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Top Places to Visit in the South of Italy

Top Places to Visit in the South of Italy

When one thinks of the south, images of oceans and refreshing cocktails coupled with the feeling of the sun on your skin spring to mind, right? Well, combine that with delicious food, stunning architecture and southern hospitality and you will see that you have landed in the beckoning regions of southern Italy. Being able to get to southern regions from Milan via train, plane or car, allows for a long weekend getaway or time spent leisurely spread throughout the regions of Campania, Apulia and the breathtaking island of Sicily. The southern regions are filled to the brim with cities that will want to make you relocate there, but let’s whet your appetite with the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii, Lecce, Alberobello, Taormina and Siracusa (believe me, you’ll be going back for more!) 

Region of Campania

Amalfi Coast 

Amalfi Coast / Photo by Mike Morgan

One can’t mention the south of Italy without speaking of the stunning Amalfi Coast peppered with breathtaking towns along the scenic highway. This UNESCO World Heritage-listed stretch of coastline in the Campania region, is 60km south of Naples and 20km from Sorrento. It stretches for around 50km, with 13 towns and villages connected by the SS163 highway, a road that is known to be one of the most breathtaking driving routes in Europe. If you’re lucky (or brave enough) perhaps you can hop on the back of a motorcycle to experience the view instead of the usual ferry or train route from Naples (check here for various travel options.)

SS163 Highway / Photo by Taver

From Naples, Campania’s capital and third-largest city in Italy, many visitors will make their way to the coast for at least a day trip to explore the towns of Amalfi and Positano. Amalfi, the biggest town, has a large selection of places to stay with a buzzing social atmosphere. Positano is known to be the “hip” spot in the Amalfi Coast, with high-end restaurants and a great nightlife but also a romantic place popular with couples. However, if you want to add more areas to your travels in the Amalfi Coast like Sorrento, Capri, and Pompeii, it’s best to plan for at least 3-4 days of exploration. Sorrento, not only known for its beauty, but as the home of an abundant amount of fresh lemon groves and Capri, famous for its magical and captivating sea cave, the Blue Grotto, are 100 percent worth the extra days in the Amalfi Coast.

Pompeii

Pompeii / Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Deserving a section all to itself, discovering Pompeii never gets old  – as ironic as that statement may be. This world famous archaeological ruins of a city destroyed by Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. is an unforgettable destination. Nearly 2,000 years ago before Mt. Vesuvius erupted in the summer of A.D. 79, destroying the town and killing an estimated 2000 residents. Luckily, as with any towns in this coastal region, it can be accessed quickly from Sorrento via the Circumvesuviana for a 35-minute ride. Visiting the ruins is a surreal experience as it feels like going back in time as you are able to see the preserved buildings, artwork, and even the forms of bodies as they decomposed and left holes in the ash. It is highly recommended to participate in a guided group tour as the places to uncover and the information to digest can be overwhelming on your own, but if you’d rather explore by yourself, there are detailed routes you can take throughout the site.

Region of Apulia

Lecce

Lecce / Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Known as the “Florence of the south,” Lecce is one of the true gems of the Apulia region. Famous for its Baroque-style artwork or “Lecce Baroque”, this town is littered with numerous buildings, palaces, and winding streets that will serve you with an endless amount of items to discover as you stroll through this town. For example, set your foot within the Roman Amphitheatre in Piazza Sant’Oronzo, admire the beauty of the Lecce Cathedral (plus the many more local churches), or just simply stroll through the piazzas and take in the lively atmosphere. For more sites to explore, including museums, visit here. 

Roman Amphitheatre / Photo from Roman Amphitheatre

In addition to the history and art offered there, you can also add beaches to this exciting list. The nearest beach to Lecce is San Cataldo on the Adriatic Coast, a 20-minute drive, or head west to the Ionian Coast. There you can bask in the sun on the Torre Lapillo and Punta Prosciutto and admire the sea and soft, white sand. As you can see, Lecce is an ideal base for exploring other areas if desired, including less than 90 minutes to the popular Alberobello.

Torre Lapillo / Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Alberobello

Alberobello / Photo by Pille Kirsi

After exploring Lecce, you will definitely want to make your way to the trulli town of Alberobello, a UNESCO world heritage site. Truly, these trullis are not to be missed. These distinct huts with conical roofs are found all over the Valle d’Itria in southern Italy. It is said that these trullis were constructed by a former ruler to evade taxes, so that if anyone came to investigate, the residents would remove the key stone, and the trulli would collapse. Then, they would rebuild. Allegedly, this continued for 300 years until 1797 when the town became official. You have probably seen images of this town with its iconic white huts, and luckily for you, you can even experience staying in one! Explore options in Tipico Resort or Trullo Dei Messapi. To stay away from more of the touristy crowds, venture your way to Aia Piccola, the neighborhood which still has residents inhabiting the trullis and offers a slower atmosphere to really soak in what this memorable area has to offer. 

Region of Sicily

Taormina

Taormina / Photo by Luca Volpi

One of the true gems of Eastern Sicily, Taormina shines as one of top spots for vacationers. Although it has always been one of Sicily’s many treasures, it has recently catapulted into the spotlight via HBO as it is the setting of its hit series White Lotus. One of the best options to reach Taormina if you don’t have a car is by public transportation from the Catania airport.

When in Taormina, be prepared for endless exploration! You’ll want to visit the ancient Greek amphitheater with its stunning backdrop of the sea and Mount Etna. Speaking of Mt. Etna, if you have a few days in Taormina, make sure to take a trip to the majestic volcano.

Mount Etna / Photo by Asa Rodger

And when in Sicily, visiting a beach is unavoidable. Isola Bella is a top spot to get your feet wet, which can be enjoyed with a granita in hand. As with all Italian towns, don’t forget to step into the local churches as you stroll throughout the piazzas, specifically along Taormina’s main road Corso Umberto. Taormina can become quite crowded, so if you are able to, try to go in the early spring or fall, to experience all this luxurious town has to offer. 

Isola Bella / Photo by David Evers

Siracusa

Siracusa / Photo from Wikimedia Commons

A couple of hours from Taormina, Siracusa is yet again another Sicilian attraction that needs to be on your itinerary. Located on the Ionian coast, it’s known for its ancient Greek ruins. Siracusa can be divided into sections, the small island of Ortigia, the old part of town, and the modern city. Listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Site as “a unique testimony to the development of Mediterranean civilization over three millennia,” Siracusa is a vibrant place steeped in history and culture that runs deeper than its sea. A few sites to see include the Fountain of Arethusa, a natural-fresh-water spring dating back to the first Greek settlement, the Doric Temple of Apollo, Piazza del Duomo, and the Catacombs of St. John, which holds more than 7000 graves from the early persecuted Christians. And one of the most visited spots is the Neapolis Archaeological Park with its main attraction, the Greek Theatre. 

Greek Theatre / Photo by A.S

As you can see, it is nearly impossible to sum up the best southern places in Italy in one article. However, this just gives you more of a reason to tick these places off of your bucket list to try it for yourself and see what all of the buzz is about. And once you do, there’s a 99% chance you will go back for more! 

Article by Mary Catherine Holcomb for Easy Milano

Featured image by Ken Shono

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