makes the city stand out, and is instead experienced through the culture of daily life intertwined with the remarkable history present around every corner accentuated by the pristine beaches.
Badolato is less than a town and more of a village situated at nearly 800 feet above sea level on the Ionian coast. Like the majority of towns and cities in Calabria, the well of history is deep and reflected in the variety of Byzantine churches arranged around the small alleyways iconic of medieval towns. The ancient roots of Badolato are scattered around the greater region of Catanzaro but remnants of the town while under the rule of the Kingdom of Naples continue to decorate the public piazzas.
For nearly 150 years the barony of the Toraldo family held power over the residence, passing the rule between local lords who took control from the Count of Catanzaro in the 15th century. The architecture reflects the decades during the 17th and 18th centuries in which the local government had to rebuild the historic architecture due to a series of earthquakes causing the distinctive differences to reflect the aesthetics of their respective time periods. Although the town is home to approximately 3,000 people, it remains a strong supporter and producer of exported wine and olive oil.
Larger companies in the area also breed cattle, sheep, and goats to use for dairy products or the wool trade. Bed and breakfasts have become popular means of second income for residents of the town offering high standards of local cuisine and elegant views to the breathtaking coastline. There is a large population of Danish who have bought second homes around Badolato joining the existing boutique hotels. In the high season of summer a large number of European tourists travel to Badolato to enjoy village life and the preserved medieval history. Portions of the wall built to protect the town against invasions from Saracens and Turks remain intact in the design of the winding streets and concentric circles populated with shops and homes.
The town’s crest honors the historic watchtowers and the castle on the hill remains as a striking memory as the former centerpiece of the antique city at the main square known as Piazza Castello, although the castle itself was torn down in the 1970s due to safety concerns. 13 churches decorate the streets but only Chiesa Matrice del SS Salvatore is open for daily visits. Locals and visitors enjoy the quiet white sands of pristine beaches and the fresh air of the mountains touched with the aromas of a sea breeze.
The island of Sicily is both part of Italy and yet worlds away from the famed peninsula. Standing midway between Africa and Europe, Sicily has a unique relationship with the cultures of the world and its connection to the Italian Republic and former Italian Kingdom over more than a century. Sicily is Italy’s largest island and deserves a space in guidebooks all on its own, drawing sports enthusiasts, oenophiles, gastronomes, beachgoers, amateur historians, and thrill-seekers happy to spend time traversing the rugged slopes and barren craters of Mount Etna.
Archeological evidence has traced human activity on the island to as early as 12,000 BC. Three Phoenician colonies, along with more than 10 Greek settlements were established by the 8th century BC. Colonies on the island took sides in the Peloponnesian War, the Punic Wars, and the Second Servile Wars. Christianity appeared on the island in 200 and the Germanic tribe, the Vandals, briefly took the island in the 5th century.
Byzantine culture ruled over Sicily for nearly half a millennium with the Arabs arriving from North Africa at the beginning of the 9th century. The Normans conquered the island and ruled for almost two centuries before Roger II of Sicily raised the status of the island to a kingdom in the early half of the 12th century. The Spanish, French, and Bourbons fought over the island until Sicily joined Italy during the reunification of the 1860s.
History has turned the island into a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities. Sicily is the fourth most populated region in Italy, consisting of approximately 5 million people. Residents of the island tend to emigrate north for jobs our internationally to other countries, such as other European countries, North America, Australia, or South America in search of economic opportunities. Immigration over the millennia has given the island a unique dialect separated into two distinctive ethnolinguistic minorities and the unique dialect of the island.
Due to a series of reforms over the years, the island has the eighth richest economy of Italy’s regions, investing in agriculture and modern irrigation systems. The importance of the service industry has grown since the turn of the millennium, opening several shopping malls, and financial, and telecommunication companies across the region. The historical heritage and natural beauty of the coastline has attracted tourists, growing the hospitality industry. The volcanic soil contains rich minerals that provide a stronger flavor to the agricultural products for a more substantive tasting experience.
Mountains, hills, and three different seas inscribe Sicily’s nearly 10,000 square miles with an abundance of color. Small islands scattered across the water shaped by thousands of years of volcanic activity. Greek temples continue to pepper the landscape with elaborate columns and complex friezes. The cuisine of Sicily connects with what many in the United States, Canada, and Australia associate with the customary dishes of Italian food, creating such popular items as cannoli or the delicious fried rice balls known as arancini.
Local life takes center stage in the town of Cosenza and highlights the unkempt charms of Southern Italy’s famous pace of life. The contemporary movement of an Italian metropolitan area embodies the importance of Cosenza as the transport hub of Calabria providing a gateway to the nearby slopes and peaks of Sila National Park. The historic city center rushes up the hills with stacked homes and disheveled cobblestone streets reminiscent of a bygone era from post-World War II Italy. Bruttii people founded the civilization in the area thousands of years ago and provided the bulwark of the Italic peoples juxtaposing the influences of the settling Hellenic peoples on the Ionian seaboard.
An army of Bruttii and Lucanians defeated Alexander of Epirus, the uncle of Alexander the Great, giving rise to the distinctive character and culture of the region before the arrival of the Roman Empire. The city hosts the legend of Alaric’s I tomb, the leader of the Visigoths who sacked Rome in the 5th century and plundered the city’s riches. Norman, Hohenstaufen, and Angevin kingdoms ruled over the city until the Spanish dominated the region in the 16th century led by Captain Gonzalo Fernandez de Cordoba.
The city expanded under Spanish rule and grew in importance with the establishment of the Accademia Cosentina. Austrians and Bourbons ruled over the city after the dissolution of the Kingdom of Naples before the region joined with greater Italy in the Risorgimento. The contemporary city fascinates visitors with life unmoved by tourism. Locals dry clothes over their rusty balconies and antiquated shops continue to line the streets. The more modern neighborhood between Corso Mazzini and Piazza Bilotti contains the Museo all’Aperto Bilotti, an open-air museum hosting a range of modern art sculptures donated by Italian-American entrepreneur and art collector, Carlo Bilotti. The exhibit includes works by Salvador Dali, Giorgio de Chirico, and Emilio Greco.
The city of Palermo embodies the culture of Sicily as the capital of the autonomous region, the island’s largest metropolitan city, and a center for history, architecture, and gastronomy. Palermo holds more than 2,700 years of history as a city, not to mention archeological discoveries dating back thousands of years prior to the colonization with human settlements during the Mesolithic around the year 8,000 BC. A group of cave drawings at Addaura, a complex of grottoes on the northeast side of Mount Pellegrino in Palermo Province.
Phoenicians provided the first sea-trading community in the province with people from the north at ancient Canaan dating back to the 9th century BC. The infamous city of Carthage traded with Palermo under the Phoenicians before the city came into contact with the Greeks between the 6th and 5th centuries BC. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Vandals, Byzantine, and Arabs conquered the city, giving way to the Normans and the Kingdom of Two Sicilies.
The city maintains two rings deriving from the town historic walls surrounding the ancient neighborhoods. The Phoenician city and the Medieval city, which expanded upon the ancient borders. Palermo has acted as a crossroads of civilizations for nearly 3,000 years, retaining the flamboyance of each culture represented in heavy spice mixtures, Arabesque domes, frescoed cupolas, bustling markets capturing a blend of ancient life, medieval traditions, and the contemporary heritage of Italy’s biggest opera house.
Tiny, hidden restaurants provide elaborate meals in obscure settings while cafés and food stalls off Via Roma carry on the traditions of lively drinking and enticing aromas celebrating the cuisine of Sicily. Businesses have grown over the decades to include shipbuilding, agriculture, and the booming tourism industry. Cities like Rome, Florence, and Venice hog Italy’s limelight, leaving places like Palermo known but outside the traditional tourist route to retain its unique flavor against the growing popularity of the island. With churches, palaces, theaters, and markets spanning the city’s more than 60 square miles, there is always something more to experience around Palermo.
Taormina is Sicily’s long-established resort destination promising a picturesque setting above the Ionian Sea, ancient ruins, and views to the stunning peak of Mount Etna on the horizon. Historians have found proof of inhabitants in the region since the 8th century BC before even the Greeks arrived on the island. The settlement was considered prosperous by the 4th century BC upon the arrival of Timoleon’s expedition from Greece after having avoided conflict with the Carthaginians.
The Romans arrived by the 3rd century BC and noted the region for its excellent wines. By the Middle Ages, Taormina was one of the most important towns on Sicily due to the strength of its position on a cliff and its connection to the Byzantine Empire. The Fatimids seized control in the 10th century before the Normans arrived in 1078 and once again changed hands in the 15th century with the arrival of the Crown of Aragon. The Spanish also ruled over Taormina in the 17th century, which gave way to the Bourbons and the Kingdom of Two Sicilies.
The town has gained the nickname “Pearl of the Mediterranean,” due to its idyllic position above the Ionian Sea at nearly 670 feet above sea level and offering comfortable year-round temperatures. The town has been a popular tourist destination for centuries, drawing the likes of German and French Authors Goethe and Alexander Dumas, German composer Richard Wagner, English satirist Oscar Wilde, and famous Americans such as Truman Capote, Francis Ford Coppola, Greta Garbo, and Gregory Peck.
Gorgeous medieval buildings line the cobblestone streets opening to breathtaking views of the water and landscape. Quiet boutique shops offer local style and culture alongside friendly bars and delicious restaurants serving local cuisine, including fresh seafood, from swordfish to tuna, along with the familiar Italian staples of varieties of pasta, tomato sauce, pine nuts, and capers. The charming ambiance centers around the main thoroughfare of Corso Umberto I, connecting Palazzo Corvaja to Piazza del Duomo, and traveling through the heart of the city’s five square miles.
Contemporary Agrigento is a loud, bustling city filled with tower buildings and motorways surrounding the pristine kernel of preserved medieval architecture at the center of the lively streets; but up the vision of modern Sicily stands up the hill from the impressive display of ancient wonders spread across the Valley of the Temples.
The archeological park consists of eight temples and various ancient remains within a preserved area of more than 3,200 acres. Although the park is named “Valley of the Temples,” the Unesco World Heritage site is actually located on a ridge outside of Agrigento. The different ruins were constructed between the 6th and 5th centuries BC
The Temple of Asclepius is located on the banks of the Akragas River, while the other seven temples are situated on the rocky crests south of the contemporary city, which was established atop the Greek city of Akragas by settlers from Crete and Rhodes. During its zenith, the city grew to prosperity as one of the most important cultural cities in the Greek Mediterranean before falling to Carthage in the 5th century BC. The magnificent temple ruins highlight the grace and grandeur of the architectural styles of Doric aesthetics.
The principal altar and base are all that remain of the Temple of Zeus, but showcase what was once one of the largest Greek temples in antiquity. The gorgeous landscape of the Garden of Kolymbetra, located between the Temple of Caster and Pollux and the Temple of Vulcano, highlights the fertile landscape across more than 12 acres. Orange trees, mulberry bushes, prickly pears, almond, and olive trees grow amidst ancient lemons, opulent white poplars, and fragrant myrtle.
The Sicilian city of Syracuse, also known as Siracusa, is a wonderland of tangible ancient architecture and preserved cultural heritage decorated with intermittent baroque style. The ancient city overlooks the crashing waves of the sea, connecting the Greek explorers before the birth of Rome with the historic archeological center on the Island of Ortigia. Archeologists have unearthed artifacts related to civilizations in the region who traded with residents of Mycenaean Greece. Settlers from Corinth and Tenea established the foundations of the city in the 8th century BC.
Syracuse grew to considerable prominence in the 5th century BC as it built outside its original walls with a population numbering 250,000, which was similar to the great city of Athens at the time, growing to one of the most renowned capitals in Europe by the 3rd century BC. Rome eventually overtook the powerful city by 212 BC, ushering in a new power stream connected to the empire. The city grew once more under two centuries of Arab rule.
Emperor Henry VI occupied the throne of the Sicilian Kingdom in the late 12th century, which included the city of Syracuse. Sicilian Baroque took hold as the prominent artistic expression by the 17th century, influencing residents to rise against the Bourbon government after a cholera outbreak in the mid-19th century and leading to the Sicilian independence movement of 1848 before the Reunification of Italy.
Palaces, churches, and Greek ruins have become a staple of daily life for residents of the city and continue to draw tourists from around the world interested in walking along the cobblestone streets of a former powerful city-state that once challenged the likes of Carthage and the Roman Empire while retaining a sense of elegance alongside the azure Ionian Sea. Its position on the water and spreading across fertile landscape has given rise to historic cuisine including excellent crab and lobster dishes, spaghetti with squid ink sauce, delectable pork sausages, and sweet pastries made from almond flour.
The city of Erice stands atop the summit of Eryx Mountain at over 2,450 feet above sea level offering stunning views over the port of Trapani and the western coast of Sicily. Serene history spreads across the plateau in the form of medieval walls, antique homes, and narrow cobblestone alleyways, and hidden Greek foundations or Phoenician artifacts. Ancient Greeks named the settlement Eryx after the mythological hero. They laid the foundations of their settlement over what the Phoenicians had already established.
Carthage destroyed the city in the First Punic Wars after which the city’s importance continued to diminish. Two generations of Arab rule in the Middle Ages gave way to the Norman conquest, who renamed the town Monte San Giuliano, a name that remained until the 1930s. The mixture of the high altitude with the maritime climate pushing in from the Mediterranean Sea accounts for the unpredictable weather, turning a sunny afternoon into a surprising, foggy evening.
The plateau has a unique triangular shape framed by the Trapani gateway leading from the cable car station into the winding Medieval cobblestone lanes connecting 60 separate churches. The Gothic Chiesa Madre and the Church of Saint John the Baptist date back to the 14th century. The streets open to vistas encompassing the western coastline and leading to the Egadi Islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea, a branch of the Mediterranean.
The hilltop town highlights the layers of history through the cuisine, which retains elements of Arab influence. Pepoli Castle dates back to the Saracen occupation in the Middle Ages, while Venus Castle dates back to the Normans and was constructed over a temple dedicated to the Roman goddess of love. A legend that has captivated residents and visitors to Erice says Aeneas, the son of the goddess Venus and famous Trojan hero, founded the temple giving way to the formation of a sacred and celebrated cult.
Sardinia is an autonomous region of Italy and the second-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea after Sicily. Italians and Western Europeans have discovered the beauty of the island’s pristine white shores covered in powdery sand, characteristic coves, and emerald waters perfect for sailing, windsurfing, and swimming. Past the coastline, the interior of the island draws adventurers interested in peeling away the Italianization of the communities while enjoying hiking, climbing, and camping.
The island is one of Europe’s oldest bodies of land, populated over tens of millennia with various waves of immigration. The first people to have settled on the island date back to the Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic eras. Evidence of settlement derives from artifacts found in the commune of Oliena’s Corbeddu Cave, a grotto in the centrally located Supramonte Mountains. Three rooms divide the more than 420 –foot long cave and once housed the most ancient findings of homo sapiens remains in Sardinia. The second room uncovered artifacts from the Mesolithic and Early Neolithic periods.
Ruins from the Nuragic civilization dating to the 1,500s BC provide insight into the living conditions and lifestyles of the Nuraghes people spanning 7,000 different rounded tower fortresses dotting the island landscape. The Phoenicians arrived by the 9th century BC at various ports of call. The Latin poet Claudian referenced peoples from Tyre founding Carlis between the 9th and 8th centuries BC in his famous poem De bello Gildonico. The Romans annexed Sardinia in the 3rd century BC turning Latin into the dominant language of the island, which the tribes in the mountains disputed.
The Vandals from east Germany overtook the island in the 5th century AD before Roman forces reconquered the island. After the forces dispelled the Vandals, Sardinia turned to the power of the Byzantine Empire for protection. Moors from North Africa led raids over the island by the 7th century and took over in the 9th century after the Muslim conquest of Sicily. A Christian kingdom returned to Sardinia after an 11th century revolt led by Pisan and Genoese forces, which ended up dividing the island into four small provinces.
The history of the different districts around the island became intertwined with the destinies of the rising naval powers along Italy’s western coastline, mainly Genoa, Pisa, and the Kingdom of Aragon in the Iberian Peninsula. The latter eventually established dominance by the late 13th century under the initiative of Pope Boniface VIII, which led to the parliament of the kingdom of Sardinia and Corsica during the mid-14th century reign of Peter IV of Aragon. Spain took control of the island by the 15th century before the House of Savoy ruled the island in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Mediterranean island climate provides the perfect summer escape for vacationers from the mainland keen on indulging in the soft sands and refreshing azure waters. The greatest economic development on Sardinia exists in Cagliari and Sassari, which represent the main enterprises on the island. The secluded location separate from the mainland has given rise to costs in transportation and electricity. The main sectors of economic activity consist of farming and fishing, with the landscape dedicated to 60 percent of the livestock and 20 percent to agriculture.
The remaining land hosts protected forests and urban areas. The island is home to approximately 4 million sheep, which accounts for one of the world’s densest populations of sheep compared in quantity to the likes of the UK and New Zealand. The tradition of sheepherding in Sardinia has persisted for thousands of years due to the shallow soils making agriculture difficult across the majority of the landscape.
In terms of life expectancy, Sardinia has one of the highest rates of centenarians in the world, with an average of 22 residents over the age of 100 for every 100,000 inhabitants. The island was the world’s first noted Blue Zone, a designation to a geographic area with a larger than average concentration of centenarians sharing the title with the likes of Okinawa in Japan. Although Island is the official language on the island, locals speak Sardu, the local dialect connected to the Romance language family. Linguists have found the language closer to Latin in its roots than to Italian. In the late 1990s, the Italian government recognized Sardu as one of the 12 historical language minorities of Italy.
The island’s reputation continues to inspire visitors to explore the layers of history and enchanting scenery throughout the year, enriched only by the accompaniment of the cuisine. Locals employ wheat, pork, lamb, and exceptional fish dishes to create enticing dishes using tradition as a base from which to explore different combinations of ingredients and flavors. The compelling past, scenery, and food fed into the expressive quote the famous English author D.H. Lawrence used to describe the island in the 1921 Sea and Sardinia travel memoir when he said “Sardinia is something else.”
Golden stone crowns the palaces and decorates the city of Cagliari in a labyrinth of cobbled streets overlooking the sea and leading to Il Castello, city’s centerpiece adorning a rocky summit. The historic capital of Sardinia is known as Casteddu in the Sardo language. The metropolitan area provides housing for up to 150,000 residents while the 16 nearby principalities reach more than 430,000 inhabitants. The remarkable history in the area dates back to the Neolithic era with settlers choosing the region due to its access between the sea and fertile plain.
The city of Krly was established between the 8th and 7th centuries BC as one of the Phoenicians’ string of settlements on the island. The natural port added to the trade routes with Africa. The famous North African city of Carthage took control of the city in the 6th century BC, under whose reign Cagliari grew substantially. The Romans eventually overtook the city by the 3rd century BC after the First Punic War. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Vandals and then the Byzantine Empire claimed authority over the city.
After the fall of the Byzantine Empire, the became a giudicato, an independent state, however, archeologists have uncovered evidence of abandonment during this period due to the city’s exposure to Moorish pirate attacks from Spain and Africa. The Republic of Pisa claimed domain over the independent principality in the 11th century and the Crown of Aragon conquered the island after a series of battles with the Pisans by the 14th century. The Habsburgs of Austria had a brief claim to Cagliari in the 18th century under the rule of the House of Savoy before the Napoleonic Wars overtook Europe. During the wars, locals of Cagliari repelled the French from at Poette Beach, which accounted for successions from the Savoys before Italy’s reunification in the late 19th century.
The city covers an area that overtakes the plain of Campidano, which is located between two large basins, ponds, and mountains leading up to 3,600 feet above sea level. Forests cover the ranges for an estimated 51 square miles. Tree-lined boulevards and vespas resemble the Italian culture in Rome, even though the island is closer to Tunisia in North Africa, than to Italy’s capital city.
The history of the city stands out in the open, representing rich layers in the form of Roman ruins, antique churches, and elegant palaces giving way to the restored and protected artifacts on display in the museums. Poetto Beach continues to offer excitement for residents and visitors to Cagliari with over four miles of sandy shoreline buzzing with activity from sailing, kitesurfing, windsurfing, and beachside sporting enthusiasts.
Cagliari showcases the unique gastronomic traditions of Sardinia based on the variety of cultures that have created the distinctive heritage of the city and the greater island, from Sicilian and Genoese-inspired dishes to the cuisine of Catalonia. The seafood represents the most popular ingredients accessible to locals with emphasis placed bottarga—the eggs of mullet served in thin slices—or fresh lobster boiled and seasoned with olive oil and lemon juice. The wine regions around Cagliari have gained prominence over the years for cultivating superb flavors at Nuragus, Malvasia, Cannonau, and Campidano.
The town of Oristano provides the perfect ambiance to revel like an Italian, basking in the elegance of charming lively streets, ornate piazzas, and the captivating hum of popular cafes or great restaurants filled with the scent of alluring lamb stew or merca, a mullet oiled in salted water and wrapped in leaves. The capital of the eponymous province has an elaborate history established by the Phoenicians, who settled the town of Othoca in the area. The main city acquired importance after Saracen attacks, drawing residents from the nearby coastal town for safety.
Oristano became a giudicato, an independent state, in the Middle Ages until the Arborea rose to power in the 13th century. The small state waged wars against the Kingdom of Sardinia in the 14th century to establish power over the whole island but failed to create the desired stronghold. The city joined under the rule of the Kingdom of Aragon in the 15th century, connecting their fate to the fate of the island’s presiding power. The mixture of coastline and plain offer a comfortable climate.
The region of the same name covers a surface area of 1,175 square miles, overtaking 88 municipalities spreading from the Campidano plain to the Monte Ferru Range, whose highest peak reaches over 3,280 feet above sea level. The surrounding peninsula contains nearly 60 miles of coastline oscillating between sandy beaches, calcareous cliffs and rocky mounds. Throughout the year, Oristano hosts fabulous folkloric events including the popular Sartiglia horserace and barefoot race known as the Corsa degli Scalzi. Residents and visitors of Oristano easily fall in love with the traditional cuisine of representing the scenic plains and stoic sea, culminating in the delicious desserts of zippole, brandy-flavored fritters.
The third-largest national park on Sardinia is located along the northwestern tip near the popular tourist destination of Stintino. The government has protected the landscape and coastline since the late 1990s due to the remarkable scenery and fascinating history. The gorgeous azure water and safe bays have acted as a central position in the Mediterranean Sea for mariners for thousands of years, from the Phoenicians to the Greeks, Romans to the Moors. The hidden coastal areas have also allowed pirates to hide until the coat was clear.
Shepherds from inland and fishermen from Liguria settled in the region before King Umberto established an agricultural penal colony in the late 1800s. Austrian and Hungarian forces survived as prisoners of war in the World War I prison camp. The narrow, long and steep rocky coast provided great security and has given way to alluring scenery encompassing nearly 300 square miles of protected marine- and landscape. Mediterranean vegetation thrives on the island and covers the landscape with holm oaks in the flatlands and protruding boulders or rocks on the cliffs. Only 29 of the 678 species of flora are native to the island.
The highest point of the island reaches nearly 1,350 feet above sea level. A limited number of small albino donkeys populate the park. Their mysterious appearance has given historians and archeologists cause for a search, interested in finding the origin of the rare white breed, known as Asinara donkey, amidst the newly introduced Mouflons, wild sheep, who roam the rocky areas of the island. Barbary partridges, Peregrine falcons, herring gulls, and Pygmy cormorants nest in the protected forest and along the shores of national park.
The crystal-clear waters surrounding the island offers chances to view colorful sea anemone, starfish, sea fans, active octopi, curious moray eels, and gigantic dusky perch. Red algae covers the rocks along the coastline near Mediterranean limpet. Dolphins cruise the open water away from the shoreline but visible from the elevated natural platforms. Sea diving is heavily regulated but not uncommon in the park, today with scuba enthusiasts eager to search for fascinating marine life or happy to roam around the derelict ships half-submerged beneath the seafloor.
Divers and previous digs in the area have unearthed leaden bars embossed with the Roman stamp and weapons consistent with the Pisan and Genoan navy. The town of Stintino presents the local cuisine and the sea’s heavy influence, which highlights main courses like grilled fish and lobster, or beginning courses blending pasta with shellfish and crustaceans. Trails weave around the more than 12,350 acres drawing hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders to seaside cliffs, fields, and mountainous terrain.
Although Rome may be a city, and former empire, synonymous with Italy, Tuscany is the region most people think of when conjuring the perfect trip or imagining a delightfully simple, relaxed life far away from their home. The region contains idyllic hill towns with medieval towers, flowing landscapes draped in green hills, radiant fields of sunflowers, and a reputation for warring city-states that shaped the art, architecture, and urban design of the Middle Ages until the Renaissance.
The gorgeous coastline touches the Ligurian and Tyrrhenian seas amongst the nearly 8,900 square miles of landscape. Hills account for more than 5,900 square miles, encompassing nearly two-thirds of the region. The Arno River Valley only contains 750 square miles of land, mainly around the banks of the Tuscan capital of Florence. The regions of Lazio and Umbria border Tuscany to the south, with Le Marche accounting for a sliver of the border to the east. Emilia-Romagna accounts from the majority of the Tuscan boundary along the east and north, while a small extension of Liguria touches Tuscany to the west above the coastline.
The mountain chains and temperate sea air protect the coast from harsh cold. The rugged foothills bordering the inland hills and valleys cause harder rain in the spring and cold fronts in the winter, actively freezing and thawing the soil. The seasonal cycle made the region ideal for harvesting grains during the reign of ancient Rome.
The history of Tuscany dates back to before the Roman republic with artifacts discovered correlating to the late Bronze and Iron Ages to parallel early Greek civilizations. Early Tuscans stemmed from the Apennine culture between 1350 and 11150 BC, a culture known for trading with Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations from the Aegean Sea. The Etruscans created the first major civilization by implementing agriculture, mining, and a transport infrastructure around the Arno and Tiber River from the 8th to the 6th century BC before succumbing to the Romans.
The marvels of the ancient, medieval, and Renaissance history compare only to the majesty of the natural history in the region spreading across such spectacles as the Apuan Alps, Orbetello Lagoon, and the Gulf of Baratti. Thermal baths, pink egrets, and rocky coastal cliffs add to the unique character drawing more than just art and cultural enthusiasts to the countryside and shoreline. Adventurers sail, windsurf, canoe, scuba dive, hike, mountain bike, horseback ride, or cycle between hillside towns. While other regions or cities around the world fail to live up to their reputations of romance, political intrigue, and enchanting culture, Tuscany surpasses any and every anticipation, revealing some of Italy’s best-loved cities and surprising gems, along with cradling the beginnings of the Italian Renaissance, one of Europe’s greatest philosophical and artistic revolutions.
The heart of Tuscany lies in Florence, it’s capital and center both literally and existentially. The city borders the Arno River centrally located between Rome and Milan with a history packed with action. Bridges connect the neighborhoods across the water punctuated by the massive dome of the cathedral designed by Filippo Brunelleschi.
Romans designed the original layout of the city, giving way to a period of flourishing trade and a thriving banking trade during the medieval era. Julius Caesar established the settlement in 59 BC for veteran soldiers, using his experience as a commander to create a city in the style of an army camp connected by main streets intersecting at a public plaza. Florence grew to become one of the most important cultural and economic centers of Europe during the 14th to 16th centuries, inspiring artists, such as Michelangelo, philosophers like Machiavelli, and poets such as Dante Alighieri, the latter of whom solidified the Tuscan dialect as the official language of Italy with his authoring the renowned epic La Comedia Divina, The Divine Comedy, consisting of Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise.
The most famous family of Florentine descent emerged from behind the scenes of power in the 15th century under the guidance of Cosimo de’ Medici, who laid the groundwork of lending money to the pope, thereby influencing the city’s democracy in their favor. The romantic, enchanting, and irresistible ambiance of the city emanates from the world-class art and the connection to the rustic cuisine of the regional heritage. The pedestrian-friendly city overwhelms newcomers with its grandeur in the form of preserved sculptures and paintings, along with maintained architecture as sumptuous as the works of art. Cathedrals, artisan shops, boutiques, and fanciful fountains embody the sweet style once evoked by Dante and his compatriot of the city Guido Cavalcanti.
The destination poses a conundrum for visitors on a budget. The concentrated historic city center provides a grand destination to wander and explore on foot but leaves little room for budget accommodations. Museums, churches, and basilicas add to great expense if trying to visit all the various sites large and small, along with the shops, cafes, and restaurants.
Art, architecture, cuisine, and Tuscan spirit isn’t limited to Florence; in fact, city-states rivaled Florence with patrons eager to support the arts and armies matching the power and strength of the regional capital for centuries before eventually falling beneath the banner of the famous city. Siena is one of the cities whose architecture soars amidst the elaborate open-air museum decorating the cobbled lanes and atmospheric streets. The historic city center is pedestrian friendly, allowing locals and visitors to stroll between medieval walls and gothic décor connecting the various districts.
The neighborhoods retain their colorful nature dedicated to winning the city-wide horse race known as the Palio, which takes place twice a year in the summer. Artisanal boutique shops, pastry shops emitting sweet aromas, and restaurants providing succulent scents line the vivacious street. The city began to prosper in the 12th century and reached an artistic zenith rivaling the masters of Florence between the 13th and 14th centuries. The cathedral and palaces retain immaculate brickwork made from red clay, standing as monuments to Gothic architectural design.
Legend tells that Senio, the son of Remus, founded the city, which accounts for the numerous statues of baby twins, representing Romulus and Remus, suckling the she-wolf. Beyond the local folklore, historians have discovered artifacts and settlements consistent with the Etruscans followed by the Romans. Banking and a popular wool trade brought prestige to the city, leading the local leaders to write a constitution as early as 1179. The main public square, known as Piazza del Campo, has a unique shell shape and features sidewalk cafes, a resident fountain, and the dramatic Palazzo del Pubblico standing beneath the fascinating attached bell tower of Torre del Mangia standing at over 330 feet tall.
As a whole, the region of Tuscany is home to unforgettable hilltop villages and seas of roaming vineyards. Travelers have enjoyed a long pastime of getting lost along the small roads to discover hidden gems and fabulous folklore, ancient streets and rustic cuisine different from anywhere else in the world.
Even cities in Tuscany, such as Florence and Siena, retain a small-town ambiance within their historic city centers. The following list contains a selection of towns that have distinguished themselves through the conservation of landscape, cultural heritage, and cuisine to form a welcoming atmosphere within the distinctive provinces of the greater region.
Slanting red-tiled roofs, ancient Etruscan settlements draping over the lush grasses and spreading to the foothills of the Apennines, along with stone mazes and marble alleyways will tear your mind away from stereotypical destinations of Florence and Siena, or the tilting figure of Pisa’s Leaning Tower.
The town of Lucca clings to the lush lowlands of the Serchio River basin between the marble frontispieces of Pisa to the south and the coastline of the Tyrrhenian Sea to the northwest. The preserved Renaissance walls continue to surround the city, drawing new hoards to the historic center instead of rappelling them.
Cypress and eucalyptus trees decorate walkways and upper ramparts turning the former bulwarks into a pleasant, walkable park. Etruscans founded the city until Romans overtook the settlement in 180 BC. The rectangular grid of the city center preserves the Roman street plan centered on Piazza San Michele, the site of the ancient Roman forum. Julius Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus reaffirmed their political alliance in 56 BC, creating the First Triumvirate.
The town grew in prominence after asserting itself as an intendant commune in the 12th century. For nearly 500 years Lucca remained independent, giving refuge to the likes of Dante Alighieri, and homes to Giacomo Puccini and Pope Lucius III. The city-state eventually fell to Napoleonic forces, with the emperor installing Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi, his sister, as the Princess of Lucca until 1847.
Under the reign of Elisa Bonaparte, antique walls turned into contemporary gardens consisting of a two and a half-mile path of panoramic views and quiet corners. Locals often refer to Lucca passionately as the “City of one hundred and one churches,” due to the large number of religious buildings representing marvelous examples of Italian architectural styles through the centuries.
Saying a town is Tuscany is charming is like calling a puppy cute; the nature of the word is implied and Volterra is no exception. With so many distinctive towns in Tuscany, it is hard to choose which to see and which to save for another exploration through one of Italy’s most popular regions. Volterra is located in the province of Pisa, 50 miles away from the regional capital of Florence. The Etruscans fabricated Velathri on the hillside of what would become Volterra, one of the 12 main settlements of the Etruscan Confederation dating back to the 4th century BC.
A series of walls nearly 24,000 feet long protected the prestigious ancient urban center and the fountains cultivating the fields and pastures. The settlement allied with Rome in the 3rd century BC and became the residence of a bishop by the 5th century AD. The depth of history accentuates the ambiance of culture and heritage, of which locals are proud to convey, connecting the wealth of ancient wonders to a history of rebellion against the Florentine Republic. The medieval ramparts provide splendid views to the windswept town forever associated with the popular Twilight series after author Stephanie Meyer decided the cobbled streets and feudal architecture were an ideal setting for the world’s vampire coven.
The streets and architecture follow the original Etruscan design giving way to elements of Roman settlement. The historic center promotes a timeless atmosphere with shops selling Tuscan delicacies and intricate handcrafts, many of which are shaped by hand from alabaster.
The town stands less than 12 miles away from the popular destination of San Gimignano, a former city-state known for its stunning towers. Teeming tourists surge through the streets in the shadow of the towers, while Votlerra retains a sense of serenity amidst the two Etruscan temples, Roman water basin, and archeological park located beside the Etruscan gate, highlighting the town’s rustic vitality and captivating complexity.
For a unique perspective on local history and the evolution of community, visit Via Matteotti, #12. A line of doorbells decorates the typical walls of the historic palace. The former regal residence was refurbished after the 18th century rise of the middle class, conforming to the social revolution. Instead of a single home, the grounds became single-family homes retrofitted for the middle class. Members of the original owning family continue to live in one of the apartments.
All roads and lanes in the city lead back to the main square of Piazza dei Priori, bordered by the magnificent 13th century Priori Palace. The three-story facade contains double arched windows and glazed terracotta coats of arms connected to Florentine magistrates. In 1472 the two Marzocco lions, the symbol of Florence, decorated the walls to indicate the seat of the Captain of Justice. The 13th-century walls surrounding the city were built when the Ghibellines succeeded the Guelfs, constructing a smaller circuit easier to defend than the former Etruscan walls. Six different gates stand along the walls allowing people to enter and exit the urban center.
The little town of Pienza has a big impact on visitors as a town filled with light and built upon the Renaissance principles of proportional balance. The village began as Corsignano and was first mentioned in the 9th century. The Piccolomini family emerged as the powerful nobility in the 14th century amidst settling Franciscans. Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini, a Renaissance humanist born of an exiled Sienese family, became Pope Pius II in September of 1458, ordering the entire village rebuilt as an ode to the enlightenment, along with renaming the town after himself.
The urban planning concepts created an impetus adopted by other towns and cities across Italy and eventually spanning the European continent. Architect Bernardo Gambarelli from Florence worked with famous humanist and architect Leon Battista Alberti to construct a community embodying Renaissance standards and ideals. Pope Pius II consecrated the cathedral in August of 1462 during a summer retreat. The town is located in the province of Val d’Orcia, atop a hill surrounded by verdant vineyards and the lush, fertile fields.
The main public square of Piazza Pio II contains a harmonious shape emitting a sense of dignity and gravity to the bordering architecture crafted from travertine stone. The Duomo hosts a selection of lavish period frescoes and the octagonal bell tower stands above the ancient crypt. The Pecorino of Pienza is one of the tastiest sheep’s cheeses renowned for its delicate flavor based on the aging process.
Shops and stalls around town offer samples of the stunning cheese, along with information on the best ways to enjoy the ingredient, whether on its own or as a garnish to enhance typical Tuscan cuisine. The town gained UNESCO World Heritage standing in 1996 and has since dedicated itself to preserving the character of the ideal Renaissance town, in spirit and aesthetic.
The central heart of Italy shines with greenery, fine cuisine, a depth of heritage, and remains just off the beaten path between the more notable regions of Tuscany and Lazio. The region has served as a popular destination for pilgrims eager to visit the birthplace of St. Francis or active travelers happy to cycle or trek through the rolling hills more commonly associated with the Tuscany countryside. Tourists who find Tuscany or Lazio too crowded discover a new favorite destination in the bountiful beauty of Umbria’s fertile landscape decorated with mountains, woods, hills, and vineyards. Local cuisine highlights the flavors of wild boar and prized truffles.
The rolling terrain casts shadows over the river valleys populated by chestnut groves and elm forests. The landlocked region has inspiring Medieval charm populated with mysteries, mysticism, and captivating folklore. Italy’s largest body of water, Lake Trasimeno, decorates the sprawling plain encompassing nearly 50 square miles.
Etruscan settlements continue to populate the noble landscape beneath many medieval towns. Romance abounds around the stillness of Castiglione Lake and the waters of the Nera River feed the staggering 540-foot drop providing a perfect rush for canoers and kayakers. Monte Vettore, the highest point in the region, acts as a natural border between Le Marche to the east and Umbria in the west, reaching an elevation of more than 8,120 feet above sea level.
Popular destinations in the northern territory of the region are the capital of Perugia and Città di Castello, Gubbio and Montone. The central provinces host the pilgrimage destination of Assisi and the popular wines of Montefalco. The southern provinces contain the gorgeous towns of Orvieto and Todi. Etruscans, Romans, and feuding medieval families have all left their indelible marks on the serene hilltop towns adorned with Gothic majesty, cherished cuisine, and a heritage of welcoming customs.
The capital of Umbria is a glutton for antique charm and unique cuisine, art and art lovers. The remains of the Etruscan walls showcase the power of one of the former settings of the 12 cities of the Etruscan Federation before falling under the rule of the Roman empire. Plaques and statues showcase the griffin, the symbol of the city embodying antique mystique and power. The substantial ancient town retains a youthful ambiance deriving from the two universities situated inside the former Etruscan city gates.
Università degli Studi was founded in the early 14th century and the University for Foreigners hosts one of the largest populations of foreign students in the country. Two perimeter walls surround the old city center reaching nearly two miles in length. A collection of city gates continues to allow locals and visitors entrance into the historic urban center, along with a series of Etruscan walls containing seven different portals. The historic city center is a certified 14th century village, known locally as a borgo. The Gothic basilica of San Domenico decorates the edge of Piazza Giordano Bruno and Via del Castellano and hosts the National Archeological Museum of Umbria.
The city has seen kingdoms, such as the French and Austro-Hungarians, seize control of the city, blending aspects of the culture into the city-state. This has led to Perugia’s fascinating connection to chocolate and the renowned annual jazz festival. Cobbled alleyways, arched staircase, and palaces framing marvelous piazzas steep the city in historic wonder juxtaposing the 21st century terrace cafes, restaurants, and bars. The center is located on a hilltop connected by a series of escalators and stairways. The medieval lanes and artistic buildings lead to Corso Vannucci.
The 15th and 16th century art school inspired the works of Perugino and Pinturicchio, along with a young Raphael who worked in Perugino’s studio until 1504. Perugia is one of the many towns across Italy in which a person would be content to walk around the streets and enjoy interacting with the fascinating facades and daily life inside the historic grounds. However, once in the city, here is a small list of sites you shouldn’t miss if you want to step away from the lively piazzas and tranquil stairways.
Across Umbria’s great plain from the capital of Perugia stands the historic rival of Assisi, one of the main attractions of the region due to the rich religious heritage. The town climbs up the mixture of green and rugged slopes of Monte Subasio, which reaches a height above 4,200 feet above sea level. The first settlement dates back to 1,000 BC with a wave of immigrants moving northward from the Tiber Valley and inland from the Adriatic Sea. The migrants lived in small, fortified settlements on high ground until the Etruscans overpowered the area. Romans took control of Umbria after the Battle of Sentinum in the late 3rd century BC.
The commune thrived in the Middle Ages as an independent community connected to the Ghibellines in the 11th century. The constant struggle against the Guelphs of Perugia led to the kidnapping of Francesco di Bernardone. The soldier soon lost his taste for battle and prestige, renouncing the world to establish the Order of Friars Minor, solidifying his name in history as Saint Francis of Assisi, sharing the honor with Saint Catherine of Siena as a patron saint of Italy. Assisi has since spread outside of the original walls to encompass the foothills and slopes above the sprawling valley floor.
Devoted pilgrims and secular fans enthusiastic in following the traditions of the saint’s love for nature travel to the town of 3,000 inhabitants, accounting for between 4 to 5 million people annually. The main street harbors touristy concoctions, such as ceramics, medieval weapons, and religious sculptures, a single block can make a difference in your experience by introducing you to the more serene elements of the saint’s city where delicatessens serve Umbrian classic cuisine, such as guanciale, copa, or chocolate.
The Tau cross is the emblem of Saint Francis and the order, with local shops touting necklaces of gold or silver representing the crucifix of antiquity. The best time to experience the city is at dusk, when the sun spreads a mixture of pink, purple, orange, and gold across the white façade of the basilica. Day trippers return to their city of choice and the small town returns to an enchanting silence around the medieval city center, emphasizing Assisi as a place of peace.
In a region of charming hill towns, Orvieto stands out as one of the best due to its easy access to Rome, superb defensive position at the top of a rocky outcrop, and a history dating back to the Etruscans. The destination is popular as a day trip for tourists staying in Rome, Assisi, or Perugia. The town’s manageable size allows access to the major sights in a short amount of time and works as a fabulous base to stay for longer trips, highlighting the peaceful medieval lanes and grand countryside views of the evening without the small crowds. Elements of the ancient Etruscan city decorate the archeological museum Museo Claudio Faina e Museo Civico, which houses artifacts uncovered in the immediate neighborhoods of Orvieto.
An inscription on a tomb in the Cannicella necropolis states, “I am of Avile Katacina,” showcasing the person’s Etruscan-Latin first name and Celtic last name. The combination provides a modicum of insight into the complexity of ethnic survival in ancient Italy through peaceful relations. Rome annexed the settlement in the 3rd century BC due to its impregnability atop the high volcanic rock. A military governor controlled the city in the Middle Ages before falling under the domain of the Papacy until the 1860s with Italy’s reunification. The Cypress trees pepper the Umbrian plain below the prominent outcropping.
Old Town crowns the hilltop and the newer town stands near the base of the volcanic rock, housing the train station and cars gliding through the streets. The older, antique lanes are pedestrian friendly and give way to medieval piazzas and churches glowing with a cinematic beauty. Vineyards spread across the plains and the double spiral of St. Peter’s well draws visitors eager to see the 175-foot deep and 45-foot wide watering hole pitched in the 16th century after the Sack of Rome. The width and winding ramps allowed enough space for donkeys to haul the water from below.
The temperature changes dramatically the lower you travel inside the well. The town connects heavily to cittaslow, an organization dedicated to the slow food movement, with restaurants and cafes serving ingredients produced locally, including the Classico wine. Traditional game dishes consist of wild boar, rabbit, or pigeon accompanied by rustic pasta umbricelli, a strand of pasta thicker than spaghetti with a delicate chew. The high vantage point of the town has inspired designers, painters, and sculptors through the ages drawn to the rolling fields, wildflowers, and vineyards accentuating the architectural beauty of the cityscape.
The township of Spello dates back to the Roman colony of the 1st century BC under the reign Constantine the Great. The province and township is located at the lower flank of Mount Subasio six miles away from Assisi. The old walled town located on the sloping ridge touches the plain and commands a fascinating view of the Umbrian plain leading towards Perugia and connects to the small contemporary section of the Borgo, which contains the rail line connecting the town to Rome and Florence. The slopes reach a height of 920 feet above sea level and represent a history of over three millennia. The Roman amphitheater located outside of town stands beneath the belvedere visible from the historic city center.
The preserved walls combine the original Roman foundations and medieval refurbishments. The large Roman gates that remain are the Porta Consulare, Porta Ubica, and Torri di Properzio. In the spring begonias blossom in planters dangling around the windowsills. The Flower Festival of Corpus Christi takes place between May and June annually. 11th and 12th century churches add to the mystique of the cobbled lanes and alleyways, which contain lavish design and detailed decoration. The towers around the city resemble chess pieces juxtaposing the honey-colored houses spilling down the hillside.
It is easy to succumb to the splendors of Spello by walking through the streets and enjoying the public squares, but the historical structures decorating the township offer intimate viewings of fascinating art and architecture. Santa Maria Maggiore was fabricated in the 12th century over an ancient temple dedicated to the Roman gods Juno and Vesta. The Romanesque portal accentuates the 13th century bell tower.
The Baglioni Chapel contains a fresco cycle by Pinturicchio depicting the Annunciation, Nativity, and the Dispute with the Doctors. The town hall, Palazzo Comunale Vecchio, was assembled in the 13th century and enlarged in the late 16th century. The frescoed halls reflect the aesthetic of the Zuccari brothers. A fountain decorates the piazza in front of the palace.
The comune of Gubbio is located in the northeastern province of Perugia on the lowest slope of Mount Ingino, a small mountain connected to the Apennines at an elevation of over 1,700 feet above sea level. The hilly area was occupied during the Bronze Age with the town of Eluvium an important settlement of the Umbrian people in pre-Roman times. Local workers discovered the Eugubine Tables in the 15th century, a set of bronze tablets constituting the largest surviving text of ancient Umbrians. The Romans conquered the area in the 2nd century BC. The city remained an important figure in the Roman empire, as attested to by containing the second-largest surviving Roman theater in the world.
The power returned to the city in the Middle Ages, reflected in the 1,000 knights Count Girolamo Gabrielli sent to the fight in the First Crusade. His men were the first to penetrate the Holy Sepulcher during the siege of 1099. Prosperity graced the city in the 12th century after struggles with the surrounding city-states, leading to an eventual victory during an intervention by the bishop, Saint Ubaldo Baldassini. The plains and sporadic hills of Umbria give a soft and delicate ambiance to the region but the angular and sober architecture of Gubbio connote a more rigid history emphasized by Gothic buildings and medieval lanes winding up the hill.
The evocative streets and staircases elicit the idyllic images of Italian towns during the Middle Ages capturing great weather, local stores offering chocolate, wine, and cured meat inside medieval architecture decorated with lavish piazzas and comforting cafes in view of gorgeous churches and the elaborate cathedral. The candle race takes place every year on May 15th and the crossbow contest known as il Palio della Balestra also takes place in May. Dark gray stone and narrow streets give the town an austere appearance. However, the houses in the historic city center date back to the 14th and 15th centuries and acted as the residences of wealthy merchants.
For serene landscapes off the path beaten into the ground by tourists, Le Marche provides the perfect opportunity to escape into familiar green hills, medieval towns, welcoming villages, splashing waves of the Adriatic Sea, and the pillared mountains of the Apennines. Hotel owners and home-renters have spent years trying to market the region as the new Tuscany or Umbria, when in fact Le Marche offers more than its better-known regional neighbors to the west.
A sliver of Lazio touches the southwestern corner of Le Marche. Abruzzo borders the region to the south with Emilia Romagna topping the region to the north. The region highlights its differences to Tuscany as opposed to its similarities. Homes in medieval villages shine with rich brown window shutters. The Adriatic shimmers with a clear, intense indigo, as opposed to the turquoise of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Even the pasta has different shapes than the rustic configurations of Le Marche’s famous neighbor, embodying one of the great differences amongst regional Italian cuisine. The slow rhythms of rural life enchant visitors between the Metauro River Valley and along the Adriatic coast.
The four provinces of Le Marche vary wildly. The northern province of Pesaro and Urbino touches the independent state of San Marino and overtakes the Metauro Valley. The southern province of Ancona retains unspoiled nature in the reserve of Monte Conero and Portonovo along the coast. Ancient civilizations inform the contemporary lives of residents in Ascoli Piceno and the historically well-endowed towns of Macerata provide lively ambiance across the hilltops drawing fans of opera, ballet, and sumptuous markets.
The mountains along the interior protect the temperate inland climate spreading from the northern continent, while the seaside keeps the temperature allied to a comfortable Mediterranean climate. Cold and snowy winters blanket the mountain slopes and summits. Rainfall averages nearly 60 inches a year along the plains and over 30 inches a year across the coastline. The entire region encompasses 3,616 square miles. Farmers grow cereals, vegetables, grapes, and cultivate animal products. They also hunt for truffles or produce olives.
Commercial fishing trades thrive near Ancona, San Benedetto del Tronto, Fano, and Cvitanova Marche. Church caves, white-pebbled cliffs, and the hometown of renowned Renaissance painter Raphael showcase a modicum of the region’s distinctive qualities impressing more and more visitors from around the world. Italians love to vacation along the beach towns of “Riviera del Conero,” which looks over the azure waters and silver sands of the east coast. Rich tradition, pristine scenery, and small intimate cities reflect the beauty of the unforgettable but rarely visited region.
Ancona is a city emboldening visitors to look deeper than the surface, with beauty hidden deep beyond the grittiness of the port façade. Italians and visitors easily bypass seaside city whose population barely reached over 101,000 people in 2015, bound for more exotic areas of Europe on the overnight ferry to Croatia, Greece, or Turkey. The history of the city is as remarkable as the hidden depths of its beauty, connecting to Greek settlers from Syracuse, Sicily in the 4th century BC. The word Ancona derives from the Greek word meaning “elbow,” referring to the crux of the harbor east of town. Tyrian purple dye brought prominence to merchants in the city and Roman governance allowed the city to keep its own coinage along with the use of the Greek language. The city grew increasingly independent after the year 1,000 AD, eventually shifting to a powerful maritime republic with a fascinating oligarchy ruled by a committee of six Elders.
The contemporary port underlies the continued importance of the city as a strategic position for commercial, touristic, and naval goods. The 11th-century cathedral provides a grand view of the sea. The art gallery displays several masterpieces, including works of Titian. The archeological museum exhibits impressive bronze statues from Rome and epic artifacts from the original Greek settlers. The little-known part of Italy peels back its layers to reveal ancient and Renaissance grandeur, hilltop parks, and cozy cafes overlooking the golden seaside of Le Marche’s capital city.
The small town of Cingoli brings the dream of an Italian village to life. The romantic, quiet, fun, exciting, and family-oriented town is located less than 20 miles from Macerata. Julius Caesar’s lieutenant Titus Labienus founded the ancient Roman settlement of Cingulum in 63 BCE at an elevated position of 2,130 feet above sea level. The fortified nature of the plateau made the town an important fixture in the civil wars leading to the Roman Empire. The town is also referred to as “The Balcony of Marche,” because of its coveted belvedere.
On a clear day, the viewpoint offers a panorama spanning the subtle hills, and vast plains leading to the Adriatic Sea and Croatian mountains on the eastern horizon. The best views are located behind the church of San Francesco. The main street of Corso Garibaldi connects to Piazza Vittorio Emanuele at the heart of what was once the Roman Forum. The designs built from stone look gold in the sunlight. The 16th-century town hall contains the newly arranged Museo Archeologico, which displays Bronze Age lumber.
The library houses the town’s art gallery, depicting images of serendipity and religious works, including Lorenzo Lotto’s splendid Madonna of the Rosary. Pope Pius VIII ordered a new façade for the baroque cathedral in 1829, but the work went unfinished after his premature death. Renaissance palaces line the street Via Foltrani, which once belonged to the noble families of the town. The side streets provide picturesque corners of the hidden village, emphasizing the beauty and charm of its position on the hill and the ways in which time has preserved the regional heritage and local traditions.
Urbino is a spectacular hilltop town off the tourist trail in the region of Le Marche boasting Unesco World Heritage status for housing one of Italy’s greatest Renaissance palaces. Planning a trip to the small town on the hill can be tricky, as it stands out of the way of the major tourist destinations of Florence, Venice, and Rome.
Visitors interested in enjoying an authentic Italian experience by exploring the wealth of villages, towns, and culture outside Tuscany and Lazio should make the time to visit a quiet town that helped change the history of art. The history of Urbino began as a modest Roman settlement called Urbinum Mataurense, which means “the little city on the river Mataurus.”
During the Gothic Wars of the 6th century BC, Urbino grew in importance due to its strategic positioning. In the Middle Ages the feudal lords of the Montefeltro family sided with the Ghibellines during the tumultuous struggles between the Papacy and Holy Roman Empire, bringing about the most famous member of the regional rulers in the 15th century, Federico da Montefeltro.
The duke set the scene for the trendiest art scent in the century, gathering artists, architects, and scholars to create an inspirational brain trust inspiring the likes of the distinguished painter Raphael, who was born in Urbino. The small town is confined to a number of hilltops enclosed within defensive walls. Porta Valbona provides the entrance to the fabled city and Via Mazzini connects to the grand public square of Piazza della Repubblica.
The centuries following the great artistic and scientific awakenings of the city found the prominent town under the rule of the Papacy, French occupation, and eventually a reunified Italy by the early-1860s. Wild game dishes and sheets of egg pasta reflect the peasant tradition of local gastronomy. The art moved away from the frescoes and grew from the architecture in the form of earthenware by making tin-glazed pottery known as maiolica. The simple wares began in the 15th century and continue to decorate the homes, mansions, and museums of the town, along with engravings following the traditions of Mannerist principles.
The region containing Italy’s capital Rome is surprisingly quiet outside of the tourism, construction, investments, and political ruckus concentrated in the metropolis. Crumbling medieval towns crown the hilltops. Faded palaces grace the golden grass and rolling dales. Tranquil lakes fill ancient volcanic craters and lead to thermal springs. Vineyards produce fine wines in connection to the former opulence of vast villas.
Tourists have populated the area since the Roman Empire with travelers visiting from around the globe eager to trade, learn, or view the glory of the country reaching nearly 1.7 million square miles. The Italian word “Lazio,” derives from the Latin Latium. Few residents of smaller cities continue to refer to the region by its Latin name.
Latini, meaning those who spoke the Latin language, made up the bulk of the multi-ethnic city of Rome during ancient times; the Etruscans are an example of other cultures populating the capital city and the region during the years of the empire’s global expansion. Roman mythology claims the early Latini took their name from the mythical king, Latinus. The Tiber River once acted as the northern border for the region, diving ancient Lazio from Etruria before Augustus officially united nearly the entirety of present-day Italy under a single geo-political banner. In the 18th and 19th centuries, travelers from around the globe returned to Lazio interested in exploring the grandeurs of the historic towns and religious capital of the Catholic world revived in imaginative style after the Renaissance.
The contours of the Tiber River no longer act as a framework to the region’s edges, and instead consist of topographical lines touching Tuscany, Umbria, and Le Marche to the north, Abruzzo and Molise to the east, and Campania to the south. The azure waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea create the western border. The region is mainly flat with waves of sporadic hills leading to small patches of mountainous areas in the east and southern districts. Sandy beaches lead to the headlands of Circeo and Gaeta, reaching nearly 1,774 feet and over 560 feet above sea level respectively. Other than the large draw for tourists, regional residents work in agriculture, crafts, animal husbandry, and fishery as their main sources of income. Farmers cultivate vegetables, fruits, olives, and grapes, with the latter production focused on wine.
The region has Italy’s second-largest economy after Lombardy. Archeological sites from the Roman Empire and Etruscan civilizations continue to interest scholars, historians, and cultural enthusiasts. The remains of the distant and distinctive cultures feature necropolises, temple complexes, imperial villas, and decorative grottos. Lazio cradles the evolution of Italian civilization, which intertwines with the development of Western Civilization, with a particularly strong connection to the expansion of the Christian religion and culture. Rome features great monuments and museums well known to travelers, accounting for an average of 10 million tourists a year..
The gastronomy retains ties to the original dishes of ancient Rome, preserving heritage in every bite and encouraging inspiration from the culinary past with new generations of intense chefs. History decorates the countryside, Vatican City, the smallest city-state in the world, continues to watch over Rome, and the ancient road of the Appian Way continues to lead to the capital city holding the country’s largest population contrasting the small, intimate villages of the region.
The capital of Italy and the region of Lazio is the personification of historic opulence, faithful indulgence, and Italian tradition. For more than two millennia the roads around Western and Central Europe have led to Rome, inspiring pilgrims, calling to merchants, and intriguing tourists fascinated by the idea of the city’s seven hills along the banks of the Tiber River. The wealth of history dates back to before the Latini, with human settlement beginning approximately 14,000 years ago. You can peel back the dense layers of the past like an onion, discovering debris from Paleolithic and Neolithic civilizations through evidence of stone tools, pottery, and weapons.
A village topped Capitol Hill in the 14th century BC with continuing settlements growing over the original foundations ever since. The initial founding of the Eternal City remains a mystery, however mythology brings a fascinating tale to life through the story of the twins Romulus and Remus. A she-wolf suckled the orphaned babies who eventually founded the city, but not before Romulus killed his brother and lent his name to what would become an empire. The Roman poet Virgil reconciled conflicting legends in his 1st century epic The Aeneid.
The city captivates visitors with a sense of haunting ruins, inspiring vivacious street life, and a culture devoted to art, cuisine, tradition, and fun. Cafes line the streets and piazzas. Markets provide fresh fruit, vegetables, flower, and artisanal crafts. Tapestries, frescoes, statues, and archways decorate museums and parks, former palaces and antique restaurants.
Historical legacies burst from the street visible to pedestrian passersby en route to work or fascinated tourists snapping pictures on social media. Legendary artwork even decorates the churches, basilicas, and cathedrals spread throughout the city and moving beyond the works of Renaissance artists to feature medieval masterpieces and respected baroque treasures. Like the old adage says, “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” therefore, you shouldn’t think you can view it in a day. Try to stay clear of the most common pitfalls when visiting the classic and classical city.
Whether visiting as a family, an independent traveler, or on a passionate getaway trying to capture the amorousness from the classic romantic movie Roman Holiday, with Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn, it is easy to fall in love with Rome and stay far longer than you originally anticipated. With so many lavish and insightful ways to view Rome, here is a list of lesser-visited distinctive sites in and around Rome apart from the traditional crowd-pleasers of the Colosseum, Vatican City, Trevi Fountain, and Pantheon.
Tivoli provides the same sort of interest and opulence as reality shows that give insight into how the “other half” lives but instead of delivering a view to the lifestyles of Italy’s contemporary aristocracy, the town less than 20 miles northeast of Rome allows visitors to wander through the elegant and dramatic lifestyles of former popes, governors, and Roman emperors. The most famous attractions are the magnificent gardens of the Villa d’Este and the extensive ruins of Hadrian’s Villa.
The town is located along the banks of the Aniene River around the craggy hills of Monti Tiburtini. Rumors and legends of the town’s origins continue to add mystique to cobbled lanes and historic buildings. Gaius Julius Solinus cited the lost text Origines by Cato the Elder when claiming Catullus the Arcadian founded Tivoli after having escaped a slaughter of Thebes in Greece. Traces of settlement in the area date back much further than the claims of a Roman scholar, with archeologists unearthing artifacts from the 13th century BC. Two small temples above stunning waterfalls connect to the Sabine city during Etruscan reign, when Tivoli was the seat of the Tiburtine Sibyl. Romans used the area as a summer retreat to escape the heat and humidity of the capital.
During the Renaissance, popes and cardinals assembled powerful castles and vacation homes, including the massive Rocca Pia, which was a sign of aggression by Pope Pius II to control the population of what was once an independent commune between the 10th and 13th centuries.
The contemporary city has approximately 50,000 residents spread across the picturesque medieval center and homes scattered across the hills. With Roman temples and gorgeous villa complexes, powerful castles and stunning waterfalls, it is easy to fall in love with the view of how the rich and powerful lived through the ages.
The largest town of northern Lazio is located approximately 50 miles north of Rome, surrounded by the rising slopes and summits of Monti Cimini and Monti Volsini, which reach nearly 3,500 feet and over 2,100 feet above sea level respectively. The medieval walls continue to protect the town, one from invaders, and now from the tourist hoards. Archeological finds have unearthed ancient humble origins predating the Etruscan settlements. The pre-Roman peoples used Viterbo as the center of the Etruscan civilization leaving remains from as early as the 8th century BC decorating the surroundings.
The Lombard King Desiderius commissioned greater walls to defend the capital against retribution from Rome after his vain attempt to conquer the city to the south in 773 AD. Popes found special favor in Viterbo during their tumultuous time controlling Rome and nearby cities in the Middle Ages, growing the town’s power and prestige before the papacy returned to their stronghold in Rome, placing Viterbo as a place of secondary importance.
Coats of arms continue to decorate the architecture depicting the lion and the palm tree. The lion represents Hercules, who, according to legend, founded the city millennia ago. The palm tree represents the power of the Viterbo during the Middle Ages when the local government annexed the neighboring town of Ferento.
The Latin letters FAUL surround the images but the meaning of the letters has been lost to time. The medieval architecture continues to intrigue visitors from around the world highlighting the preserved papal palace, humble lanes, and a collection of intimate churches.
The authentic atmosphere has also brought film crews eager to shoot period pieces around the medieval alleys of San Pellegrino and the unaltered stone houses with external staircases. The city also boasts a popular antiques trade with a renowned fair taking place on the third Sunday of every month.
Few places in Italy can take you so far off the beaten path even Italians don’t live in the area anymore. The town of Bagnoregio, located in northern Lazio 75 miles outside of Rome, is one of the most dramatic features tourists don’t know about. Residents of Lazio and the few remaining in Civita di Bagnoregio call the town il paese che muore, “the dying town.” A footbridge acts as the only access to the summit of the crumbling tufa rock at over 1,000 feet above the deep ravine and 300 feet above sea level.
Etruscans founded the village more than 2,500 years ago. Saint Bonaventure was born in Bagnoregio and died in the year 1274. His boyhood home has since fallen off the edge of the receding cliff in a town in decline since the 16th century and eclipsed by its safer suburb. Earthquakes and erosion have caused mass exoduses since the 17th century when the bishop and municipal government moved away from the historic city center. The bridge once supported by clay and soil became a hanging bridge tethering the remains of the town on the plateau to the surrounding hills.
The population of Bagnoregio varies between seasons, falling to as much as 12 people in the winter and 100 people in the summer. The World Monuments Fund listed the town as one of the world’s 100 Most Endangered Sites in 2006 due to the threats of erosion and, at the time, unregulated tourism.
The former threat remains. Medieval walls once protected the town now surrounded on three sides by steep cliffs plunging into the ravine. Rather than a specific work of art or a selection of historic structures to visit, Bagnoregio is in and of itself a feature worth seeing. Statues adorn the entrance gate of Porta del Cassero. Lions hold human heads, embodying the power of the church.
The cathedral stil stands and hosts the religious heritage of the city from the structure’s inception as early as the 7th century AD until 1699 when the religious leaders fled from the crumbling town. The buildings and streets retain their medieval design with little changed over the half millennium. Tiny pick-up trucks travel on the bridge carrying supplies, offering unique solutions to the problems the town faces after the eroding soil finally tore away the donkey path. The Roman Arch, a façade of a Renaissance palace, and the public piazza present the remaining luster of the unique townscape. Careful of the long bridge. It looks easy but gets very steep the closer it leads to the heart of town.
Southern Italy has depth and corners overshadowed by more famous northern cities. With fantastic beaches and some of the oldest heritage on the peninsula, a Workation in Southern Italy is an immersion into a side of the country many don’t see or experience showcasing golden beaches, rugged gorges, and iconic foods. Find answers to the questions you have with information on what to know before traveling to Italy.
Find more ideas on where to go across the country for your Workation as we breakdown the different sections of Italy with information on Central Italy and Where to Visit and Northern Italy and Where to Visit.