I have marveled at Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel in Rome, explored the ruins of Pompeii, hiked in Cinque Terre, taken THAT photo with the Leaning Tower of Pisa, been sunkissed on the Amalfi Coast, walked the narrow streets of Florence, felt my heart grow heavy while looking at Bridge of Sighs in Venice and so much more.
I have done almost all the must-do things in Italy, but there are still so many charming cities left to be explored. Therefore I have made this off the beaten path bucket list. Have a look and see if there is not something you would like to add to your Italian bucket list – you know we all have one.
Where to go in Italy
Just to let you know where we will be going:
Ravenna – every art lover’s dream
Ravenna, a charming city located in the northern part of the Italian province of Emilia Romagna, is every art and history lover’s dream come true. It’s mostly known for its extensive mosaics, but it’s also just a picturesque town with none of the noise and chaos that you often encounter in the larger Italian cities. Furthermore, the white sandy beaches of the Adriatic Sea are easily reached from Ravenna, so if you love history, art AND the beach – this is the place to go.
A little history: Ravenna was the capital of the Western Roman Empire form 402 until 476. It then served as the capital of the Ostrogothic Kingdom until it was re-conquered in 540 by the Byzantine Empire. The mosaics in Ravenna’s basilicas and baptisteries are a testament to the city’s history and is said to be among the most beautiful in the world. Ravenna has eight UNESCO world heritage sites: Basilica di San Vitale, Mausoleo di Galla Placidia, Battistero degli Ortodossi,Battisterodegli Ariani, Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo,Chapel of Sant’Andrea,Mausoleo di Teodorico and Basilica of Sant’Appolinare in Classe.
Maybe you won’t have time end energy to see them all, but you should definitely see these three:
- Basilica di San Vitale
- Mausoleo di Galla
- Basilica di Sant´Apollinare Nuovo
Bergamo – the “Italian masterpiece”
“Bergamo – an Italian masterpiece”. So it says on the official tourism website (you gotta love that Italian bravado), but from what I hear and read – it’s not just all talk. Bergamo really should be worth a visit. Located between Milan and Venice it is often overlooked by tourists, but Bergamo should have all the right elements such as great food, a rich history and beautiful surroundings to satisfy anyone with a soft spot for Italy.
Bergamo is made up by Città Bassa (the lower part of town) and Città Alta (you guessed it, the upper part of town). Bergamo Alta has a lot to offer if you are looking for the old Italy.
- Piazza Vecchia in Città Alta. The Piazza is said to be one of the most beautiful squares in Italy. It’s surrounded by old palaces, and a 12th century bell tower completes the scene.
- The Venetian Walls. Bergamo’s upper city is enclosed by an impressive stone wall started in 1561 by the Republic of Venice in order to face enemies attacks (this was at a time when Bergamo was part of the Venetian Republic). The wall consist of 14 bastions, 2 platforms, 100 embrasures for cannons, 2 armouries, four gates and is 3 miles long.
- Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore is said to be the most striking of all of Bergamo’s churches. It started out as an Roman temple, was then turned into a Christian church, and in the 12th century it became a basilica.
Sicily – a land of plenty
Sicily, home of the Italian Mafia, Greek ruins, great seafood, Mount Etna, breathtaking landscapes and cheap wine. Really, what’s not to like?!
- Palermo catacombs. Walk amongst the dead in the Palermo catacombs and see the world’s most beautiful mummy, two-year-old Rosalia Lombardo. In the old days people paid a lot of money to be mummified and thereby preserve their status and dignity – even in death.
- Mount Etna. You can’t go to Siciliy without climbing Mount Etna, Europe’s highest volcano.
- Scala dei Turchi. Close to Agrigento in the southern part of Siciliy you find Scala dei Turchi, a nature-made staircase made of soft limestone and blinding white marl, leading into the ocean. Scala dei Turchi rises 164ft into the air and resembles a big white meringue.
- Visit the Catania fish market.
Matera – an ancient city
Matera is a very old town famous for its extensive cave-dwelling districts called the Sassi. The dwellings lead back to the first human settlements in the world and were inhabited up until the 1950s, but due to the unhygienic conditions of the dwellings, a law was passed that forced the population of the Sassi to areas of the developing modern city. Basilicata used to bee a poor region, but tourists have gotten their eyes up for the ancient dwellings, which has helped the economy a lot. Matera was included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1993, and in 2019 Matera is the European capital of culture.
- Sassi Barisano. The dwellings in this area have not been “beautified” for tourist, so if you want to get a sense of the poverty and misery that used to be part of living in these dwellings, this is the place to go.
- Sassi Caveso. Sassi Caveso has undergone a big transformation, and today you find boutique hotels, restaurants and galleries in this part of town.
Alberobello – home of the trulli
Alberobello, home of the famous trulli, has to be seen. The town is located in the southern region of Apulia and is home to some pretty unique houses called trulli – or a trullo. A trullo is a stone hut made of limestone boulders featuring a pyramidal, domed or conical roof built up of corbelled limestone slabs. It might not sound very interesting, but if you see a picture of a trullo, I’m pretty sure you will want to go as well. The trulli of Alberobello have been on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1996.
- Well, a trullo, of course.
- Why not spend a night in one.
- Visit a dairy farm to see how the Italians make mozzarella and burrata the old way – the way it should be made.
Piedmont – the Italian pantry
Barolo, truffles, risotto, nuts…mmmnn…really I just want to go to Piedmont to eat and drink while I take in the beautiful scenery of rolling hills and towering mountains.
Must see sights:
- Eat at the two Michelin star restaurant Antica Corona Reale in Cervere. The restaurant has been managed by the Vivalda family for more than 200 years. I think that says something about dedication, staying-power and quality.
- Nature. Piedmont is known for its beautiful scenery that is easily explored by foot or bike. The region borders Switzerland and France and is almost surrounded by the Alps. While in Piedmont you can go hiking, follow one of the numerous wine trails, visit the picturesque Borromean Islands or jump in a spa when your body hurts from all the activity. Piedmont is definitely a place for the outdoorsy-types as well as the foodies.
- Go truffle-hunting.
And after you have visited some of the above places you can still hold on to that Italy-feel for a little while with the book recommendations from Kate Storm who runs the travel blog Our Escape Clause.
I hope this list inspired you. If so – why not pin it for later. You have to do the hover-thing:-)