Italy Travel Highlights 2018

Martha's Italy Top Picks

Our Italy travels in 2018 featured a week in Palermo, 3 trips to Rome, and 3 relatively unknown places: the Molise region, the beautiful Val Chisone in Piemonte, and a spa town in the hills of Emilia-Romagna.

Palermo, Sicily

Palermo was on our list of recommended places to go in 2018, since it was the 2018 Italian Capital of Culture, so we took our own advice and spent a week in this fascinating city. Palermo’s monuments and churches feature stunning mosaics and architecture with Byzantine, Arab, and Norman influence. Nine of its Norman monuments and churches are part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site that also includes the cathedrals in nearby Monreale and Cefalu.

We stayed in the well-appointed Downtown House apartment, with a great owner, a very good place to spend a week. Palermo is known for its lively historic markets and street food and there’s plenty of great seafood so eating was a highlight of our visit.

palatine chapel palermo
The Palatine Chapel inside Palermo's Royal Palace


On our 3 trips to Rome we stayed in vacation apartments in the neighborhoods of Campo Marzio and Monti. In spring we traveled with our friends Martha and Mike who write a Path to Lunch. Highlights of that week were visiting historic libraries, taking a couple of fabulous tours (see links below), and enjoying some great food.

On our late spring visit we took a day trip to the Sabine Hills , 40 minutes by train, and visited pretty medieval villages with our hosts Guido and Sally of Convivio Rome Italian Cooking Holidays. During our trips we also got to catch up with fellow writers from Flavor of Italy, Romewise, and Gillian’s Lists.

colosseum photo
Colosseum with Rome Skyline Behind, View from Upper Levels

Molise Region

Little Molise is one of Italy’s less visited regions. In spring we explored the Isernia province, the western part of the region. We visited the cities of Agnone and Isernia and smaller villages where it sometimes seems like time has stopped. Traditions are still alive in Molise. People seemed friendly and surprised to see non-Italian visitors.

Agnone is known for its bell foundry, one of the oldest in the world. Isernia, in one of Europe’s largest prehistoric areas, has a Museum of Paleontology and Archaeology. Both Agnone and Isernia have small but interesting historic centers. Pietrabbondante, a picturesque town wedged against huge rocks, has extensive Samnite ruins and a well-preserved Greek theater just outside the town. Castles top other medieval villages that are fun to explore.

fountain isernia molise
Fraterna Fountain in Isernia, Molise

Val Chisone, Piemonte

Val Chisone, stretching west from Turin to the French border, was part of the 2006 Olympic games. Although it’s a great place for skiing and hiking, it’s still relatively unknown. We stayed with our friends Marla and Fabrizio, fabulous cooks and hosts who own Bella Baita Italian Alps Mountain Retreat, a great place to stay to explore Val Chisone.

In addition to many hiking trails and ski areas, the valley is home to small villages that are fun to visit and artisan food producers. Several of the villages are decorated with murals and the huge Fenestrelle Fortress is reached by climbing the longest covered stairway in the world, nearly 4000 steps. Pinerolo is a larger town with an interesting Cathedral and good open air market.

murals in val chisone piemonte
Murals in the Village of Usseaux, Val Chisone

Spa Town and Castles in Emilia-Romagna

Near the Emilia-Romagna town of Fidenza, Salsomaggiore Terme is a spa town that makes a great base for visiting nearby castles and small medieval towns. Salsomaggiore Terme features several art deco buildings, the best being Berzieri Thermal Spa, the town’s landmark. The town has a nice main square in front of the spa where you can relax with a drink at one of the bars, a pedestrian zone with shops, and a large park.

thermae berzieri salsomaggiore
Berzieri Thermal Spa in Salsomaggiore by James Martin
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Italy Travel Highlights 2018 originally appeared on , updated: Feb 14, 2021.