Italy is full of interesting places to visit. In addition to the top Italian cities, these are my recommendations for great places to visit in Italy this year. Most of these places are still fairly off the beaten path, making for interesting travel experiences without huge tourist crowds.
Italian Capital of Culture 2017: Pistoia
The Tuscan city of Pistoia, near Florence, is the Italian Capital of Culture for this year so there will be lots of special cultural events happening throughout the year. Pistoia’s compact historic center has great medieval architecture, art, and museums, giving travelers a lot to see in a small area. Visitors can see an 18th century anatomical theater and take an underground tour at Ceppo Hospital, founded in 1277, one of the world’s oldest continuously operating hospitals.
Pistoia can easily be visited as a day trip from Florence or it can be a good base for visiting Florence, Lucca, Montecatini Terme, and Pisa. There are plenty of good places to eat in the city and the train station is a short walk from the center. Find a hotel in Pistoia.
East Lombardy Region of Gastronomy
Part of Northern Italy’s Lombardy region was named as a European Region of Gastronomy 2017. Four Italian cities and their provinces are included in this region and all are great places to visit, not only for the food but also for their historic sights. This area, one of Italy’s major agricultural zones, was chosen for its traditional foods, wines, and high-quality gastronomic products.
The beautiful Renaissance city of Mantova, one of the four cities, was last year’s Italian Capital of Culture. Its cuisine is said to have developed in the 14th – 18th centuries, during the reign of the Gonzaga family. Mantova makes a good base for visiting eastern Lombardy. Find a hotel in Mantova.
Puglia, the Heel of the Boot
Southern Italy’s Puglia region, known as the heel of the boot, is becoming more popular with tourists but still offers a good off-the-tourist-track experience, except during August when coast towns become overrun with beach-goers. Now is a good time to go, before it becomes too touristy.
Puglia is known for its beautiful, clean beaches and its unusual trulli, unique stone houses with conical roofs. Lecce, one of the top cities, is a good place to see Baroque monuments and it’s the end of the national rail line along the east coast as well as the start of the Salento peninsula with charming seaside towns such as Otranto and Gallipoli. Read more about the peninsula in Salento by 5: Friendship, Food, Music and Travel Within the Heel of Italy’s Boot.
To the north, the Gargano promontory, the spur of the boot, offers a varied landscape, from the sea to the forested center, and interesting towns that see fewer tourists outside of the summer season. Puglia offers several types of Unusual Lodging, from renovated farm houses to trulli.
Matera and Basilicata
Basilicata, the instep of the boot, is still a region that’s relatively undiscovered by tourists although it has Greek and Roman ruins, beaches and seaside towns, and charming inland villages. The region is best known for the fascinating cave dwellings of Matera, one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities. Since the city will be a 2019 European Capital of Culture, lots of improvements are being made. Matera, one of Italy’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, is another place to go before it becomes too touristy.
Once a city of crowded cave houses known for poverty and disease, the cave settlements have been cleaned up and given new life. Boutique hotels are opening in abandoned caves that have been renovated and some cave houses have been restored and opened to the public to see what living in a cave dwelling used to be like. You can also visit renovated cave churches with frescoes. Wandering through the cave settlements of the sassi districts is fascinating.
Take a guided tour of the cave districts for a great introduction to Matera. If you want to stay in a cave hotel, I recommend Locanda di San Martino Hotel and Spa, Matera with a thermal pool in a cave. See more Matera hotels.
Sicily’s Wine Regions
Sicily, one of the hottest regions in the Mediterranean, is becoming a top destination for wine travel. The island of Sicily has a lot to offer culturally and historically, from well-preserved Greek temples and Roman sites to Baroque towns, vibrant cities like Palermo, many charming villages, and even a volcano. Of course Sicily also has many fantastic beaches and seaside towns.
Wine has been produced on the island for many centuries, starting as early as the 8th century BC when the Greeks started cultivating grapes, and today some wines are still produced from the ancient, indigenous vines. 90 Sicilian wine producers have formed a consortium, Sicilia DOC, to introduce people to Sicily’s wines and to preserve and promote the island’s wine-making. Visiting a few of Sicily’s wine producers from the consortium is a great addition to your vacation. Read more about Wine Travel in Sicily.
More Italy Travel Planning
- Take a learning vacation – try a cooking or art class, learn Italian, or participate in a special workshop or volunteer program.
- See more recommendations for where to go in my 2016 highlights.
- Buy tickets for museums and sites before you go from Select Italy.
- Buy tickets for fast trains before you go in US dollars.
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