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DISCOVER ITALY

TRAVEL: Nine overlooked Italian towns you should visit

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.

TRAVEL: Nine overlooked Italian towns you should visit
Terracina's clifftop temple credits Silvia Marchetti

There are many underrated places in Italy far from the madding crowd that should be more valued and discovered, but which are neglected by traditional tourist routes, and in some cases, which 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 outshines the Palace of Versailles. It’s really worth exiting the A1 highroad just to visit the Reggia.

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’ (Rabbit Island) with turquoise clear waters and powder-white sand where loggerhead turtles lay their eggs. Locals sunbathe on the rocky platforms cut into the surrounding white limestone cliffs. I’ve been to the Maldives and Indonesia but I’ve never seen a more beautiful beach anywhere.

Reggio Calabria

At the tip of the boot, the regional capital of Calabria doesn’t usually top travelers’ 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 display in Calabria’s capital. (Photo by VINCENZO PINTO / AFP)

Termoli

The town of Termoli on the Adriatic coast is another hidden, unknown 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. 

Orgosolo

In deep Sardinia far from the loud VIP beaches is Orgosolo, the center 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. 

Trapani

In western Sicily was another unexpected 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. 

Trapani’s salt pans. Photo Silvia Marchetti

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 center. The upper part of the town boasts a medieval castle-fortress with an armory 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 this city which was founded during fascism and has been completely preserved. Its residents are often seen as fascist nostalgics, however, for history lovers it’s like traveling back in time. 

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 favorite 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 right in the middle between Rome and Naples along the coast. What makes this place a must-see destination is the massive clifftop temple sanctuary of Jupiter Anxur built by the ancient Romans which is 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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CULTURE

Venice Carnival: What to expect if you’re attending in 2023

After three years of toned-down celebrations, Venice's famous Carnival is finally set to return to its former grandeur. Here’s what you need to know about this year’s edition.

Venice Carnival: What to expect if you're attending in 2023

The historic Venice Carnival – a tradition which dates back to the late 14th century – will be back in all of its splendour this year as the upcoming edition of the festival will be the first one without pandemic-related restrictions since 2019. 

As the undisputed queen of Italian Carnival, Venice will once again put on a full programme of water parades, masked balls, fine dining experiences and street art performances spread over 18 days of sheer carnevale fun.

If you’re planning on taking part in the city’s Carnival celebrations, here’s a quick guide to this year’s main events.

What are the dates?

The Venice Carnival will officially start on Saturday, February 4th with a night parade streaming down the city’s iconic Grand Canal accompanied by music, dance performances and light shows.

READ ALSO: Nine ways to get into trouble while visiting Venice

The parade will kick off two weeks of events, unfolding both in the centro storico (city centre) and on the smaller islands of the lagoon.

As always though, celebrations will peak in the six days between giovedì grasso (‘Fat Thursday’, falling on February 16th) and martedì grasso (shrove Tuesday, falling on February 21st). 

A masked reveller wearing a traditional carnival costume In St Mark's Square, Venice

The 2023 Venice Carnival will start with a floating parade down the Grand Canal on February 4th. Photo by Andrea PATTARO / AFP

The most popular and widely anticipated events of the Venice Carnival are scheduled to take place during those days. However, that will also be the time when the city’s calli and squares will be most crowded. 

What are the main events?

Celebrations will start with the above-mentioned floating parade on Saturday, February 4th, and continue on the following day with another water parade involving traditional Venetian vessels and captained by the beloved Pantegana (a boat shaped like a giant sewer rat).

Apart from that, the Festa delle Marie – a historic beauty pageant during which 12 young local women are dressed up in Renaissance costumes, paraded throughout the city, and then subjected to a vote as to which of them makes the best Maria – will start on Saturday, February 11th. 

The winner of the contest will be announced in Saint Mark’s Square on shrove Tuesday, the final day of the festival. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Why Venice has delayed its ‘tourist tax’ – again

Original Signs, a music and dancing show performed on six floating stages set within the iconic Venetian Arsenal (the former seat of the Venetian navy), will begin on Friday, February 10th, with performances running on a nearly daily basis until the end of the festival.

Original Signs will run alongside Original Sinners, a fine dining experience followed by a masked ball at the magnificent Ca’ Vendramin Calergi, a 15th century palace facing the Grand Canal which is also the current seat of Venice’s Casino. 

As with Original Signs, the event will be available to the public on multiple dates.

Masked revellers wearing a traditional carnival costume pose in St Mark Square, Venice

The historic ‘Flight of the Angel’ will not take place this year due to ongoing work in St Mark’s Square. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

Aside from major events, street art performances, workshops, exhibitions and seminars will take place at various venues across the city for the entire duration of the festival. Some of these require booking in advance, which you can do on the Venice Carnival official website

On a rather sombre note, the Volo dell’Angelo (‘Flight of the Angel’), the traditional ceremony in which a costumed woman ‘flies’ down a cable from the bell tower in Saint Mark’s Square to the centre of the piazza, will not be performed this year due to ongoing repair work

How busy will it be?

The 2023 edition of the Venice Carnival is expected to mark a “final return to normality”, according to local media.  

And, with just a couple of days to go until the official start of the festival, it looks like the floating city is about to experience pre-pandemic numbers of visitors – current estimates indicate that around half a million people will visit the city over Carnival.

According to Claudio Scarpa, president of Venice’s Hoteliers Association, local hotels “will soon be all but fully booked for weekends”, though large numbers of bookings are also being registered on weekdays, especially those in “the last stages of the festival”.

Given the expected turnout, local transport operator ACTV will enhance their services for the entire duration of the Carnival to avoid overcrowding on buses and water buses. 

For more details about the Venice Carnival and bookings, see the festival’s official website

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