The Top 10 Unknown Places in Italy?
The Top 10 Unknown Places in Italy
The five Cinque Terre villages might get more of a mention than humble Portovenere, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less stunning. Six and seven story buildings adorn the crystal blue harbor, which welcomes both large yachts and small fishing boats, especially in the summer. The rainbow façade along the harbor front is excellent photo material, as are the narrow, cobbled streets. It’s an uncrowded alternative to the Cinque Terre villages. The only downside? There’s no train station — but it is reachable from our community in Bologna by train, followed by a short bus ride.
If you’ve ever taken a budget flight to Venice, then you have actually flown into Treviso. This city is around 30 km from the tourist haven of Venice but manages to draw a tenth of the crowds while still maintaining the same level of Venetian charm. Small canals crisscross the city, running past tiny gardens and fresco-covered houses. It’s no Venice, but it doesn’t need to be. Beautiful? Check. Friendly? Check. Lack of crowds and sensible prices? Also check.
If you continue on from Treviso, you will of course find the tourist haven of Venice. As an expat you’ve probably already seen St Mark’s Basilica and the like — but Venice still has much to offer. For example, you can explore the many islands sheltered inside the naturally created “Venice Lagoon”. One of the most beautiful islands is Burano, and when you step off the ferry you’ll see why. The gorgeously painted houses and small fishing boats make for excellent photo opportunities, and the general atmosphere is a lot more relaxed than across the water. The painted houses date back to a time when residents would apply for a permit to build their houses, and would be given a color which was available for that plot. Each one was painted in a different shade, so that fishermen could see the port even in thick fog. Today, this tradition gives Burano its characteristic look. Aside from this, you can see the craftsmen making lace (the island’s main industry) and sample fresh fish from the nearby Adriatic. It’s a must-see.
4. Lake Iseo
Nestled between our communities in Milan and Verona is the stunning, and neglected, Lake Iseo. Overshadowed by it’s bigger brothers Lake Como and Lake Garda, Iseo has always been one of Lombardy’s best kept secrets. Stunning cliffs surround the water, with the Italian alps visible from its shores on a clear day. Perhaps Iseo’s best attraction is Monte Isola, the island found in the middle of its serene waters. The largest of its kind in Italy, Monte Isola is mostly made up of mysterious woodland. Cars are banned here (bicycles and mopeds are not, though), so just hop on one of the regular ferry crossings and enjoy a mostly untouched piece of Italy on foot and in peace.
Also up north, you will find yourself in the state of Piedmont or, in other words, truffle country. Alba is probably the best place to learn and sample this luxurious ingredient. Each year, it holds the International White Truffle Fair, where produce has been known to fetch over 5,000 EUR per kilo. The numbers truly are eye-watering — a good truffle hunting pig or dog will cost you upwards of 7,000 EUR. You can take part in truffle tours, but there is also much more to Alba. The old town is beautiful, with its medieval architecture and gothic churches, and its history is also truly fascinating. You can reach Alba easily from our communities in Turin and Genoa in just over an hour, by train or car — why not explore some more of hidden Italy with new friends?
6. Civita di Bagnoregio
Heading down south past Florence and Sienna, you will find what is known to Italians as “the dying city”. Teetering atop a volcanic plateau, this ancient village is home to just 10 permanent residents and is so named because erosion is chipping away at its rocky base. It truly is a magical sight before you even make the climb up the footpath (no cars are allowed), and you will easily while away a few hours wandering through the crumbling buildings and enjoying a glass of wine with some local cuisine. There is now a toll of 3 EUR to enter the village, but this has been implemented to maintain the site and ensure that the “dying city” lives on. If you are part of our Rome or Florence communities then you can reach the village in about two hours — it is well worth a day trip!
7. Domus Aurea
It’s time to visit the capital, and of course there is much to see and do in Rome . Perhaps somewhere which is often overlooked is the Domus Aurea (Latin for “Golden House”), which was Emperor Nero’s home (or rather, his palace). Today it is in ruins, but the grounds and architecture are still there to be appreciated and marveled at. Nero himself is an important figure in ancient Roman history — he famously watched while Rome burned and set many of the traditions and customs which dominated the vast Roman Empire for centuries to come in stone. Bring history to life and make the short trip to Nero’s folly from our community in Rome.
8. Grotte di Castellana
Italy’s eastern (Adriatic) coast is perhaps overlooked in favor of the more affluent west coast. However, there are still plenty of undiscovered gems to be found in the “heel” of Italy. The Grotte di Castellana is a cave system which is over 3 km long and situated in the province of Bari. The system is unique in plenty of ways, not least it’s huge entrance (nicknamed “the Grave”) which for years has been a site of myths and legends — the way the twilight sun hits the rocks creates many shapes including that of a Poseidon. You can visit the cave system for a small fee which includes a guided tour around the complex.
9. Polignano a Mare
You’ve heard of the Cinque Terre — the famed villages perched on clifftops. Well meet the Adriatic’s answer: Polignano a Mare. This gorgeous town just down the coast from Bari takes on an ancient feel — it’s white stone houses contrast with the crystal blue waters of the gentle sea. Stroll round the narrow lanes and streets and soak up the atmosphere and ambience of a gentle Italian town — stop for some freshly caught fish before relaxing on one of the most picturesque beaches you’ll ever come across. Oh, and if you’re there at the right time, you’ll catch the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Championship, too.
Our last tip isn’t actually on (or near) mainland Italy. Instead, we recommend a visit to Pantelleria: a small island between Tunisia and Sicily. One of Italy’s lesser known destinations, the island is a very interesting place to visit. Being volcanic in nature, the landscape of the island has a sort of lunar feel (except with a bit more green) — a drive across it will give you the full panorama and will only take half an hour. It’s a relatively unspoiled corner of the world, and you can reach it relatively easily by ferry from Sicily.