Fly with an angel, Basilicata
Visiting Castelmezzano, a town perched against the backdrop of the Dolomiti Lucane, was an accident during my recent southern Italy road trip. This stunning place is worth the detour from the main road cutting through Basilicata, and it comes paired with another beauty on the opposite mountain, Pietrapertosa. Travelling between the two can be completed on the Flight of the Angel – a high-speed zipwire that connects them. While the town is mesmerising, especially when viewed from a distance to admire its unique location, the surrounding area is full of epic hikes, forests and national parks.
Cream of the crop, Lombardy
The cobbled streets of Crema, 30 miles east of Milan, invite you in. The churches and convents around the town provide architecture to savour. Bikes are ubiquitous, and the best way to explore the surrounding villages and countryside. You must also taste the bizarrely delicious tortelli cremaschi. Don’t ask about the ingredients: just close your eyes and let your tastebuds draw their own conclusions. On a clear day, the mountains can be seen framing the horizon. It is well placed for day trips to Milan, Cremona and Bergamo, as well as lakes Iseo and Garda.
Holiday like the Romans in Minturno, Lazio
Between Rome and Naples, the coastal town of Minturno lies north of the beaches of Scauri. Here, in the summer months, you can experience a traditional Italian beach getaway, with the backdrop of the Monti Aurunci nature park framing the view as you look back from the aquamarine shallows. Gelato parlours and beach clubs line the sandy shore. There’s a less-visited beach at Porticciolo Romano, on the headland – though with no facilities it’s recommended for the more organised and adventurous beach-goer.
Beautiful views with food to match, Friuli
In north-east Italy, the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia isn’t as well known as others, though for lovers of wine, food, nature and history it provides countless opportunities for discovery. Enjoy your morning coffee in the piazzas of Udine, the afternoon hiking among the Julian Alps, before savouring the Habsburg-era grandeur of Trieste to watch the city turn pink as the sun melts into the Adriatic. While your eyes feast on the beauty of this region, your tastebuds will go on their own journey, from melt-in-your-mouth prosciutto di San Daniele to cheese-laden frico (potato cake) all accompanied by a glass of friulano wine.
Double the delight in Bergamo and Lecco
For Italian culture and scenery without the hordes, you’d struggle to do better than a twin-centre break of Bergamo and Lecco. The former with its Città Alta neighbourhood, then the medieval marvels of Bergamo’s Città Bassa and the fabulous Accademia Carrara. It’s a short (and reasonably priced) hop by train to Lecco at the bottom of Lake Como. Here you can enjoy the lake by ferry or train and it’s less touristy than showy Bellagio. This is also where Alessandro Manzoni’s 1827 historical novel The Betrothed was set, and it’s a joy to follow in the footsteps of the characters Lucia and Renzo. It’s even better on an aperitivo crawl, where you can sample amazing food with a crisp local lugana wine or a fine negroni.
Apertivo, boat trips and bars, Liguria
The Italian Riviera is as beautiful as the French, though less crowded and the coast has pretty beaches and accommodation to suit all budgets. The more modern low town has supermarkets, bakeries and shops for picnic or self-catering supplies, and from the marina you can take boat trips to Ventimiglia. In the evening, stroll up the hill to Bordighera Alta, the old town. Enjoy an aperitivo and dinner amid the maze of alleys and tiny piazzas, which are full of bars and restaurants.
Verdant meadows in the Valtellina, Lombardy
Last autumn, a waiter at a pizzeria in Milan told me about his home region: Valtellina, a two-hour drive north in the mountains. In fact, he gave me a lift the next day – and what an area, full of verdant meadows and mountains with energising fresh air, bright blue skies and sparkling sunshine. Plus, it has pizzoccheri (buckwheat pasta) as its signature regional dish – perfect after a morning’s walking. In Sondrio, at the La Locanda dello Zio Peppo, cheerful waiters walked around with steaming dishes of the pasta with melted cheese, garlic and spinach. I was advised to wash it down with a few glasses of Inferno, the regional red – and a swig of caffè corretto (espresso with grappa).
Try out a trullo, Puglia
Alberobello is an enchanting destination in Puglia known for its trulli: small, whitewashed, cone-shaped buildings. The town offers a glimpse into a centuries-old architectural style. Stroll through the streets of the Monti district, with more than 1,600 trulli, many converted into shops, restaurants and accommodation. Don’t miss the chance to learn about the town’s history and traditions at the Trullo Sovrano Museum or sample local treats, such as almond sweets and olive oil.
Rise above the Amalfi coast in Ravello
Where the sun meets the moon, on a high hill, lies one of the lesser-visited towns on the Amalfi coast – Ravello. You can hear the church bells in a square surrounded by cafes serving Amalfi spritz or limoncello. You can then lose yourself exploring the cobbled alleyways where residents look at you with curiosity from their enchanting houses. Finally, you reach Villa Cimbrone with its “terrace of infinity” by the sea. You probably have never seen anything quite like it.
Winning tip: Inspiring Avigliana, Piedmont
The medieval town of Avigliana makes for an easy day trip from Turin (about 30 minutes by train). Start exploring at the 10th-century mountaintop San Michele Abbey, which was Umberto Eco’s inspiration for The Name of the Rose, and take in views of the valley. Back in Avigliana, take a passeggiata under the medieval porticos of the centro storico (if you’re there in August, you’ll be treated to free concerts as part of the annual jazz festival) and stop for lunch at Canton Divino (try the typical stuffed agnolotti pasta). The final stop of the day is the nearby imaginatively named Lago Grande, where you can hire a pedalo and admire the views of the abbey from below.
Use the comments to tell us about your own discoveries in Italy