Italian Adventure: Explore Italy’s Most Precious Hidden Gems

A trip to Italy is on the bucket list of virtually every avid traveler. Seasoned travelers will happily tell you that Italy is so much more than Rome, Milan, and Venice. Some of Italy’s smaller, more rugged towns and outdoor spaces offer an authentic, captivating experience that every adventure lover will cherish for all time.

LAKE ORTA

Located roughly one hour north of Milan, the clear waters of Lake Orta serve as a popular summer getaway for residents of the region. Towering mountains and verdant forests surround Lake Orta. Visitors can swim, kayak, and take a boat ride which offers a stunning view of the region’s striking Roman and Medieval architecture.

Mysterious San Giuilo Island—which is located not far from the shore of Lake Orta—is home to an active Benedictine monastery. Local legend states that in the 5th century, a Christian reformer named Julius of Novara rid Lake Orta of serpents and dragons. Julius of Novara is buried on San Giuilo island, where a basilica that bears his name still stands. San Giuilo island features charming old-world architecture, restaurants that serve delectable food, and ample opportunities to listen to soothing classical music in one of Italy’s most mystical settings.

RAVENNA

The northern town of Ravenna has long attracted art lovers and history buffs even though it generally isn’t on the radar of your average tourist. Home to ornate Byzantine mosaics, a hidden crypt that doubles as a goldfish pond, and white sandy beaches—Ravenna has a little something for everyone.

Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy

Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy | Photo by Sandra Dempsey/unsplash.com

Ravenna’s stunning Byzantine mosaics are the city’s biggest draw. Even if viewing religious artwork doesn’t strike you as an exhilarating vacation activity, the magnificent detail of Ravenna’s stunning mosaics is truly awe-inspiring. Modern artists have also contributed several striking mosaics to the city. There is even a mosaic studio run by working artists that is open to the public where visitors can learn how to create their own mosaics.

Basilica di San Francesco

Basilica di San Francesco | Photo by Jorge Luis Mallavia/Flickr

Aside from the hidden crypt at Basilica di San Francesco which is submerged in water and home to several lively goldfish, the tomb of Divine Comedy author Dante Alighieri is one of Ravenna’s most popular destinations. Dante’s tomb can be a little challenging to locate because the building where it is situated isn’t clearly marked. However, standing in front of the grave of one of the most influential authors of all time is certainly worth wandering down a few unmarked alleyways.

Last but certainly not least, Ravenna is home to several picturesque beaches. If you’re in the mood to party next to thundering waves after spending the day viewing Byzantine mosaics—the restaurants, bars, and nightclubs of Ravenna will not disappoint.

MOUNT ETNA

Mount Etna

Mt Etna, with Catania in the foreground | Photo by BenAveling/Wikipedia

Mount Etna continually makes headlines for being the tallest and most active volcano in Europe. A bombastic February 2022 eruption even created its own lightening. Brave nature lovers can climb Mount Etna and explore caves, landscapes that resemble distant moons, and nature trails which feature a surprising number of trees.

Hikers, mountaineers, and skiers flock to Mount Etna. Several surrounding peaks offer a stunning panoramic view of the beaches and villages of Sicily. Wine lovers from around the world visit the foothills of Mount Etna to enjoy the region’s exquisite wine.

If you have ever yearned to stand in the shadow of an active volcano which has inspired centuries of mythology about vengeful gods—a visit to Mount Etna is an absolute must. Climbing a mountain with sulfuric steam rising from its depths will exhilarate you to the core.

CASTELMEZZANO

Castelmezzano

Castelmezzano | Photo by Paolo P L/Flickr

Those who are familiar with the arresting beauty of some of Italy’s smaller villages consider Castelmezzano to be one of the country’s most stunning locales. Surrounded by jagged mountain peaks, Castelmezzano has historically been considered a place of great strategic importance. In the 13th century AD, Normans built a sprawling castle after which the town is named. The remnants of that ancient castle are still visible today. The residents of Castelmezzano could furiously attack invaders while largely evading retaliation because the surrounding cliffs and high elevation provided a natural barrier against those who wished the townspeople harm.

Castelmezzano is home to many captivating remnants of the past, including a stone staircase known as Gradinata Normanna which once served as a lookout point for defenders of the village. Gradinata Normanna offers a sweeping view of one of the most scenic spots in all of Italy. Castelmezzano’s winding steps, colorful buildings, and dramatic stone peaks are visible from the top of Gradinata Normanna.

Pietrapertosa

Pietrapertosa | Photo by Paolo Dell’Angelo/Flickr

Thrill seekers can zipline to Castelmezzano’s sister village Pietrapertosa by braving the Volo dell’Angelo—or “flight of the angel.” If speeding through the air attached to a thin wire isn’t your cup of tea. Castelmezzano offers several hiking trails which enable visitors to travel to equally beautiful Pietrapertosa.

ISOLA DEI PESCATORI

Isola dei Pescatori

Isola dei Pescatori | Photo by Vlado Ferenčić/Flickr

Considered one of the glitzy Borromean Islands which were once owned and developed by a wealthy Italian family, Isola dei Pescatori–or Fishermen’s Island—is surprisingly quiet and humble. Isola dei Pescatori is an authentic fishing village which has increasingly catered to tourists in recent years.

Lake Maggiore

The view of Lake Maggiore, Italy from Isola Bella | Photo by Lloyd.Lane/Flickr

If you’re looking to evade crowds, most tourists who visit Lake Maggiore are more interested in the grand villas and manicured gardens of nearby Isola Bella and Isola Madre. Isola dei Pescatori is the ideal spot for visitors who wish to spend the day strolling along the shores of a quiet, quaint island which features remnants of a 9th century church and several small restaurants which serve delectable seafood. Isola dei Pescatori is the ideal locale if you yearn to spend an afternoon picnicking by the water and watching the world go by.

TRENTO

Trento

Trento is a cozy northern town which is situated in the shadow of the Alps. Populated by numerous statues of the sea god Neptune, ornate stone carvings of cherubs, and a sprawling castle which now serves as a cultural museum—Trento is steeped in history without being overrun by the large crowds of tourists who occasionally overwhelm cities such as Rome and Florence.

Trento is an excellent destination for science and nature lovers. A museum called Muse celebrates the connection between human beings and nature by showcasing fossils, rocks, and remnants of glaciers. Visitors can take a short yet steep cable car ride from Trento to a quaint mountain village called Sardagna which grants onlookers a staggeringly beautiful view of the landscape below.

ALBEROBELLO

If you love distinctive architecture, a trip to Alberobello should top your list of places to visit in Italy. The quaint town of Alberobello is home to a unique style of building known as trulli. Several centuries ago, the circular white trulli were built in order to evade taxation which applied to more conventional dwellings. The charming rounded trulli appear to house hobbits, gnomes, and other mystical creatures who have no use for flat or pitched roofs.

A stroll through the streets of Alberobello is like being transported to another time and place. Rows of white houses with rounded stone roofs adorned with creeping green vines and blooming red flowers will leave you wondering if you will round the corner only to meet a singing Disney princess, or a fairy with fluttering wings.

CARLOFORTE

Carloforte

Carloforte | Photo by Amilcare Berti/Flickr

Located off the coast of Sardinia on St. Peter’s Island, Carloforte is a sleepy fishing village which is home to several exquisite beaches. Visitors can explore rugged rocky beaches or relax atop fine white sand. Swimming and snorkeling are extremely popular in Carloforte’s aquamarine waters. Carloforte is home to a towering, fully functional lighthouse which was originally constructed in the late 1800s.

Carloforte

Carloforte | Photo by Laura Lugaresi/unsplash.com

Carloforte

Carloforte | Photo by italythisway.com

Carloforte features brightly colored buildings, the occasional flock of pink flamingos who frolic in the waves, and distinctive rock formations which rise from the sea. Local fishermen routinely catch fresh tuna which serves as the cornerstone of local cuisine. Italians from all walks of life delight in visiting Carloforte. If Italian locals love it, there’s a good chance that you will, too.

TROPEA

Tropea

Tropea | Photo by Antonio Salluce/Flickr

Local legend states that the unbelievably gorgeous seaside town of Tropea was founded by Jupiter’s son Hercules. It is no wonder that onlookers believe that breathtaking Tropea—with its pristine sapphire-colored waters, sweeping cliffs, and lilac-hued sunsets has always had some sort of divine touch.

Tropea

Tropea is popular among Europeans and Italians but is lesser known to the rest of the world. Those who are seeking to be wowed by Italy’s rich cultural heritage and legendary natural beauty should certainly spend a few days in Tropea.

Santa Maria dell' Isola

Santa Maria dell’ Isola | Photo by Hans Dirix/Flickr

The iconic Sanctuary of Santa Maria dell’isola is a striking 6th century Benedictine monastery which is perched atop a steep cliff. Due to a series of natural disasters, the church has a more modern appearance because it has been reconstructed on several occasions. The Sanctuary of Santa Maria dell’isola offers an absolutely stunning view of the surrounding waters.

Tropea’s historic district offers visitors the chance to view some of Italy’s most charming architecture while inhaling invigorating sea air. After you spend a few hours soaking in Tropea’s natural and man-made beauty, you will understand why the area around Tropea is known as the Coast of the Gods.

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