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The Best of Southern Italy Travel: 8 Unique Places to Visit


Spoiler: you won’t find the usual tourist hotspots like Naples or Alberobello here. Tons of travel guides and articles have already covered these destinations extensively, so I prefer to shine a spotlight on the hidden gems of southern Italy travel. 

This part of Italy, much like the rest of the country, boasts a plethora of incredible places waiting to be explored: historic sites, picturesque villages straight out of a postcard, turquoise waters, and centuries-old traditions. Honestly, I could easily compile an epic encyclopedia detailing every beautiful spot in the south. But to keep this article concise – and your patience intact – I’ll provide you with just a glimpse of the treasures you can find here. 

So, let’s embark on an exploration of some of the most unique places in southern Italy… I have the feeling your travel wish list is about to get a major upgrade!

Majella park, where nature and spirituality converge 

The Majella Park in Abruzzo is one of the green lungs of southern Italy, reaching over 2700 meters at its highest peak. Its close proximity to the sea has created a dynamic environment characterized by diverse microclimates and ecosystems. The result? An extraordinary level of biodiversity that earned Majella the prestigious UNESCO Geopark status.

Nestled within the park are picturesque villages, each with its own unique charm. Pretoro, for instance, boasts a recovery center for the Apennine wolves, while Pacentro is home to one of the best-preserved fortifications in Abruzzo. And don’t miss Pennapiedimonte, known as the balcony of Abruzzo, offering views that stretch all the way to the coast. Bonus: there’s a rocky spur that looks like a seated woman believed to be the goddess Maja, whose story intertwines with these places and has given the park its name.

Scattered throughout these mountains are ancient hermitages literally carved into the rock. Back in the day, these spots were used for hermitic living and meditation. These days, visiting them them is like taking a glimpse into an ancient way of connecting with spirituality amidst the wilderness. Some of these gems include the Eremo Santo Spirito Hermitage in Majella and the Eremo di San Bartolomeo in Legio. The latter even has a little spring known for its miraculous properties!

The idyllic island of Procida

L’idilliaca isola di Procida

Procida is an adorable slice of sunshine, waves, and natural beauty just off the Naples coast. While everyone’s gushing over the glam of Capri and Ischia, Procida offers a more intimate atmosphere, allowing you to experience the authentic essence of southern Italian island living.

Whether you’re exploring the Marina Corricella, where cute, pastel-hued houses cascade down to the water’s edge, or soaking in the beautiful panoramic views from Terra Murata, the island’s highest point, Procida’s beauty is both distinctive and down-to-earth. This charm already caught the eye of ancient Romans, who frequently chose Procida as their vacation destination. 

Spanning a mere 4 km, the entire island is a treasure trove of photogenic charm. Wandering through its quaint streets feels like stepping onto a movie set, with laundry swaying in the breeze and lemon trees peering out from behind tall walls that hide secret gardens. What adds to Procida’s allure is its starring role in cinematic classics like “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and “The Postman.”

Sure, you can squeeze in a day trip from Naples to catch the highlights, but honestly, I’d recommend staying a couple of days. That way, you really soak in the laid-back vibes and simple beauty of Procida.

Procida, Italy old town skyline in the Mediterranean Sea during dusk.Procida, Italy old town skyline in the Mediterranean Sea during dusk.

Sepino, Molise’s ancient Roman town 

Located in the unspoiled region of Molise, Sepino is another jewel of Southern Italy travel that few people are familiar with. While Pompeii often takes center stage when it comes to Roman cities in Italy, Sepino is like a time capsule with its amazingly well-preserved structures, making it a fantastic archaeological site to explore. 

Sepino’s origins can be traced back to the 4th century when the Samnites first established the settlement of Terravecchia, perched at 950 meters above sea level. But here’s the plot twist – the Romans conquered the site in 293 B.C. and moved the village downstream, at a crucial junction along two tratturi (ancient cattle tracks), which made trade and moving livestock way more efficient.

Fast forward to today, and Sepino offers a captivating journey through ancient Rome. Picture this: intact walls, four entrance gates, and two main streets – the cardo and the decumanus – sprinkled with tangible remnants of daily life back then. These include a grand Basilica, thermal facilities and a theater that could accommodate up to 3,000 people. There’s even a water mill, one of Italy’s oldest.

Piscinas’ towering sand peaks 

Piscinas Dunes present a landscape of extraordinary natural beauty on the enchanting island of Sardinia. Located near Arbus, about 80 km from Cagliari, this wild beach spans about 5 square kilometers and features golden sand dunes towering up to 100 meters – some of the tallest in Europe. Picture it as as a little slice of desert paradise with a sea breeze – no wonder it earned the title of UNESCO World Heritage Site! 

The best part? Hardly any crowds, making it the ultimate spot for a chill escape. Plus, there’s a naturist section for those seeking an all-over tan! Just a heads up, though – the waves can be a bit intense, so better to leave the rough sea to expert surfers.

As you make your way to the dunes, you’ll stumble upon the ghost village of Ingurtosu, providing a fascinating glimpse into the region’s mining history. And if you plan your visit in June and July, you might see the Caretta Caretta sea turtles laying their eggs, a true spectacle of nature.

Unveiling history’s first bikini at Villa Romana del Casale

About 35 km from Caltagirone, right in the heart of Sicily, there’s this extraordinary luxury Roman villa from the 4th century AD just waiting to be explored. Rumor has it, it once belonged to a Roman senator, who had it decorated it with a mesmerizing collection of mosaics that tell a lot about how life was in ancient Roman times.

Crafted by skilled African artists, these mosaics are regarded as the most beautiful and well-preserved of their kind, spread across an expansive 3500 square meters. Well-designed walkways and ramps let you ask in all the scenes, ranging from heroes and deities to hunting expeditions and daily routines of the time. 

The star of the show is the Corridor of the Grand Hunt, a massive 66-meter-long mosaic floor that vividly shows the capture of wild animals destined for the gladiator games. But there’s also this one-of-a-kind mosaic with the first-ever depiction of women in bikinis! It depicts ten athletic girls engaged in various pursuits, from discus throwing to running. Ancient Romans were real trendsetters!

Tropea, where the sea radiates its deepest blue

In Calabria, the charming town of Tropea reveals a mesmerizing landscape with waters so turquoise and crystalline that they stand among the most breathtaking I’ve ever seen. It’s located along a stretch of Tyrrhenian coast known as the “Coast of the Gods,” a nickname that totally lives up to the hype.

With roots dating back to ancient times, with legends claiming Hercules himself founded it after his adventures in Spain. Perched on a high promontory, Tropea’s historic center is a true gem, featuring a maze of narrow streets adorned with historic noble palaces and pretty local shops (be sure to try the town’s famous red onions). And oh, the views! Unbelievable panoramas that will blow your mind.

One of Tropea’s most picturesque landmarks is the Sanctuary of Santa Maria dell’Isola perched on a cliff overlooking the sea – pure magic. Speaking of fabulous scenes, Rotonda Beach is a sandy haven with azure waters nestled against a cliff, the perfect spot for your Insta-worthy shots. And if can drive, Capo Vaticano is a dreamy destination located just 20 minutes away from Tropea, frequently celebrated as one of the world’s most beautiful beaches.

Aerial view of Santa Maria dell'Isola Church - Tropea, Calabria, ItalyAerial view of Santa Maria dell'Isola Church - Tropea, Calabria, Italy

The magic of Gravina in Puglia

So, when you think of Apulia, you usually picture trulli and those beautiful beaches in Salento, right? Well, get ready to discover a hidden gem beyond the typical tourist trails: Gravina in Puglia. I stumbled upon it during the Cammino Materano, this awesome hike from Bari to Matera, and trust me, it’s a definite addition to your Southern Italy travel bucket list!

Located near the border with Basilicata, this town boasts an ancient history that dates back to the 7th century BC and a canyon-like landscape that’ll give you serious Matera vibes. Think natural caves once used as dwellings and religious sites and now offering breathtaking views.

Key attractions include the Church of San Michele delle Grotte, carved from a tuff block and housing skulls and bones from martyrs of a Saracen attack back in 999, and the Gravina Sotterranea, an underground labyrinth winding through the town. But the real jewel is the Ponte dell’Acquedotto, a 17th-century bridge standing 37 meters high. Its visual appeal is so captivating that it played a thrilling role in the movie “No Time to Die” starring Daniel Craig.

If you plan a trip in April, you’re in for a treat – the St. George’s Fair is on. This festival’s been going strong since 1294, making it one of Europe’s oldest fairs.

Aerial adventures between Castelmezzano e Pietrapertosa

And now, let’s venture through Basilicata to explore two villages in the heart of the Lucanian Dolomites: Castelmezzano and Pietrapertosa. With only a few hundred residents, these mountain gems captivate with sandstone houses hanging onto the mountains like they’re part of some epic rock-carved nativity scenes.

Castelmezzano boasts ancient noble palaces narrating tales of bygone eras. Like the story of Canio Paternò, who migrated to the United States in the late 1800s and became one of the most famous skyscraper builders of New York! While in town, look for a narrow and steep staircase carved into the rock – it leads to the highest point, offering breathtaking panoramic views. 

Pietrapertosa, on the other hand, is Basilicata’s highest village and reveals a labyrinth of charming alleys and rock-carved staircases called “scalelle.” Imagine wandering through an ancient Arab quarter with narrow passageways and, at the highest point, a castle with intact city walls, prison cells, and a legit medieval wooden throne.

For the adventurous travelers, summer brings a wild experience: the Flight of the Angel between the two villages. Imagine traversing from one village to the other, suspended on a steel cable, hurtling through the air at a heart-pounding 120 kilometers per hour!

Castelmezzano is beautiful village in Basilicata region among the peaks of the Dolomiti lucane, ItalyCastelmezzano is beautiful village in Basilicata region among the peaks of the Dolomiti lucane, Italy
the best of southern italy travelthe best of southern italy travel



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