Europe, with the exception of London and Edinburgh, remains very much the travel holy grail for me. There’s still so much of it I need to see and – if my bucket list is to be taken into consideration – so many of its women I need to kiss.
While my travel plans won’t see me in Italy any time soon, Francesco of the Gadders Project was kind enough to offer to share some of his suggestions on how to best experience real Italy.
Why Visit Italy?
Italy is one of those countries that every traveler, for one reason or another, includes on their bucket list. North Americans love it for food and fashion, South Americans see it as their ancestors’ homeland, shutterbugs love it for the countless photographic subjects it offers, history buffs come for the rich Roman history, and even Northern Europeans dream of its warm, picturesque beaches beaches.
There are countless reasons why a person might wish to visit Italy, but below are the ones I think are the most common:
1) Try the Italian cuisine
2) Go shopping in the fashion districts
3) Admire fast luxury cars
4) Explore the historic places of the Roman empire
5) Admire the masterpieces by medieval and renaissance artists
6) Relax on sunny beaches with calm waters
7) Explore the countryside on a vintage scooter
But in the end the vast majority of travelers seem to only visit the same 3 places:
ROME – FLORENCE – VENICE.
It’s true that you can achieve the first five items on the above list only visiting Rome, Florence, and Venice.
If beaches are your poison, the usual destination is the Amalfi coast. Scooter enthusiasts swear by Tuscany.
The issue here is that the true essence of travel means stepping outside of these popular places and discovering the diversity that Italy has to offer.
And in Italy there are so many different destinations that you could easily find, for each of those 7 reasons, one place off the beaten track that would leave you open-mouthed.
1) Italian cuisine: Bologna
You can taste a delicious pizza or pasta anywhere in Italy, but if you want to try the some of the best authentic Italian cuisine there’s one region where you have to go: Emilia-Romagna. The homeland of Parmesan cheese, balsamic vinegar and Mortadella ham among others, its main city is Bologna, from which the Bolognese sauce takes its name.
Here you can try other typical dishes that you maybe don’t know, like Tortellini (stuffed pasta) and Piadina (a simpler version of Pizza).
It’s more than just amazing, authentic food; Bologna is also a beautiful medieval town with gorgeous architecture.
2) Fashion: Milan
Prada, Armani, Gucci etc. have stores all around the world, but if fashion brands are your reason for being, you can’t go past the Milan fashion district and its main street: Via Monte Napoleone.
You’re not only able to window shop among some of the world’s most famous brands, but you’ll also be able to see where it all started – learning about the history behind some of the world’s most renowned labels while wishing you could afford to buy them.
3) Cars: Maranello
Wherever there are luxury shops, there are luxury car parked nearby. If looking or snatching a sneaky pose in front of one is all you’re after, then Italy is your playground. But if Ferrari is your idol, why not to take a tour inside its firm, its museum and its wind tunnel, where Formula One new models are tested?
4) History: Pompeii
If you are passionate about Roman history, Rome is understandably going to be pretty high on your itinerary, but how do you compare the ruins of the Roman Forum (the old city of Rome) – mostly destroyed by the passing of time – with a whole Roman city preserved under volcanic stone for 2000 years and then magically resurrected as it exactly was in 79AC? This is Pompeii.
To look upon this unfathomably ancient city is a rare opportunity to look backwards in time, seeing Roman life not as it is presented in museums – but as it lived and breathed right up until Mount Vesuvius blew its top.
5) Art: Sienna
Florence is the cradle of Italian art, but its neighbor, Sienna was some centuries ago its contender for the works of the most popular artists of the time.
Today you can admire beautiful art in a more relaxing and less crowded atmosphere. Siena is home to masterpieces by the likes Michelangelo, Donatello and many others.
Editor’s Note: Are Raphael and Leonardo also present?
6) Beach: Gallipoli and Otranto, Apulia region
The Amalfi coast is unique in the world with its characteristic coloured villages set along the cliffs; but if you ever thought to go there for some beach time, you were wrong. In a rocky coast where all the coves are occupied by little houses and hotels, there’s no space left for sand!
Apulia is instead the region that forms the heel of Italy’s boot. A peninsula surrounded by turquoise seas and hot yellow sand, Gallipoli on the west coast or Otranto on the east coast boast some fantastic beaches and awesome resorts.
If most of the Italians prefer to go there on summer holidays, why wouldn’t you prefer it too?
7) Countryside: Orvieto, Gubbio and Assisi, Umbria region
Tuscany, Vespa and countryside are three words that can’t be separated in the common imagination of world travelers, and there are plenty of travel agencies all over the world offering such tours of a region that is perhaps more famous due to advertising than anything else.
Opportunities to explore the countryside exist all over Italy and in every region you can find cute medieval villages where locals live their simple lives.
Some of the most characteristic places are in the region of Umbria, just next to Tuscany but, if you have a look at a map, more in the countryside! Towns like Orvieto, Gubbio, and Assisi are true gems that offer a window into the lives of traditional Italian people.
If you are planning to travel to Italy, whether soon or in the distant future,just remember that there’s more to this country than Rome, Florence, and Venice. Take the time to think differently and see what real Italy has to offer.
This is a guest post by Francesco, creator of the Gadders project: if you want to know more of any of the destinations mentioned, you can find them on “Gadders”, a social traveling platform where travelers can review places they have visited to contribute to creating a free user-generated travel guide for Italy.
Do you agree with Francesco’s suggestions?
Have any of your own to suggest?
When people visit your country, which less well known areas do you think they should visit?