When most people start planning a trip to Italy, they tend to gravitate to the most well-known regions: Rome, Venice, Florence. Central and northern Italy get the most hype by tourists, and with good reason, they are spectacular destinations to visit in their own right. But what about the south?
After traveling around many different regions in Italy, I’ve found that I often end up enjoying the south more than the north. From the more laid-back style of living to slower-paced travel to fewer tourists in these off-the-beaten-path locales, what’s not to love? Here’s my guide for 5 things to do and see in southern Italy.
Tucked away and almost forgotten in southern Italy, for the past hundred years it has been known as the gateway to Greece, where most of the ferries departing to the islands leave. Besides having a rich and ancient maritime history, Brindisi has a beautiful old quarter with plenty of narrow cobbled streets to explore and plenty of hidden dining spots to enjoy. In June you can find a local wine festival held downtown before the start of a giant sailboat race from Brindisi to Corfu. In addition there are plenty of restored country farmhouses to sleep in and nature preserves and beaches around to enjoy.
Inhabited since the Stone Age, destroyed by Hannibal in antiquity and ruled by a woman during the Renaissance, there is no shortage of history to be found in this little whitewashed hill town in Puglia. While not a big city by any means, you go there for the ambiance. It’s a magnificently preserved medieval town all in white, with views that surprise you around every corner and a general feeling that it’s unchanged for a millennium. Sip a coffee in the Renaissance main square and make time to get lost exploring the winding, narrow back streets.
While few people have heard of Matera in southern Italy, you might recognize it’s magnificent old quarter from movies like the Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson. It is home to the Sassi, ancient stone cave dwellings that have been continuously inhabited for thousands of years. It’s one of the best preserved ancient cities in the world and few towns in Europe can even hold a candle to its beauty. Luckily, it is still relatively unknown to tourists and around half of the Sassi still haven’t been renovated or repaired, making it a truly untouched historical gem of the world. If you have ever imagined what a city must have looked like two thousand years ago, look no further - head straight to Matera.
A little further north than the traditional southern Italian towns, no list could be complete without mention of Positano. Perched high on the mountainside south of Naples, this colorful Italian town draws foreigners and locals alike to its beauty. With bright buildings that seem to fall off the cliffs to clear blue waters and tiny beaches, Positano is the perfect Italian paradise, especially in summer. Plan well in advance because this city is loved by all, but even a quick day trip by ferry from one of the surrounding towns on the Amalfi Coast makes it worthwhile. Nibble on freshly caught seafood and toast to the sunset with the famous local limoncello; Positano couldn’t be more perfect.
Unlike any other historical ruin in the world, Pompeii was buried and forgotten beneath 20 feet of volcanic ash in 79 AD when Mount Vesuvius erupted. Ignored for over a thousand years, it is still under excavation today. You can walk along the same stone streets as the ancient Romans did and explore house after house around the town. Thanks to the ash, it is one of the best preserved historical site in the world. It’s easy to spend an entire day wandering around the city, imagining what it would have looked liked during its prime.
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Liz’s blog is Young Adventuress, which is geared toward adventure and slow travel. Liz Carlson began the blog while trekking through the Andes before moving to Spain for two years, where she has been teaching English and living the expat life. With over 30 countries under her belt, Liz is now planning to take on New Zealand and explore a whole other side of the world. Follow Liz on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google Plus.
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