Top 5 Places to Visit in Southern Italy
Imagine a region that has miles of white sand beaches on one coast, picturesque rocky bays on the other, two mountainous national parks, and one of the world’s oldest cities. Add lots of warm sunshine plus fine food and you might expect the area to be a tourist mecca, busy with hotels and tour buses. However, Basilicata, the arch and instep of Italy’s boot, has all the above but – thanks admittedly to a history of poverty and difficult access – little mass tourism.
Amalfi Coast, Popular Southern Italy Vacation Destination
Southern Italy’s scenic Amalfi Coast is a top vacation destination, especially in summer. Cliffs rise dramatically above the sea and picturesque villages cling to the cliffs, making for spectacular scenery.
One of the most popular Amalfi Coast towns is Positano, seen in the movie The Talented Mr. Ripley. Another good resort town to visit is Amalfi. Once one of the four powerful Maritime Republics it’s now a charming town with interesting medieval architecture. While the narrow, windy coast road offers good views it can also be very crowded, especially in high season. Ferries connect several of the villages and can be a more comfortable way to travel. Those traveling by public transportation may find it more convenient to stay in the town of Sorrento, on the opposite side of the peninsula.
Matera, Sassi Cave Houses and Medieval City
Matera is one of my favorite places in Italy both for the fascinating Sassi district, a ravine with ancient cave dwellings and churches and for the modern town above the Sassi, dating from the 13th century. The Sassi district is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Several movies have been filmed in Matera, including Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.
A good first look at the Sassi is from the overlook near Piazza Vittorio Veneto or Piazza Sedile. From there, you can walk down the stairs to explore the winding alleys of the Sassi and visit one or two of the Rupestrian churches, some with medieval frescoes. Cave hotels offer unique lodging in the Sassi. Matera is in the Basilicata region, the instep of the boot and one of Italy’s least visited regions. If you have a car, it’s an interesting region to explore. Matera can be reached by bus from most major cities in Basilicata or neighboring Puglia or by train from Bari.
Naples, Southern Italy’s Top City to Visit
Naples is southern Italy’s largest city and has a wealth of interesting sights. Naples is famous as the birthplace of pizza and is a great city for eating fresh seafood. The city also makes a good base for Bay of Naples day trips. Start with a walk around Naples historic center, an area of narrow streets packed with interesting things to see and do. Naples is known for its lavish nativity scenes and artisan workshops that create terra cotta figurines for nativities. You’ll find many of them on Via San Gregorio Armeno.
The National Archeology Museum of Naples has one of the world’s best collections of Greek and Roman artifacts, many coming from the nearby excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum. There are several other museums in Naples well worth a visit. Be sure to visit the Royal Palace, or Palazzo Reale and see the two castles, Castel dell’Ovo and Castel Nuovo, too..
Alberobello and the Salento Peninsula of Puglia, the Heel of the Boot
The unique trulli of Puglia are one of southern Italy’s most unusual sights. Trulli are concentrated in and around Alberobello and the town’s trulli zone has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site (see photos)
South of Alberobello the Salento Peninsula offers clean beaches, charming seaside towns like Gallipoli and Otranto, and the Baroque city of Lecce. Check out the Puglia Map and Guide for an overview.
Puglia offers a couple of interesting options for lodging. Around Alberobello, some trulli have been renovated and turned into hotels or vacation apartments while throughout the region you can stay in a masseria, a restored manor house that has been made into comfortable, and sometimes even luxurious, accommodations. See Trulli Hotels and Masseria Lodging for suggestions.
Greek Temples and Baroque Towns of Southeastern Sicily
Sicily, the Mediterranean’s largest island, has many sites, beaches, and towns to explore so it’s recommended to choose one part of the island. Southeastern Sicily has a good variety of interesting places to visit. This area is easily reached by taking the car ferry or flying into Catania airport.
Agrigento’s Valley of the Temples Archeological Park is a group of Greek temples dating from the 5th – 4th centuries BC that’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. A small museum houses finds from the park. Agrigento’s small historic center is also worth a visit.