Italy – Hidden Gems

07/04/2014

There’s so much to do and see in the land of la dolce vita (the sweet life)! So much colour, beauty and history wherever you go. Here are some of our favourites:

Small Towns

There are hundreds of charming small towns to enjoy dotted around Italy, and this is where you’ll find the real heart of the country.

Atrani, a small town on the Amalfi coast, was originally founded by Roman aristocrats and is one of the few Amalfi towns to have preserved its history. Drink in the fishing village atmosphere as you climb up the steep cobbled streets from the beach. The town square is the place to meet in the evening to soak up the culture and chat with locals. Delight in the pretty villas, hidden stairwells, charming little gardens filled with geraniums and bougainvilleas, and open piazzas.

Castelsardo medieval village, on the island of Sardinia, originates from the castle, built either in 1102 or 1270 by the Doria family of Genoa. Enjoy the many small cafes and restaurants serving the local cuisine, as well as the natural beauty of the area and many wonderful works of art. Wander through the town at sunset to enjoy the picturesque villas painted in a colourful palette of pinks, reds, purples and aquas. One of the town’s feature sights is the Roccia dell'Elefante (Elephant Rock), a natural formation shaped by the wind into an elephant likeness.

Or visit Alberobello in Puglia, with its unique trulli constructions – dry-stone houses with conical beehive-like roofs painted with symbols thought to have origins in pre-Christian, Jewish, Pagan and Solar cults. While many houses are still inhabited, some have been transformed into little shops where you can buy souvenirs and try local liqueurs, biscotti and olive oil.

Lakes and mountains

Pretty little villages perched on the water’s edge. Dramatic mountain backdrops. Tranquil, wide blue waters. Colourful flowers and wonderful food. The romantic Italian lakes region offers almost everything you could wish for.

Lake Como, with its wonderful spas and hotels, has been a haunt for the rich and famous since Roman times. The lake itself is long and thin, winding through beautiful mountains and forests like a river. Stay in one of the many beautiful villas and enjoy the clear mountain air and dramatic mountain scenery. Visit Bellagio on the lake and follow in the footsteps of the poets – Shelley, Flaubert and Mark Twain have all been inspired by this beautiful, tranquil resort town.

On Lake Maggiore is the beautiful island of Isola Bella with its famous palazzos and gardens. You can walk through the big house, which has many wonderful treasures, but the real attraction is the gardens – magnificent terraces of fountains, statues, flowers and romantic walkways.

Bolzano is a charming town in the South Tyrol where the influence of nearby Austria can be seen in the architecture and culture. Sample the many outdoor cafes in its lively streets and squares, or take a cable car ride to enjoy the magnificent views.

Food and wine

Bologna is a foodie’s paradise, with its local cuisine history stretching back hundreds of years. Sample all manner of preserved and smoked meats, pastas made with fresh local ingredients, reggiano cheese made that day, and wonderful aceto balsamico (balsamic vinegar).

Sardinia is famous for its maccheroni al ferretto – pasta made from semolina dough shaped around a knitting needle, with sauces made from a special pork ragout with herbs, or sausage and ricotta.

The food of the Liguria region is known for its flavours of earth and sea – fish and seafood, mushrooms and pine nuts. These three ingredients combine with many others including rabbit, salt cod and locally-grown olive oil, along with fresh herbs, to delight the palate and sate any appetite. Another local specialty is cheese-stuffed focaccia. Almost every region in Italy boasts its own unique grape variety, and the region’s food combined with the local sweet wines is simply delicious.

Shopping

Buying a special item that truly reflects a region’s culture is one of the best parts of shopping.

Pisa is famous for wonderful cameos and delicate jewellery made from semi-precious stones – citrines, pearls and carnelians.

Venice is famous for its Murano glass, while Italian silk scarves and ties from Milan are a beautiful reminder of your holiday.

Capodimonte porcelain, the exquisite Italian china, can be found in many cities but is at its finest in Naples.

There are also many designer outlets and malls scattered through much of Northern Italy selling pieces from luxury brands like Prada, Dolce & Gabbana and Burberry.

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