Everybody agrees that Italy is the perfect holiday destination and people from all over the world plan a visit to the uniquely boot-shaped country at least once in their lives. I was lucky enough to be born and raised in Italy, and I was even more fortunate to grow up in a family of mature travelers.
Both my mum and dad didn’t have the chance to travel when they were young, especially my dad who was born into a family of farmers who could barely afford to buy him books for school.
As soon as they found each other and started their company, they decided it was time to discover the world. I spent entire days sitting in the back seat of our car while we were heading to Scotland or Spain or Normandy – or you name it. At the age of 11 I had already visited plenty of countries in Europe, I experienced an unforgettable coast to coast trip in the USA and Mexico and had also been to a few countries in Asia.
But the weird thing is that Italy was never on our list. Sometimes, during the Easter holidays, we visited the most renewed Italian cities such as Milan, Bologna, Florence, Arezzo, never making it more southern than Rome. We were completely fascinated by different cultures and traditions, and we never had the feeling that the south of Italy was worth our time.
Around the age of 27, while my travel addiction was exploding and I was planning my year abroad I realised that it was simply wrong to know the whole world better than my country. That day I made a promise to myself, to spend some time exploring the south of Italy. I owned it to my own culture.
These are the regions I visited and the ones that conquered my heart.
Travelers seeking turquoise waters and white-sand beaches usually end up in exotic locations around the world, I knew about a few incredible beaches in the south of Italy, and I decided to begin my exploration with Sardinia. I was extremely curious about this big island renowned not just for the clear and pristine waters but also for the thousand-year-old history and the incredible culinary tradition.
I rented a car, started up north with the famous Emerald Coast and headed to the south until I reached a stunning fishing and resort town called Carloforte, located approximately 7 kilometers off the southwestern coast of Sardinia. On my way there I fell in love with every single little town, with the fantastic food, with the beaches that made me feel like I was back to the Maldives.
I admit it – for me, this is the ONE region and I never have enough of it.
Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, and it is sadly known for the terrible criminal organisation that with the help of Hollywood rendered the island so famous in the world. I have to be honest with you; I was a bit scared the day I planned my visit to the Island, but I had the pleasure of having a close friend of mine living there that kindly offered to host me for two weeks. It took me not even 24 hours to become crazy about the island; it probably happened while I was having my first Sicilian breakfast with a croissant and a “granita”, a semi-frozen drink made with crushed ice and lemon.
I learned how unfair it was to characterise Sicily as just the birthplace of Mafia. This incredible Island should be renowned for the delicious food that in a recent ranking by Forbes was listed among the top five in the world for places with great street food, holding the top spot in Europe.
And then there is the Mount Etna, the tallest active volcano in Europe with its height of more than 3,000 meters and one of the most active in the world. Last but not least there are the beaches. With over 1,000 km of coastline the island offers some excellent beaches to choose from: golden sandy beaches, pebbly coves, unspoilt nature reserves and bustling seaside resorts. If you are addicted to long sandy beaches, head to the ones in the north of the island while if you’d rather discover wild and untouched beaches, the south could appeal more while the east coast has countless rocky beaches.
I’m not ashamed to say that I ended up crying the day I left the island and the friendly local people I met there.
Calabria is the region lapped by the crystal turquoise waters of both the Tyrrhenian and Ionian Seas forming the “toe” of the Italian Peninsula. Despite its fame built on the spicy delights such as its hot peppers and ‘Nduja, the local salami, this region often remains off the beaten track. During my stay in Calabria, I had the chance to explore the amazing National Parks and had some of the best hikes of my life in the Pollino, Serre, Sila, and Aspromonte National Parks.
I was also rewarded by a dramatic landscape, tourist-free hilltop villages and a spectacular and varied coastline. I will always remember the day I headed to Capo Rizzuto Marine Park where I spotted dolphins. And then Praja a Mare, Scilla, Tropea, fabulous beaches that made me understand the reason Calabria is often referred to as the Caribbean of Europe.
When I was there I felt extremely connected to nature and got swept away by the sublime natural beauty that surrounds the region.
Puglia or Apulia forms the high heel on the “boot” of Italy bordering the Adriatic Sea in the east, the Ionian Sea to the south-east, and the Strait of Òtranto and Gulf of Taranto in the south. My visit there started in the north of the Region where a dear friend of mine got married on top of a hill overlooking the seaside. Let me tell you that I’ve never seen such a stunning location for a wedding. After a few days spent celebrating, I rented a car and headed south till Santa Maria di Leuca the southernmost tip of the Salento peninsula where the waters of the Adriatic Sea merge with those of the Ionian. On my way there I visited gorgeous towns including the hobbit-like Trulli of Alberobello, I was astonished by the flat landscape and the olive trees, and I had the chance to stay in a few Masseria, working farms that produce their own olive oil, wine, vegetables and cheeses, where I was offered with long home-cooked dinners made using products from the farms.
Regarding the beaches, starting from the north of Apulia I visited the rocky, mountainous promontory of the Gargano that offers some stunning coastal scenery, followed by the transparent waters and sandy beaches of Torre dell’Orso and the Laghi Alimini, two lakes immersed in wonderful Mediterranean pine woods that I reached while heading south on the Adriatic coast. Finally, once I arrived in Santa Maria di Leuca, I couldn’t avoid a visit to the famous lighthouse and one of the most lovely stretches of sandy beach in Italy running along Marina di Salve, through Marina di Pescoluse and up to Torre Pali.
I left the south of Italy completely fascinated by the charm that characterizes its small towns and speechless about the fact that some of the best beaches I’ve seen in my life are not even one hour flight away from where my parents live. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to complete my tour of the south, and there are a few astonishing regions, beaches and little town waiting for me. Don’t worry; I’ll keep you posted about my next adventures in the south of Italy but in the meantime trust me, it’s time for you to pack your luggage and discover these incredible lands.