Think Italy is defined by Rome, Florence and Venice, plates of spaghetti and fine wines? Think again. From north to south you’ll find not only that the dishes on the menus change, but the architecture, people, language and landscape change drastically as well. If you’ve done the “Italian thing” then don’t be so quick to cross it off your travel list! Here are five lesser-known places you must check out this summer!
Ablerobello is known for one thing, the unusual roofs, called trulli, that are assembled without any mortar. Legend has it that these unusual roofs were built just in case Italy imposed a tax on roofs. Since there is no mortar, they could “technically” be disassembled when the tax man came around to collect! You can spot them all over the Valle d’Itria in Puglia. The flat stones are stacked up in a cone shape atop thick, white-washed walls. Today they’re super trendy and if you want the true Alberobello experience, stay at a trullo hotel. The town itself is a recognised UNESCO site and many of these trullo houses are shops and boutiques. If you don’t stay here, at least stop by and take a peek around. The local specialty: orecchiete pasta, sausage and lamb fegatini.
It doesn’t take long to figure out why this sleepy town is famous. Food, cheese especially, is serious business here. It’s the home of Prosciutto di Parma and the equally delicious Parmigiano Reggiano. People come to Parma for the food, so prepare yourself and foodies, get ready! If you want the local experience, stick to dishes on the menu with the word parma in them, but the tertelli is also “to die for.” You can’t spend all your time at the restaurants and cafés, so in the time between meals, make sure you discover the city’s artistic heritage as well. Explore the city centre, visit the churches and enjoy the sun in an elegant palazzi. Check out the Camera di San Paolo is an old monastery from the 1500s for its frescoes and the Duomo for its unusual Romanesque style.
Maremma isn’t one place in particular, it’s a region in Tuscany. While many tour books say, “Tuscany is a must-see!” it’s a little hard to know where to start. Maremma is one part of it though that hasn’t really been caught yet by foreigners which is what makes it all the more special to visit. The setting is incredible: Monte Amiata to the east, the Tyrranian sea to the west and north and south is Tuscany as far as the eyes can see. You’ve got it all here, mountains, vineyard, seaside and those oh so adorable Italian villages with great restaurants, warm-hearted locals and fine wines. It’s best to hire a car to visit Tuscany because public transportation doesn’t really serve the region very well. Where to stay? Try Castiglione della Pescaia on the seaside for a few nights, using your days to explore the surrounding towns. Don’t miss the thermal baths in Saturnia.
Elba is the biggest of the seven islands that form the Tuscan Archipelago. It’s most known for its water sports but there’s also some great (and impressively difficult) hiking her as well. The beaches are clean, the waters are blue… where else would you want to spend your summer holidays? Napoleon spend ten months here in exile in 1814 and if you’re interested in his story here, check out Villa dei mulini and Villa di San Martino. From the mainland, Elba Island is easily reachable with ferry (transports vehicles as well) from Piombino. Prices vary according to the season. If you’re coming for the beaches and swimming, summer is the best time but spring and autumn are undeniably cheaper.
Pordenone and San Daniele
With Slovenia on one side and Austria on another, the Friuli region of Italy doesn’t look quite Italian at all. It’s mountainous landscape is laced with rivers and feels undeniably more Austrian than Italian, probably due to the fact that the Austrians dominated this place for quite some time. Definitely more medieval than Venice or Rome, Pordenone and San Daniele are two cities which deserve some attention. Why? None other than the Giovanni Antonio Pordenone was born here, whose paintings and frescoes can be seen in the regions oldest cathedrals. The other attraction, many of the houses painted exteriors are still well-preserved, something you won’t find anywhere else. North of Pordenone is San Daniele and boasts of having the best cured ham in all of Italy. You’ll have to taste it yourself though to know if it’s true!
Where are you going in Italy this summer? What other “undiscovered” cities in Italy would you recommend?