My Top Ten Favourite Places in Italy
I’m days away from leaving Italy, so I thought I would count down my ten favourite places in Italy. Some big names miss out, so let’s start the count down…
By far the smallest place on this list, Polignano has a lot too offer. The beach is in the heart of the city and a great place to snorkel. You can stand on the clifftop balconies and watch the boats, canoes and water-sports enthusiasts. The sea really comes alive in summer.
In the old town you can find some great shops for hand-made jewellery and in the evenings you can sit in the alleyways and enjoy a craft beer or mojito.
An easy day-trip from Bologna, Ferrara is World-Heritage listed for it’s well preserved city centre. The renaissance era city planning has left a unique imprint on Ferrara and it doesn’t feel very Italian. The grid of cobblestone streets, central castle and walkable city walls are all worth a look. I found some great shops here and there is some great architecture as well too.
Famous for its baroque architecture, Lecce was a fantastic place to escape the boredom of Brindisi. You can visit beautiful churches, get lost in old streets, or feast in the cafés and bars. If you are peckish, there are a lot of great local options. Italians don’t eat sandwiches very often, but there are a few places where you can get fantastic sandwiches. In Lecce you can grab a pucca, made of local stuffed full of grilled vegetables, cheese, or anything else you want. Afterwards you can have pasticciotto, a sweet pastry with a thick creamy filling.
The old town here is massive, sprawling across both sides of a valley. If you don’t like steps or getting lost, Matera is best avoided! But if you can find your way through the labyrinthine old town, you can explore the ancient cave dwellings where people lived a unique way of life until very recently. Some caves may have been continuously inhabited since the Neolithic. Some are now open as museums and I recommend you check them out. They even dug huge cisterns to store snow until the summer.
Rome would probably make most people’s top five places in Italy. It does pack a real punch with heavy hitters like the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel. These are all must-sees, so Rome easily makes this list. However when the narrow streets are flooded with tourists, and the local government aren’t collecting the trash, it is not the most pleasant place to simply hang out and spend time. I feel other places in Italy can better combine a vibrant city scene with a feast of historical attractions.
In the heart of Tuscany, you’ll fall in love with Siena’s medieval centre. Once an independent republic, Siena was defeated by, and then overshadowed by it’s Tuscan rival Florence. This has left a remarkably well preserved city, with beautiful architecture, cobbled lanes and a huge sloping piazza, famous for the annual horse race. Nearby Florence may be historically more important and may attract more tourists, but I found Siena to have far more soul and character.
A beautiful small town filled with the unique trulli homes. They are quite beautiful round houses normally found in the local countryside. Alberobello however is filled with them. The duomo is even in the trulli style! You can wander the streets, and visit museums to look inside preserved trulli showing how people used to live.
The best part of all is finding one of the oldest areas of town. Ignored by the crowds of tourists, you can explore these districts on your own. The trulli here are less spectacular, but have a true rustic feel to them.
In many ways Naples is Italy taken to extremes. It is dirtier and more chaotic, but the streets are more vibrant and colourful. Life literally spills out into the streets. The local drivers are bad even by Italian standards, but the pizza genuinely is the best in Italy.
When you are tired of the modern city, you can immerse yourself in the ancient Roman sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Both destroyed by the same eruption of Vesuvius, Pompeii is huge and showcases the destructive power of the volcano. Herculaneum is smaller and much better preserved, giving you a stronger impression of the ancient Romans. Don’t forget to visit the National Archaeology Museum in Naples where you can see many finds from both sites, including fantastic mosaics.
The capital of Emilia-Romagna is often overlooked by foreign tourists, but Italians all gush about Bologna’s beauty. Bologna is the most liveable and pleasant of Italy’s big cities, partly due to the 40 km of arcades covering the streets. These make Bologna unique and make it an enjoyable place to explore in summer and winter.
It may be expensive, it may be flooded with tourists, but Venice tops the list simply by being unique. There is nowhere else in the world like it. You can walk freely with out worrying about cars and everything is done by boat. You can see ambulance boats, hearse boats, bus boats and of course the world famous gondolas.
The view from the bell tower in Piazza San Marco gives fantastic views across the whole city. But my favourite part of Venice is simply exploring, people watching and seeing how the canals mould and shape the city.