Itching for an Italian getaway, but looking to take the road less traveled? Below are five off-the-beaten-path vacation destinations to add to your Italian bucket list.
Often unheard of, Otranto in Italy’s southern Puglia region sits at the very end of Italy’s “heel” in the Salento peninsula. A tiny town with limited accommodations, Otranto is perfect for honeymooners, families with small children, and those in search of a leisurely seaside vacation with calm, turquoise waters of the Adriatic Sea. Those uninterested in making Otranto an overnight destination can easily access the small town by car or bus from the city of Lecce for a day trip. Popular sightseeing spots in Otranto include Baia dei Turchi, a sandy beach perfect for swimming and sunbathing, along with the 15th century Aragonese Castle in Otranto’s town center. The Salento peninsula’s terrain is relatively flat, making Otranto pedestrian-friendly and easily accessible. Since Italians typically take their summer vacations in August, Otranto beaches are best enjoyed in June or early September to avoid crowds.
Arguably one of the most stunning beach towns in Italy, Tropea is a hard-to-reach summertime spot in Italy’s southern region of Calabria, nestled between Sicily and the Amalfi Coast. Tropea’s historic center sits atop a cliff overlooking miles of crystal blue views of the Tyrrhenian Sea. On clear days, onlookers can also spot views of Stromboli in the distance, an Aeolian Island home to an active volcano that is frequently visited by boat. Calabrian cuisine is spicier than other regions of Italy, with Calabrian peppers being the region’s culinary claim to fame. To reach Tropea and explore nearby cities in Calabria, a car is almost necessary, as public transportation throughout the region can be sparse. The trek up and down from the historic center to the beach can be difficult for those with mobility issues, but there is limited parking available near the beach.
While Tuscany as a whole is one of Italy’s most popular tourist destinations, Tuscany’s remote hill town of Pitigliano is a picturesque day trip for those willing to make the drive. While you won’t find many options for dining, roaming the town’s streets and ancient Etruscan remains makes the trip well worth the drive to the top. Often referred to as “the little Jerusalem,” Pitigliano is heavily influenced by the Jewish community and is home to less than 4,000 inhabitants. Frequently overlooked by tourists in Tuscany due to its numerous hill town competitors, Pitigliano is an excellent pitstop while visiting Tuscany to escape the hordes of wine-hungry tourists.
Hidden in Italy’s arid and less industrious region of Basilicata, Castelmezzano is known as one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. Although relatively remote, Castelmezzano and its neighboring town Pietrapertosa are surrounded by rocky mountains commonly referred to as the Lucanian Dolomites. Less than 1,000 inhabitants reside in Castelmezzano, with the destination being ideal for adventure travelers looking to hike, rock climb, and try out the village’s high-speed zipline “Il Volo dell’Angelo” (The Angel’s Flight). Those looking to stay overnight in the village should expect less than luxurious living quarters, as options are few and far between with spotty wireless internet service. The surrounding views and nature, however, more than compensate for the village’s lack of tourist-friendly dining options and accommodations. The region of Basilicata is challenging to reach by train in comparison to more densely populated regions in Italy, but nonetheless possible with a bit of research. Most visitors choose to drive around the region for maximum freedom and convenience. Day-trippers from Basilicata’s better-known ancient city of Matera can reach Castelmezzano by car or organized tour in a little over an hour.
The Sicilian seaside city of Syracuse (or “Siracusa” in Italian) has a history rooted in ancient Rome and Greece, and is known for its ruins within the Archeological Park Neapolis. Many tourists choose to stay in the historic center on the Island of Ortigia, home to Greek ruins such as the Temple of Apollo, along with some of Syracuse’s best dining. In the summer, Sicily is almost unbearably hot, so it is best to take the trip down to Syracuse in the spring or fall for comfortable weather and lower shoulder-season prices. Syracuse is accessible by train from the eastern Sicilian city of Catania. Driving in busy Sicilian cities can be a daunting task for tourists unaccustomed to driving in bustling southern Italian traffic. Opt to visit most of Syracuse on foot to fully take in the culture and sights, as well as work up an appetite for delicious Sicilian cuisine and cannoli.