Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Hidden Jems: The best part of Italy
For every region of Italy that’s well known to travellers from all around the world, there is another quieter and less-explored option. There exist parts of Italy that are more firmly lodged in the world consciousness than many corners of our own country it’s not for nothing that one of the most enduringly popular areas of Tuscany has become known as “Chiantishire”. Such places draw their visitor numbers for a good reason; but there remain countless parts of Italy that are less familiar but equally rewarding. Here’s our pick of them.
If you like Tuscany… try Le Marche
Umbria is the obvious alternative to Tuscany but its hills and wines are fast becoming as well known as its neighbours’. So if you’re looking for somewhere new to visit but with the charm and scenery of Tuscany, try Le Marche - a mainly agricultural region on the Adriatic coast with just an hour between the beach and the Sibillini mountains. The Sibillini national park is ideal for walking, gentle cycling, mountain biking or horse riding. E lsewhere the region is dotted with caves including the famous Grotte di Frasassi which includes a cavern so large that it would fit Milan Cathedral inside it. The wines are little known outside Italy but are a joy to discover, while the food, like the region, is a mix of sea and land with regional dishes of both fish and game.
If you like Umbria… try Piedmont
If Le Marche doesn’t do it for you then Piedmont will. For epicures looking for the finest that Italy has to offer, this region abutting the French and Swiss borders is the place to go, as the towns that lend their names to food and drink show - Asti, Cinzano, Barolo. Most of Italy’s rice is grown here and risotto is a signature dish. In fact, this is where the Slow Food Movement, dedicated to real cooking with traditional ingredients, began.The medieval town of Alba is famous for its white truffles, and those wishing to give themselves a hearty appetite can take cycling or walking excursions in the Langhe Hills first. When you can eat no more, there’s skiing in north of the region or the baroque city of Turin to explore.
If you like Campania… try Lazio
History buffs often head to Campania wanting to visit Pompeii, Herculaneum and the treasures of Naples’ museums. But fascinating ruins in the midst of great scenery can also be found via a day trip from another booming metropolis, in the region of Lazio outside Rome. What’s more, the whole region is accessible by public transport. The most interesting ruins can be found in the north of Lazio, which was developed around 800BC by the Estrucans. Other important sites are Ostia Antica, the ruined port of imperial Rome and the ruins of Villa Adriana, Hadrian’s Palace, near Tivoli. There are beaches but, if you’re looking for somewhere to wash the dust off, Bracciano and Bolsena are volcanic lakes popular with Italians.
If you like the Amalfi coast … try Taormina
The mountainous Amalfi Coast is a popular tourist destination with its dramatic cliffs dropping into the blue Mediterranean; but if you’re looking for quieter mountains, perhaps Sicily is the answer. On the hill of Monte Tauro, overlooking two sweeping bays and the top of Mount Etna, Taormina gives visitors breathtaking views of all the little seaside towns. It has been praised by writers and artists of many generations: Goethe, D H L awrence, A lexander Dumas, John Steinbeck, Paul K lee and Gustav K limt. There’s excellent shopping both for the big brands and smaller curios, and a range of local wines and foods to try. In the daytime, visitors can explore the medieval streets and alleyways leading to hidden gardens or terraces overlooking the coast. At night the streets are perfect for an evening stroll, and very occasionally you might spot steam and light as E tna bubbles over and lava flows down her steep slopes. The nearest airport to Taormina is at the bustling port city of Catania, about 45km away.