Italy offers a wide variety of places to go, sometimes making it hard to narrow down an itinerary. My picks for top places to go in 2019 are all part of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and include 3 prehistoric things to see (cave houses, rock carvings, and a Copper Age mummy), one of Europe’s oldest cities, and the art of Leonardo da Vinci. Where to go in 2019:
Matera, European Capital of Culture 2019
Matera, in southern Italy’s Basilicata region, is one of the world’s oldest inhabited cities. People inhabited houses in caves or dug into the soft limestone from prehistoric times until the 1950’s. Today some of the houses have been renovated to make hotels, restaurants, or shops and several of the old rock-cut churches can be visited. Walking through the two ravines, lined with caves, is a unique experience. Matera’s two sassi districts make up a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The more modern city at the top of the ravines, mainly built in the 13th century, is also interesting. View spots give visitors a good look at the sassi districts spread out along the ravines below and the city offers churches, museums, big public squares, and a pedestrian area with cafes, restaurants, and shops. Matera is the 2019 European Capital of Culture so lots of special events are planned, making this year a great time to visit.
- Matera Travel Guide
- Where to Stay: Locanda di San Martino Hotel and Thermae Romanae in the sassi district or Albergo Italia in the modern town with views of the sassi.
- Basilicata Region Map and Guide
Valcamonica, Italy’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site
It’s been 40 years since the rock carvings of Valcamonica was designated as Italy’s first UNESCO World Heritage site. Thousands of prehistoric petroglyphs have been found on rocks in this beautiful mountain valley. Naquane, in Capo di Ponte, is the main park to visit where you can see many examples of rock carvings along a trail with signage explaining them. 2019 will see special events celebrating its 40 years as a UNESCO site.
Valcamonica, or Valle Camonica, is north of Lake Iseo, in northern Italy’s Lombardy region. The scenic valley is dotted with small villages and castles and has many hiking trails. You could easily spend a week exploring this off the beaten track area.
Naples is one of the top places to go in southern Italy. Naples is one of Europe’s oldest cities, having been founded by the Greeks in the 9th century BC, then later inhabited by the Romans. Several underground Roman sites can be visited and Greek and Roman artifacts are housed in the impressive National Archeological Museum. Naples has a fascinating historic center, a beautiful Royal Palace, two castles, a historic opera house, museums, and a pleasant harbor area. Several of southern Italy’s top sights, including the ancient city of Pompeii and the island of Capri, can easily be visited as day trips.
Naples historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage site. In 2019, a joint promotion of the UNESCO sites of Valcamonica, Matera and Naples is planned which will include educational activities and special events.
- Naples Travel Guide
- Naples Day Trips
- Where to Stay: We stayed at the Decumani Hotel de Charme, a nice hotel in the historic center.
Bolzano and the Dolomites Mountains
One of Italy’s most recent additions to the UNESCO World Heritage sites is the Dolomites Mountain Range, south of Austria. The western side is in the part of northern Italy called Sudtirol, in the Alto-Adige region, an area reflecting its Austrian heritage where you’ll still hear German spoken. Recently South Tyrol has become a wellness destination with many spas, hotels, and good restaurants, including 27 Michelin-starred restaurants. The Dolomites are famed for great skiing and winter sports and hiking in summer. Snow often lasts into May so if you’re planning to hike, June through September are probably the best months to go.
My friend Mike, of a Path to Lunch, recommends staying in the city of Bolzano, which he says is a nice sized city with an interesting mix of German and Italian. Bolzano has an interesting historic center but its gem is Otzi the Iceman, a 5300 year old mummy found in 1991 in the mountains near the Austrian border. Otzi can be seen in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, opened in 1998 as a permanent place for Otzi and displays about his life and the Copper Age.
Milan, 500th anniversary of da Vinci’s death
Leonardo da Vinci, one of Italy’s best-known Renaissance artists, died on May 2, 1519. To commemorate his death, the city of Milan will have special events from May, 2019 through January, 2020 and will showcase some of his lesser known works in special exhibits. One of the top exhibits will be the Virtual Museum of Leonardo’s Milan starting May 2 in the Sforza Castle’s Museo d’Arte Antica. Four exhibits at the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, running all year, feature da Vinci’s drawing methods and studies in architecture and science.
Several of da Vinci’s works are permanently on exhibit in Milan, including his famous painting of the Last Supper in the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. One of his notebooks filled with drawings, the Codex Atlanticus, is in the Ambrosiana Library next to the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana Museum and his Codex Trivulzianus, a study in architecture and religion, is in the Trivulziana Library in Castello Sforzesco. The Leonardo da Vinci Science and Technology Museum has original da Vinci drawings and models based on his inventions.
- Milan Guide
- Last Supper Tickets from Select Italy
- Find a hotel in Milan
- Special 2019 Exhibitions at Sforza Castle
New Rome and Florence Tours in 2019
Use promo code ITALYMARTHA for 5% discount on these small group tours:
- Super Early Vatican Gold Tour that really beats the crowds!
- Rome in a Day Tour including Vatican Museums and Colosseum tours
- Day Trip from Rome to Pompeii and Sorrento
- Florence in a Day Tour from Rome includes Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David
- Day Trip from Florence to San Gimignano and Chianti Wine Tasting
Italy Guide Books
More Places to go in Italy
Plan ahead for 2020: Parma will be the Italian Capital of Culture 2020
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