We will never tire of saying it: Italy is an endlessly surprising and beautiful Country and you should explore as much of it as you can. Not only the big cities and well-known natural wonders are worth visiting: each little village, each mountain stream, each secret beach has a unique story to tell, to those who can listen. You could organise each trip around a different theme and never run out of ideas: art, history, nature and food will always amaze you and make you want to come back for more. Some of our local attractions are so famous and iconic, however, that they incessantly draw tourists in massive numbers, resulting in endless lines, crowded spaces and often stressful travelling schedules. If you want your next incentive gift to provide a unique experience and to have all the perks of a great trip to taly with none of the drawbacks, we have a few suggestions to offer. These five locations, listed from North to South, are as beautiful as any of the most popular landmarks in the Country, but they are still the well-kept secret of a few discerning travellers. Enjoy the pleasures of Italy’s culture, nature, art and cuisine at a slower pace. Take all the time you need to savour this unique experience.
5 cities in Italy you never thought of visiting
1. Trieste – strolling with James Joyce
Trieste is a relatively “recent” acquisition, as it was only annexed to Italy in 1920 and its Mitteleuropean spirit is still clearly discernible in many aspects of its architecture and culture. Walking through the city centre, you will get echoes of Vienna and suggestions of Ljubljana in the lilting sound of the local dialect and the distinctly Teutonic flavours of the local cuisine. Trieste’s identity, however, was shaped first and foremost by its harbour, that has made it a melting pot of cultures for centuries, not unlike Venice or Naples. The city’s main square, Piazza Unità d’Italia, is the largest European square with direct access to the sea and its most distinctive landmark – an XVIII Century fountain by architect Battista Mazzoleni – depicts the encounter of four people coming from the Four Continents (which were the only ones known to the European population at the time). Walking along the Grand Canal and crossing the bridge known as Ponte Rosso, you might meet a very special and much loved citizen: James Joyce. The Author of Ulysses lived and worked in Trieste for many years and the city rewarded him with a statue that captures his distinctive figure as he crosses the bridge.
2. Porto Venere – windmills and castles
We already told you about the stunning beauty of the Cinque Terre and their National Park. Today we are going to concentrate on Porto Venere, which has been a UNESCO listed site since 1997. This small seaside town has much to offer both on land and at sea. From the ancient castle and the quaint churches of the city centre to the beautiful islands, with their mysterious caves. Part of the medieval walls are still visible, and walking through the original gate, dating back to the XII Century, is definitely the best way to start exploring this charming town. Make sure you visit the Doria Castle, located on a high rock and overlooking the village and the gulf underneath. Built between the XII end XIV Century, it was a bastion of the Republic of Genoa and is now one of the main tourist attractions in the area. One thing you might not expect to see in a small town in Liguria are windmills. This bizarre feature, that most people associate primarily with the Netherlands or with certain parts of Southern France, can be found near the castle. Originally built as watchtowers, they were later converted into windmills, once their original function had been fulfilled, because of their convenient position by the shore.
3. Montefalco – a gourmand’s heaven
We have already told you all about the serene beauty of Umbria. On the rolling hills near Perugia you will find Montefalco, a quaint little hamlet, famous for its unique position, that overlooks the surrounding valley offering a breath-taking view of the whole region. Art lovers will enjoy a visit to the local Saint Francis Museum, which contains a spectacular cycle of Renaissance frescoes, as well as a rich and beautiful collection of various ancient artworks from all over Italy. The original medieval walls are still standing and they give the whole town an air of surreal and timeless charm. Make sure you pay a visit to the church and convent of St. Augustine, which dates back to the 1200s. If you enjoy good food and wine, you should definitely stop by one of the many family-led restaurants and order a glass of the delicious local Sagrantino. This particular wine is made from an ancient and rare grape, whose oldest vine, which is 150 years old, is currently kept in the convent of St. Chiara
4. Sant’Agata de’ Goti – explore the mystery
The province of Benevento is rarely among the favourite of international tourists travelling to Italy, and that’s why most of its treasures are still unknown to the circles of mainstream tourism. This charming village, known as the “Sannio Pearl” (after the name of the local subergion) is another favourite destination of gourmands and wine-lovers. If the names Aglianico and Falanghina make your mouth water, you should explore the local vineyards and purchase them directly from the producers. If this is your incentive destination of choice, you should also plan a comprehensive wine-tasting event, matching these delicious wines with some of the local delicacies. The village of Sant’Agata de’ Goti is stunningly beautiful: the sunset from the Martorano bridge is one of those sights that can make your heart swell with joy, as the little houses, encased in the natural rock of this unforgiving region, are flooded with red light. The village’s architecture is a complex and beautiful testimony to centuries of different dominations and clashes of powers. One of the most fascinating local landmarks is a former convent known as Palazzo Parisi, dating back to the XII Century. Beneath the building stretches a labyrinth of interconnected grottos, carved in the soft rock of the local mountain. Originally built as a dungeon, this impressive subterranean complex currently hosts a permanent exhibition illustrating the horrors and instruments of torture used by the Holy Inquisition in Italy.
5. Ercolano – Roman life and death as you have never seen it
Ercolano is a small town in Campania, mostly known as “not Pompeii”, or as “Pompeii’s little sister”. Like its famous counterpart, Ercolano too owes its worldwide fame to the eruption of mount Vesuvius in 79 a.D.: here too, in a matter of hours, life was frozen in mid-movement and preserved as an eerily accurate replica of itself. Ancient houses, temples, theatres and public buildings are practically intact in all the glory of their precious marble and exquisite graffiti. Compared to Pompeii, Ercolano is slightly less well-known and therefore the crowd of tourists it draws every year, while still substantial, is definitely more manageable. The city’s name comes from the Roman name for Hercules, who – in Greek mythology – founded it after visiting Mount Vesuvius. In Roman times this was an imposing city, in which the residential aspect was predominant over the political one. One unique feature, that you won’t find in Pompeii, it’s the charred remains of a ship, that was probably meant to be the last hope for hundreds of people fleeing from the eruption. Dozens of skeletons, several with their possessions still on them – were wound on the shipwreck on the local beach.