Why Italy's south is far better than the north

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Matera, the European Capital of Culture for 2019. Photo: Maryn Ve
09:26 CEST+02:00
Following a report last week warning that southern Italy risked "permanent under-development”, we came up with ways in which the long-suffering south is far better than the north.

Economically, Italy's south is worse off than Greece, according to the report last week by the Association for Industrial Development in Southern Italy (Svimez).

Read more: Italy's south is worse off than Greece

But just like Greece, the country's southern regions, which include Puglia, Campania, Basilicata, Calabria, Sicily and Sardinia, have so much to offer.

We amalgamated the opinions of our readers, who identified a number of areas where Italy's south trumped the wealthier north, with those of people who live there, to come up with the list below.

Better beaches

Rabbit beach in Lampedusa, Sicily, is ranked Italy's best on TripAdvisor. Photo: Marco Molino

Our readers love southern Italy's beaches...and they're not the only ones. Eight out of TripAdvisor's top 10 beaches across Italy are located in the south and a whopping six can be found on the sun-kissed islands of Sicily and Sardinia.

Whether you like your beaches high and rocky or low and sandy, you're never too far from a great beach on the islands, which between them boast 2849km of (largely) unspoiled coastline. On top of that, you have the coastline that stretches from Campania to Calabria, not forgetting the crystal-clear waters of Puglia.

Mind-blowing fact: Even though it is the smaller island, Sardinia's jagged coastline (1849km) is almost twice as long as Sicily's (1000km). 

Tourist attractions

The Sassi Di Matera, ancient cave dwellings. Photo: Maryn Ve

In addition to its great beaches, southern Italy contains over 25 percent of all the country's Unesco heritage sites, boasting a wealth of natural, volcanic wonders as well as cultural sites revealing the rich tapestry of the area's human history.

But in spite of such great resources, tourist revenues in southern Italy were less than half of those for central and northern Italy in 2013. But things might be about to change... 

The richness of the area is slowly being appreciated by first-time tourists and seasoned Italophiles who want to avoid the more crowded destinations like Rome, Florence and Venice.

A recent success story for southern tourism comes from the small town of Matera, in Basilicata.

The town went from being one of the poorest in Italy to the European Capital of Culture for 2019. The town has also attracted Hollywood, with scenes from the Ben Hur remake being filmed there earlier this year. Perhaps Matera's success can prove a catalyst for tourism across the south.

Food and drink

Pizza would be miserable without mozzarella. Pic: Jeffery W

Up until the 1860s, the economy of the southern Italy largely revolved around a feudal agricultural system. Now completely modernized, the south is reaping the benefits of its not-so-distant agricultural past.

The area is home to a wide array of wonderful and unique produce, and is a place where where ancient traditions are still alive and well – not least at the table.

Testament to its thriving food scene, 79 of Italy's 221 products that are protected by geographic labels of origin are produced in the south, including buffalo mozzarella, which our reader Des Hubbard referred to as "the cream of the crop."

A world without mozzarella would be a very sad place indeed, but the south is also full of less well-known wonders like Taurisi red wine, which owes its existence to the volcanic soils around Mount Vesuvius. Readers also expressed a certain fondness for the Calabrian spicy sausage, 'Nduja.

Reader Jill Manno singled out Sicilian cuisine, saying she preferred it “because of its simplicity, freshness, and spartan use of salt."

Friendlier people 

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Two old men in Puglia share a joke with a passer-by. Photo: Dauno Settantatre / Flickr

A lot of our readers comments suggested that people in the south of Italy were more hospitable and friendlier than northern Italians.

Yuki Ling claimed that the Sicilians she knew where "much warmer and friendlier" than northern Italians, and that they "did not expect anything in return when helping you."

This is not just a commonly held perception. It is is also held  to be true by Italians across the peninsular. Popular opinion states that the country's northern inhabitants are much “colder” than their southern counterparts.

Regional stereotypes such as this exist in every country and there is really only subjective data backing them up.

While such a widely-held belief probably has at least a grain of truth to it, we're sure there are plenty of cheerful and friendly northern Italians too... 

Green energy

There are more than 6,000 turbines across southern Italy. Photo: Sebastiano Pitruzello

Did you know that southern Italy is a world leader in green energy?

According to a 2013 report by Svimez, 66 percent of southern power was produced using renewable technology. Thanks to its rugged topography, southern Italy accommodates more than 6,000 wind turbines.

The south's green credentials can only improve in the future too. Both geothermal energy and solar power are massively underused across southern Italy - in an area where they have the potential to provide clean and cheap energy to a large portion of the population.

The use of green energy down south is reflected in the quality if the air. Data compiled by Isprambiente shows a huge concentration of cities in the center-north that went more than 35 days in 2012 with air pollution levels above recommended quotas.

Residents down south can breathe a little easier.

The passeggiata (evening stroll) 

A  seaside passeggiata hot spot in full swing. Photo: Alessandro Flickr

Our readers also suggested the passeggiata, or evening stroll, a noble Italian tradition that has all but disappeared from the northern provinces.

The passeggiata is usually taken between 5pm and 7pm, with the simple objective of seeing people you know and being seen by others.

It's easy to join in the fun if you live in the south: just put on some nice clothes and then head out to one of your town's passeggiata hot spots, usually to be found along a main road in the city center or the sea front.

The evening stroll is the perfect opportunity to catch up with friends and is a great opportunity to spy on your ex, or even attempt to “bump into”, your latest crush.

People living in the south happily reported that the tradition is still very much alive and well, providing them with the perfect opportunity to socialize and catch some light exercise before dinner.

Il riposo (the afternoon nap)

The riposo is alive and well down south. Photo: Filippo Monteforte / AFP

Another suggestion from our readers was the mid-afternoon nap or riposo, which is still taken after lunch, in many areas across southern Italy.

In fact, one mayor in Campania was so eager to protect his snoozing citizens that he banned dogs from barking during the hours of the riposo last month.

The reasons for this differing sleep culture in southern Italy are numerous. Napping allows you to avoid the afternoon heat, stuff yourself at lunch without worrying about feeling drowsy at work and keeps you fresh for your evening passeggiata.

In many areas of southern Italy, the shops still close and shutters come down for a good couple of hours to accommodate the longstanding tradition, much to the ire of impatient shoppers who forget it's nap-time.

While the idea of getting some sleep in the middle of the day is probably enough to provoke outrage from anyone living more than 50 degrees north of the equator, it actually has a whole range of health benefits. A 2007 study showed that midday napping reduced the rate of coronary mortality by 37 percent.


An old man heads off for a healthy passeggiata. Photo: Simon Collison / Flickr

Which brings us nicely to living longer, another thing people in Italy's much maligned southern regions do very well. Especially the women. 

In southern Italy women live to an average of 80.6 years, compared to the national average of 79.8. The average life expectancy in the south of Italy is among the highest in Europe, and Sicily can even boast a village of centenarians.

Clearly, the combined effects of the south's good food, lunchtime naps, clean air, great beaches and social evening strolls can do wonders for you. Crisis? What crisis?

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