“La dolce vita” .... the sweet life
Southern Italy is a treasure for travelers and deserves its own attention for a minimum 2–3-week journey to fully discover its best parts. It is the land of sun, crystalline blue waters, history, ancient architecture, gastronomical wonders, and fabulous wine. A proper tour through villages off the beaten path will provide you a glimpse of the ancient grandeur that once inhabited these lands, and the various cultures and historical periods that are clearly evident in the multifaceted architecture and remnants from a glorious past. The perfect way to enjoy this adventure, is to intersperse exploring with days of calm and rest.
Amalfi and Pompeii
Arrive in bustling Naples to transfer to the idyllic Amalfi coast, a perfect place to live out “la dolce vita”. Stop off at the ancient ruins of Pompeii along the way, to avoid making another separate trip and optimize your time on the coast.
The vast archaeological site of Pompeii is like stepping back in history, to a moment when time stood still. It is one of the most significant proofs of Roman civilization and, like an open book, its tragic fate provides outstanding information on the art, customs, trades, and everyday life of the past. The city has re-emerged from the darkness of centuries precisely as it would have been when it was unexpectedly buried in the thick layer of ash and lava that poured down from the devastating eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D.
The Amalfi Coast is one of Italy's most memorable destinations. With its mysterious grottoes, craggy cliffs plunging into shimmering bays, it’s a mesmerizing destination that captures the essence of Italy's coastal charm and natural beauty. Overlooking the azure waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea, the Amalfi Coast is renowned for its stunning coastal towns, each with a unique character, such as the charming town of Positano, with its narrow streets and glamorous boutiques. Discover the allure of Ravello, perched high above the sea, where the enchanting gardens and breathtaking views inspire both artists and dreamers alike.
And of course, this part of the country is a delight for all the senses. With its world-class cuisine and renowned for its lemons, considered to be among the best in the world, the fertile soil provides nurture for agriculture, so no doubt the food is flavorful and cherished. The Amalfi Coast boasts several unique small family run boutique hotels with incredible views in phenomenal locations. We work with a local operator to find the best match for your needs.
All visits to any new city or area begin with a local privately guided tour, part walking and part driving to orient you to the city, the geography, the culture, and the local hangouts, the “must do” and “must see”. Often this is enough to ensure your time in Amalfi is your own, relaxing holiday where you can discover the region on your own.
No trip to Southern Italy would be complete without a visit to the sun-soaked island of Capri with its grottoes, coves, bays, caves and ravines, white cliffs plunging to the sea and beautiful coastal scenery. From Positano, you can easily get to Capri via public ferry, where we recommend a private guided welcome tour on arrival and then free time to discover it for yourselves. There are also small group boat tours, a great way to discover the incredible coastline for which this island is famous. Plan a glorious day, with lunch on the sun kissed coast for memories to cherish.
We also recommend a private cooking class. Gastronomy is one of the great sources of pride for the people of this area where you can learn about “real Italian cuisine”. Numerous options are available but take advantage of being in this part of the world: the birthplace of pizza. Where better than here to learn the techniques and secrets of preparing a “true Neapolitan pie”. Using simple ingredients, vegetables picked from the garden and of course the finest olive oil, you’ll create and taste this pizza, which has won the hearts of people all over the world.
Sicily is another must see destination on your journey. Head back to Naples from Amalfi and take a short flight to Catania, then transfer to the coastal village of Syracuse, a city on the Ionian coast of Sicily known for its ancient ruins. Cicero described Syracuse as “the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of all”. Established in 733 BC by Corinthian settlers, Syracuse played a starring role in Mediterranean history, and it became the political and cultural heart of Sicily until the Arab conquest in 878 AD. The historical importance of the city is reflected in its archaeological and artistic heritage showing the Greek and Roman presence in all its glory, as well as Paleochristian catacombs, and lastly, from the Medieval dwellings to the Baroque churches.
The South-East is known as the garden of Italy, and a lot of the agricultural produce you’ll find around Italy, in fact comes from here. And you’ll see why. The land is rich and fertile, and the sea is a constant presence, helping to add sumptuous aromas to the locally produced wines, which are winning international acclaim and very much worth discovering. Be warned though, once you spend some time here, you’ll never want to leave.
We again recommend an expert-led private tour to discover some of the ruins, the island of Ortygia, where the first Corinthian settlers landed, and in the heart of the city the Medieval buildings and the Baroque churches. Myth and history, ancient and modern, pagan, and Christian, light and shade, will be harmoniously combined with a natural backdrop of incomparable beauty through a walking tour. This is a great opportunity to find out which are the best bars, restaurants, and local hangouts.
Another tour suggestion, a short transfer out of town, brings you to the UNESCO site of Pantalica. Here you’ll trek along paths full of goats and tombs of the necropolis, caves-dwellings, the sanctuaries excavated in the steep walls of the sheer rock above the Anapo.
The site consists of two separate elements, containing outstanding vestiges dating back to Greek and Roman times: The Necropolis of Pantalica containing over 5,000 tombs cut into the rock near open stone quarries, most of them dating from the 13th to 7th centuries BC. Walk along the Anapo River and Calcinara Torrent as you discover the vestiges of the Byzantine era that remain in the area, notably the foundations of the Anaktoron (Prince’s Palace), megalithic 12th-century BC building, and different medieval rock-cut churches and dwellings.
Sicily is renowned for its food and amazing produce, so we would recommend another cooking class. Your senses will be delighted to no end with this incredible half-day experience.
As the cries of fishmongers, butchers, and greengrocers ring out amid colorful, overloaded stalls, your cook will reveal the secrets of grocery shopping the local way. With your cook's help, you will choose the right ingredients for your cooking experience, that will take place in the kitchen of one of the most exclusive locations in Syracuse. Here, you will learn how to make some of the very best dishes of traditional Syracusan cuisine.
The southern end of Sicily, which was known by the name of "Promontorium Pachyni" during ancient times, represents one of the excellent areas in the agricultural backdrop of the island. Several factors render it so exceptional: the strength of the most intense solar irradiance in the Old Continent, the right salinity in irrigation water, the sun exposure, the composition, and texture of the soil. These factors characterize the organoleptic properties of popular PGI products (“Protected Geographical Indication”) such as the Tomatoes of Pacchino and the grapes used to make the Nero d’Avola wine.
After a short transfer out of Syracuse, you will enjoy getting to know these lands on a private eno-gastronomical tour. You might visit the stunning Spanish Baroque city of Noto and a local winery there, or head to the coast and discover the area of the old fishing village of Marzamemi and the Natural Reserve of Vendicari, perched on the edge of the water and famous for its tuna fishery of the early 20th century. Both options include a visit to a local winery, to discover more about the notable Nero d’Avola grape and taste the best wines of this extraordinary area.
Don’t forget to include Puglia. Between the tranquil landscape dotted with olive groves, the warm sea air, and the charm of its locals, Puglia captures the true magic of old Italy. The history, landscape and architecture reflect the myriad of civilizations that were drawn to the region because if its influential port towns and position on the Adriatic; the Greeks, Romans, Venetians, Normans, and Spanish all left their mark here.
Enjoy sublime coastlines, whitewashed towns, fortified farms, and distinctive stone trulli, while the culinary highlights include fresh seafood, local wine, and olive oil in one of the friendliest places in Italy.
After a few glorious days in Sicily, catch a flight over to the Eastern coast of mainland Italy, to Bari and then a short transfer south to the coastal town of Monopoli, home for the next few nights. With a much more lived-in feel than some of the more popular tourist towns in the area, Monopoli allows you to have a beautiful, quintessentially southern Italian experience while still catching glimpses into everyday life; fishermen and their catch returning to the photogenic harbour in the mid-morning, nonnas on balconies watching the world go by, and a great choice of bars and restaurants. It’s also close to many fine beaches and within driving distance of the area’s biggest attractions and villages, a great base from which to explore this area.
The modern city that surrounds the Centro storico is full of colour, a veritable kaleidoscope of pinks, oranges, and blues. As you move toward the heart of the city, further into the past architecturally, along the narrow winding streets that crisscross an area of land that has been inhabited for centuries, the city becomes white, with the only accents Monopoli’s sage green window shutters and balcony boxes in full bloom. The historic center is the perfect size to negotiate in a few hours. As always in Italy, simply follow your instinct, your curiosity and - depending on time of day - your nose along boutique lined streets, towards small squares, through arches and towards the sea.
The coastline here is rugged and wild, dotted with ancient architecture and fishing houses. alike. It has so much character to it and is well worth exploring while you’re here. You can choose between a tour of the city on foot, or on a private boat excursion to admire the coast from the sea. This coastline is well known for its jutting cliffs and grottoes reaching far inland, under the cities of Monopoli and Polignano a Mare themselves. Again, we recommend a few hours with a local guide who will bring this city and coastline to life.
Another day trip is to the plateau of the picturesque Val d’Itria, to the UNESCO heritage site of Alberobello. Famous for its trulli constructions, you can discover the city at a leisurely pace in a tuktuk, to understand more about these unusual houses, as well as visit the local rural lands and perhaps a local winery, where you can have lunch and a wine tasting. Alberobello first put its name on the map in the early 16th century.
Another stop on the journey could be Matera, the City of Caves. Stop at the Grotte di Castellana, a vast underground system of karst caves, considered to be one of the most beautiful and spectacular cave systems in Italy.
When you arrive in Matera, it won’t take you long to realize why this was awarded UNESCO recognition as a World Heritage Site. Truly unique, the Sassi (Rocks), as Matera is known, represent a unique hamlet throughout Italy: the earliest inhabitants date back to the stone and bronze age. In the Middle Ages it boasted several monastic communities and later became a vibrant farming center, owing to the rich harvests from the surrounding hills and plains.
While in Matera take the opportunity to stay in one of the unique cave hotels. Actual underground caves are the very rooms and suites of Sextantio, restored as a hotel from ancient part of the Sassi, the Civita, and overlooking the Gravina. Another option is the Sant’Angelo Resort located in one of the heart of the historical center. With its view of the elaborate labyrinth of typical houses and staircases and the rugged canyon, la Gravina, just in front in Murgia Park, this hotel showcases one of the most unique landscapes in the world. You can choose between a cave room or a more contemporary “normal” type of room, according to your taste.
In the town of Matera, history reveals itself not just in the form of ancient cave dwellings and paintings, but also in the form of an ancient bread that has been made here for thousands of years. Basilicata lies right in the middle of the grain belt, so it stands to reason that bread is important here. This quiet region hosts a variety of different loaves, but none held in such high regard as the ancient Pane di Matera.
You can attend a workshop in a local traditional bakery, where you will be introduced to the long traditions of Matera’s breadmaking practices, which inevitably intertwine with the history of the city. You will be shown how it is done and then get the opportunity to make your own bread loaf. At the end of the workshop, there will be a tasting of bread and extra virgin olive oil, as well as typical products such as taralli and focaccia, accompanied by a local wine.
This introduction to Southern Italy is an excerpt to a guest itinerary provided by our trusted and talented Italy advisor Sonia Ter Hovanessian. We hope it gives you some inspiration to explore the finer, off the beaten paths in Southern Italy. Latitude Expeditions, working with Sonia will be delighted to plan the perfect Italian get away for you.
Aarrivederci, - until we see each other again.