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TRAVEL: Nine overlooked Italian towns you should visit

Silvia Marchetti
Silvia Marchetti - [email protected]
TRAVEL: Nine overlooked Italian towns you should visit
The popular Spiaggia Dei Conigli (or Rabbits Beach) on the island of Lampedusa. Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

Italy is much more than just the glamour of Rome, Venice or Florence - but some must-see destinations suffer from negative reputations, says Silvia Marchetti.

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There are many underrated places in Italy far from the madding crowd that should be discovered and valued, but are neglected by traditional tourist routes and, in some cases, suffer from prejudice and a superficial negative reputation.

Caserta

This town near Naples is notorious as an area which suffers from the presence of organised criminal gangs but it should be famous for so much more: it makes the best buffalo milk mozzarella in Italy (the real, original one) and has a lovely ancient district called Caserta Vecchia, which lies higher up the hills.

The town most famously boasts the Reggia, a lavish royal palace with gardens and fountains that outshine the Palace of Versailles. It’s really worth exiting the A1 highroad just to visit the Reggia.

Reggia di Caserta palace in Campania

The Reggia di Caserta, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the great royal palaces of Europe. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

Lampedusa 

Everyone knows Sicily’s Lampedusa island is the ‘door to Europe’ for many migrant arrivals, and often a place of sea tragedies.

Despite the gloom, it has one of the world's top-rated beaches in front of the Isola dei Conigli’ (Rabbits Island) with turquoise waters and powder-white sand where loggerhead turtles lay their eggs. Locals sunbathe on the rocky platforms cut into the surrounding white limestone cliffs.

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I’ve been to the Maldives and Indonesia but I’ve never seen a more beautiful beach anywhere.

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Reggio Calabria

At the tip of the boot, the regional capital of Calabria doesn’t usually top travellers’ bucket lists - but it should. It has a lovely palm-lined seafront promenade and its main museum showcases the Riace Bronzes, the ancient Greek sculptures of two perfect men warriors, found at the bottom of the sea and listed as UNESCO world heritage attractions. I stood for hours admiring their stunning sculpted bodies, wondering if ancient men were really so hot.

Is this what men looked like 2,500 years ago? The Riace Bronzes are displayed in Reggio Calabria. Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

Termoli

The town of Termoli on the Adriatic coast is another hidden gem. Popular just as the departure port to the Tremiti islands, it has a gorgeous ancient walled centro storico with pastel-colored houses and some of Italy’s narrowest alleys, with views of the traditional trabocchi, old fishermen's wooden huts suspended above the water. Plus, it makes a superbly tasty huge brodetto fish soup. 

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Orgosolo

In deep Sardinia, far from the loud VIP beaches, is Orgosolo, the centre of the wild Barbagia, a once bandit-sacked area. The town is covered in wall paintings depicting rural life and trompe-l’oeils of grannies sitting at doorsteps and running horses. 

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Trapani

In western Sicily was another pleasant surprise. I went there to embark to the Egadi islands but on my way back home I decided to visit this old seaside town dotted with dozens of white-washed chapels belonging to artisan brotherhoods.

I explored a very vibrant fish market and discovered extraordinary salt pans dating back to Phoenician times, with windmills and pyramids of salt. When the sun sets, the salines, surrounded by the exotic vegetation of a natural reserve, turn purple and blue. 

Salt pans in Trapani, Italy

The sun sets over Trapani's salt pans. Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP

Milazzo

On the other side of Sicily is an industrial town where tourists go just to set sail for the Aeolian islands, which is a pity. They miss its unique historic centre.

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The upper part of the town boasts a medieval castle-fortress with an armoury museum, while from the abandoned lighthouse there are breathtaking views of the entire coast, dotted with tiny rock chapels and crypts cut inside the cliffs open to the public. I never thought such a low-profile place could have so many interesting spots.

Latina

South of Rome lies Latina, a city which was founded during fascism and has been preserved exactly as it was. Its residents are often seen as fascist nostalgics. However, for history lovers, it’s like travelling back in time. 

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The original architecture of the 1930s includes imposing monuments, buildings and big statues hailing to the ‘Italian farmer pioneer’ which was at the core of the fascist ideology. The main city buildings still bear Mussolini’s favourite pompous mottos engraved over the entrances.

There’s a unique ‘malaria museum’ showing the story of the fight against the malaria which for centuries infested the surrounding plains. Old blood samples of infected people and different types of dried mosquitoes can be seen stuck behind glass cases. 

Terracina

Close to Latina is Terracina, another under-the-radar town on the coast between Rome and Naples. What makes this place a must-see destination is the massive clifftop temple sanctuary of Jupiter Anxur built by the ancient Romans and open to the public. The view stretches to Vesuvius and the temple’s reddish-golden stones glow at dawn. 

There are so many other overlooked places in Italy worth discovering, even though it often means going beyond appearances or assumptions.

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paulbains7 2023/01/19 16:00
Hi, surprised to see Trapani as 'eastern sicily'.
  • Clare Speak 2023/01/19 17:50
    Hi, Thanks for pointing out the typo. This has now been fixed. - Clare

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