With Florence, Rome and Venice (and that is just three of the most obvious ones) Italy boasts some of the most beautiful and rewarding cities in Europe. You can head there and find history, architecture, art and culture that cannot be found anywhere else in the world, and experience a lifestyle that’s almost impossible to forget. But the thing is, that’s not even the best part of Italy
If you want to enjoy the full Italian experience, it is not enough just to lounge around in milling piazzas and learn the proper way to order an espresso – much of Italy’s true charm can be found in its abundant countryside. From the many gorgeous villas in Tuscany to the breath-taking vistas of vineyards and olive groves stretching to the horizon, the country shows a side of Italy that’s as intoxicating as any vintage Chianti.
And the best way to experience this wonderful side of Italy? A day trip out from one of the bigger cities is all well and good, but if you really want to revel in the splendour, sun and relaxing atmosphere of rural Italy, the only thing to do is hire a car, head out and stay right at its heart.
The culture you will find out there might not be as famous as Renaissance art, but it is certainly got as much pedigree – after all, rustic wine-making and farming techniques predate even the Romans! And if you think Italy’s best food is confined to five-star restaurants in swish new neighborhoods, clearly, you’ve never indulged in some farm-bought goat’s cheese, freshly baked bread and artfully produced salami and ham. The countryside (especially around Naples) is also where you’ll find proper, authentic pizza – a world away from most of the tourist-friendly imitations you’ll be eating in the inner city.
Cetona is a medieval hilltop town located in the southern slopes of Siena, Tuscany. The entire town is encircled by an imposing 10th century rocca (fortress), and is brimming with archaeological riches. Cetona is believed to have been one of Italy’s oldest settlements, with humans living at the foot of Mount Cetona over 40,000 years ago due to the area’s vast clay supply and forests.
Steeped in history, Cetona marks a moment in time with its Etruscan archaeological sites and early neo-Paleolithic caves. Cetona boasts all the picturesque views you would expect from Tuscany, with striking cypress trees and a beautiful backdrop of pine forests.
Holidays to Assisi show visitors the true Italian countryside in all its glory. The town sits in the region of Umbria, just east of Perugia and lies nestled in the foothills of Mount Subasio.
Assisi is known as the birthplace of St. Francis and has been attracting pilgrims since the 13th Century. The most famous site in Assisi is of course the Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi, which is dedicated to the saint. There is also the 12th Century Rocca Maggiore Fortress and a huge medieval complex, all of which gave the town its UNESCO World Heritage status. The town is dotted with beautiful churches, small narrow lanes and charming piazzas, where you can sit and people watch from the quaint cafés. By day Assisi filled with day trippers from nearby Perugia, but by nightfall, you’ll have the town all to yourself and can enjoy milling with the locals in the soft evening light.
Holidays to Lake Orta take you to the best kept secret of the Italian Lakes in Northern Italy. It remains one of the most pristine areas in Italy, and one of most beautiful. The incredible architecture of the town of Orta San Giulio, with its pastel coloured buildings, picturesque streets and lakeside location add to the enchanting island of Isola San Giulio to make this destination a real hidden gem.
For historians and culture seekers, there is plenty to intrigue and entertain; visit the UNESCO-protected Orta Sacro Monte, a collection of centuries-old chapels located in Orta San Giulio or the Church of Santa Maria Assunta on the western side of the lake, with its striking classic medieval façade.
Holidays in Matera, situated in the southern region of Basilicata, transport you back to ancient times. One of the oldest cities in Italy, this enchanting place is best known for its UNESCO honoured Sassi where you will find stone houses and caves, believed to be home to Italy’s earliest settlers. Today, tucked into the caves of the Sassi are cafés, hotels, dwellings and even art galleries, all waiting to be discovered. Perfect for those looking to immerse themselves in history, Matera is filled with piazzas, Benedictine churches and museums all waiting to be explored. And beyond the Sassi, the hills of Basilicata are home to old rock churches which were cut into the hillside many years ago.
The adventurous will revel in exploring the caves and the many streets, with so many treasures waiting to be discovered. If culture is what you seek then Matera is for you. Still relatively unknown to Italy’s visitors, this unique area has retained its traditional charm and character, offering you a real Italian experience.
If you want to explore another side of Italy, there is no doubt that holidays to Tropea will guide you off the beaten track. The charming historic town is perched on top of a cliff that towers above the mesmerising blue and turquoise waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea and is part of the wider region of Calabria, in Southern Italy. Tropea overlooks Stromboli, a small island that inhibits one of three active volcanoes in Italy and while the volcano has been active for more than 2,000 years, Tropea itself dates back to medieval times, with traces of civilization dating back to 4,500 BC. Tropea has borne witness to the rise and fall of the Ancient Greek authority, the Byzantines, Roman Empire, the Normans and more.
With a history laced with the thread of Greek mythology, legend has it that Hercules declared Tropea to be one of his ports along the 40km of La Costa degli Dei – The Golden Coast of the Gods. The town embodies a wonderful combination of majestic natural beauty, fascinating architectural charm and is in close proximity to the mysterious Aeolian Islands, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Great for couples, explorers and adventurers alike, the seaside terrace town of Tropea is a historical and cultural escape just waiting to be explored.