Anyone who has visited Italy is likely to return with tales of the majesty of the Coliseum, the beauty of Venice and the unique cosmopolitan experience that is Milan. All wonderful destinations in their own right, but dig a little deeper and you will find that there is so much more to Italy than the conventional tourist destinations.
Here we lift the veil on some of Italy’s better-kept secrets to help you return from your Italian adventure with some unique memories and great stories to tell.
What have D H Lawrence, Gore Vidal and Richard Wagner in common? The answer is they all fell in love with and found inspiration from this small town overlooking the Amalfi Coast in Southern Italy.
As well as azure seas and beautiful gardens, the town is also a renowned hub for music and the arts. The Ravello Festival takes place every summer, and is predominantly inspired by Wagner, its adopted son. Do not be put off if classical music is not your thing, the festival also covers jazz, dance and lots more.
The town center is home to a wide variety of cafes, bars and restaurants, offering the very best in local cuisine.
Travel 200 miles along the coat from Ravello and you will reach the town of Calabria. This has one of the oldest records of human civilization in Italy, quite literally dating back to the dawn of man. Its history is fascinating, and you should not miss the National Museum of Reggio Calabria, but there is plenty here for those with modern-day interests too.
Calabria is just as renowned for its beautiful beaches and watersport facilities. It is also home to a number of ski resorts, with artificial slopes for year-round fun.
While remaining off the main tourist trail, there are plenty of facilities for visitors to have a comfortable stay, with Calabria self-catering vacation accommodation being of a very high standard. The town also has its own unique cuisine. If you like your food hot and spicy, you will enjoy the Calabrian hot pepper that features in many local dishes.
At the opposite end of Italy, and around 30 minutes from the town of Genoa, Levanto hides from the world at the end of a thickly wooded valley. The town remains relatively unknown, but is a perfect spot from which to explore this part of the Ligurian Coast, particularly if you are travelling with small children.
The town center is restricted to traffic and features an amazing playground in the main piazza that will keep the kids amused for hours, making it a calming destination for all the family.
The beach is wide and sandy, and the perfect spot for adults to watch the sun go down with a glass of the local wine, and the restaurants are famous for their wonderful seafood.
If you enjoy unusual architecture, then Alberobello is a place you should see. The town is home to only around 11,000 inhabitants, yet visitors come from all over the world to see its uniquely designed houses.
Known to the locals as “trulli,” these remarkable whitewashed buildings have dry-stone walls and feature conical roofs. They were originally designed as farmers’ huts, but today provide all the comforts of home for locals and travellers.
Many are now used as holiday homes or for bed and breakfast accommodation, allowing you to have a “trulli” memorable experience.
But it does not stop there – there are trulli restaurants and trulli bars, allowing you to experience the friendly and welcoming nightlife of this unique location. And to get a real idea of the local culture, be sure to visit the local museums to learn how past generations built their livelihoods around olive oil, wine and handicrafts.
Even the most well travelled adventurer is unlikely to have heard of Ferentillo, but if you are looking for something that is far beyond the ordinary, this could be the place for you. The tiny town features two castellated forts, facing each other across the ravine but it is in the small, unassuming Church of Santo Stefano, that you will find the town’s most bizarre feature.
Since the 16th century, the church had buried its parishioners in the earth-floored crypt, as was the typical practice. But in the early 1800s, it was discovered that the unusually rich soil had effectively mummified the bodies.
Today, local families have given permission for approximately 20 such bodies to be on display. The preservation is so remarkable that their facial features are still clearly defined, right down to facial hair and minor scars. It really is a unique perspective of local history.
Enjoy wonderful Italy
From sun-kissed beaches to artificial ski slopes to mummified bodies – you really have no idea what you might encounter when you venture off the beaten track in Italy, but it is sure to be a unique experience.