|Photo by Freeimages.com/Guenter M. Kirchweger|
by The Daily Telegraph, May 20, 2016
Following the popularity of last month's guide to unsung Italy, our experts have racked their brains to come up with another 21 beautiful spots you've probably not heard of.
1. Punta Ala, Tuscany
It's popular with Italians, but - as Telegraph Travel's Andrew Purvis discovered after a holiday there - very few Britons have discovered the forgotten stretch of coast between Pisa and the tourist honeypots of the Costa d’Argento and the Maremma Natural Park. "Punta Ala lies a few miles south of Follonica, a cheap-and-cheerful tourist town to which Italian descend in their thousands each summer (Maremmans like to call it Miami in Tuscany)," he said. "Punta Ala could not be more different. Leaving the main road, you skirt a cool, shady glade of pines where the smell of damp, sandy humus and sweet resin calls to mind the French Riviera. Through the trees you glimpse secluded wooden chalets, smart residences, woodland gymnasiums, tennis courts, an equestrian centre and private beach clubs. If Follonica is the Miami of Tuscany, Punta Ala is the Newport, Rhode Island."
Lee Marshall, author of our guides to Rome, Florence, Tuscany and Sicily, adds : “One of my favourite stretches of unspoilt Italian coastline lies within the Maremma – a long coastal swathe in southern Tuscany that for centuries was a malarial swamp populated only by a few hardy fishermen and the local cattle rangers known as butteri. The Medici began draining the marshes in the 18th century, but the job wasn’t finished until the Fifties. As a result, this is still a place of wide-open spaces, with most of the towns clustered on hilltops some way inland.
"Since 1975, this area of timeless rural landscapes has been a protected area, the Parco Naturale della Maremma. The horizontal sweep of stone pines, low hills, Mediterranean maquis, beach and sea is at its most pristine in the coastal stretch between the salty little port town of Talamone and the Ombrone estuary, where wild horses and long-horned cattle graze."
Tim Jepson, our Italy expert, has three other recommendations in the region: Radda in Chianti ("The smallest and most peaceful of the Chianti towns and villages: be sure to visit the nearby Badia di Coltibuono, a tranquil abbey that offers wine tastings and has a wonderful restaurant"), Chiarone ("Some of the longest and quietest beaches in Tuscany – they are also some of the best places to swim and unwind on the coast within striking distance of Rome"), and Montalcino ("Its Brunello wines are prized, but the small town, the surrounding landscapes and Sant’Antimo – Italy’s prettiest abbey – are all worth a visit").
2. Lake Orta, Piedmont
"It is one of the country’s most beautiful lakes, yet it remains off the tourist track," says Kiki Deere, our Italian Lakes expert. "Even Italians haven’t heard of it!"
Found just a few miles west of the better known Maggiore, visitors say it has an ethereal quality to it. Michael Aspel, writing for Telegraph Travel, compared it to an opera set. "I've been going there for 40 years or more, having discovered it when I went on holiday to Italy with a BBC cameraman," he said. "As we were driving along a road, I spotted some water below, went to investigate and simply fell in love with this pretty little jewel of a lake, with an island crowned by a 14th-century basilica."
Tim Jepson agrees: "If you want an unspoiled Italian Lakes experience on an intimate scale, go for Orta. Like the main lakes of Garda, Como and Maggiore, it has its built-up portions – Omegna is the main culprit – but the west shore, especially, is divine. Orta San Giulio is the lake’s best overall base, and its quaint main square, Piazza Mario Motta, is the point of embarkation for boats to the lake’s little island, Isola San Giulio."
3. Ascoli Piceno, Le Marche
The Marche region, east of Umbria, is kinder to the pocket but can't quite match Tuscany when it comes to landscapes, handsome towns and first-rank culture - with a few exceptions.
"A fine central piazza and celebrated food – notably olives – mark out the small town of Ascoli Piceno, close to the Adriatic coast," says Tim Jepson. "It's also within striking distance of the region's finest scenery, the Monte Sibillini National Park.
"Nearby Urbino, with its superb Ducal Palace, is larger and better known, but also remains relatively unvisited."
He also advises making tracks for San Leo, "a hill town with sweeping views and a castle that Dante described as one of the most redoubtable in Italy."
4. Ostuni, Puglia
Another of Tim Jepson's picks. He says: "Visitors to Puglia are often tempted to the town Lecce in the belief that it is a 'Baroque Florence'. In fact, the region’s smaller, Greek-like 'white' villages, notably Ostuni, are far more interesting to explore."
Fiona Hardcastle recommends it too in her guide to the region, as well as Alberobello, home to more than a thousand dome-roofed, hobbit-like "trulli", Locorotundo, with a maze of ivory-stone lanes in its old town and a pretty church at the summit, and Martina Franca, whose "grand monuments, archways and polished piazzas give way to the faded beauty of labyrinthine streets".
5. Turin, Lombardy
Kike Deere explains: "While the city is of course well known, it does not often feature on the itinerary of foreign tourists. The first capital of unified Italy, Turin has a gorgeous baroque centre and is home to the world’s second-largest collection of Egyptian artefacts at the Museo Egizio."
Kate Simon, in her guide to spending a weekend in Turin, adds: "There are art nouveau and contemporary structures – such as Renzo Piano’s bold conversion of the Fiat factory – to marvel at, too.
"Although Milan hogs the commercial spotlight these days, Turin has a palpably industrious spirit. This is the home of Italy’s car industry, its first cinema, and arguably chocolate; it’s the place in which vermouth and Nutella were invented, and it gave birth to the Slow Food movement. It’s all there to explore and easily so."
6. Cala Gonone, Sardinia
Robert Andrews, our Sardinia expert, advises eschewing the glamour (and sky-high prices) of the Costa Smeralda in favour of this lesser-known gem. "It's Cala Gonone's very inaccessibility that forms a good part of its appeal," he says. "Not so long ago you could only reach this insulated Golfo di Orosei resort on Sardinia's rugged eastern coast from the sea. Things have moved on, and now there's a neat road tunnel bored through the wall of mountains that separate it from the rest of the island. Once emerged from the tunnel, travellers are confronted by a steep plunge to the coast, and the spectacle of undeveloped coastline stretching out of sight to north and south."
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It’s all terracotta shades outside, with a white stucco interior that artfully blends traditional... Read expert reviewFrom£226inc. taxCheck AvailabilityRates provided byBooking.com
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His other Sardinian favourites include the Maddalena Islands, off the north coast, Bosa, overlooked by a hilltop castle, and the Sinis Peninsula.
7. Bardonecchia, Piedmont
Despite hosting the snowboarding events for the Turin Winter Olympics less than a decade ago, the ski resort of Bardonecchia remains overshadowed by the nearby Via Lattea ski area (comprising Claviere, Sansicario, Sauze d'Oulx, Pragelato, and Sestriere. Head there if you love tranquil slopes and hate queueing, says Telegraph Travel's Helen Coffey . "The battle for first tracks that I inevitably lose in a French mega resort – what with my consistent failure to rise in time to get the first lift – could be won here with very little effort," she says. "With zero lift queues, we cover far more ground in a morning than I would normally, and come lunchtime I’m gasping for a plate of something hot and carb-heavy. Mountain eatery Waikiki does not disappoint, and as we get stuck into a decadent array of traditional Piemonte dishes, another of Bardonecchia’s charms becomes apparent – its food: hearty specialities like veal tartar, marinated peppers in tuna sauce, pasta in thick gravy and venison stews."
8. Paestum, Campania
For ancient history without the crowds, go beyond Pompeii, says Tim Jepson. "The three Greek temples at Paestum, south of Naples, are considered the finest in the Greek world – finer even than those of Greece itself," he says.
Mary Beard, the classicist and broadcaster, is another fan. "The star survivals are three large temples dating back to the sixth century BC," she says. "But equally impressive are the slightly later painted tombs, including a famous image of a young diver entering a pool of water - a reminder of a whole tradition of ancient painting that we have largely lost. And finally, there is a well-preserved little Roman town, which takes the history of the place into the sixth century AD."
9. The Po Delta, Veneto
Five hundred metres wide in places, the Po Delta, a Unesco World Heritage listed expanse of marshland and lagoons, is visited by more than 300 bird species - but not many Britons. It's best explored by boat from coastal towns south of Chioggia - or on a river cruise from Venice .
10. Brescia, Lombardy
Another of Kike Deere's recommendations. "It's an ancient settlement with impressive Roman remains, Renaissance squares and a medieval centre," she says. "The city is famous for its Mille Miglia car race in May when classic vehicles travel to Rome and back (the car race inevitably attracts its share of tourists but during the rest of the year there are hardly any)."
11. Nervi, Liguria
Telegraph Travel's Chris Leadbeater recommended Genoa in part one of our guide ("It's still a hard-working seadog, but its Porto Antico has been revitalised as an oasis of bars and restaurants, while the wealth it accumulated in the Middle Ages still sings in its cluster of Renaissance palaces."). He also advises a trip to Nervi, six miles east of the city. "It may be part of the gilded stretch of Mediterranean shoreline which runs east from Saint-Tropez and Cannes - but isn't very well known," he says. "Occupy yourself in one its clutch of art galleries, or take lunch in a cafe overlooking the sea."
12. Piano Grande, Umbria
"One of Europe’s finest upland plains, it situated above 4,000ft, ringed by mountains," says Tim Jepson. "In late May and early June it is renowned for its extraordinary floral displays: swathes of wild crocuses one week, narcissi the next, grape hyacinth, wild tulips, poppies, thousands of orchids and rarities such as snakes' head fritillaries, among many others.
"Drive up the mountain road from Norcia to the plain, and over the passes at each end: the views are stunning. Or hike: there are plenty of trails, but the land is so open that you can walk almost at will. Visit Castelluccio, one of Italy's highest villages, noted for its tiny, sweet lentils (grown on the plain). Climb the highest peak, Monte Vettore, from Forca di Presta."
The Parco Nazionale dei Monti Sibillini, a majestic range of mountains straddling the border between Umbria and the Marche, is also famous for its wild flowers.
13. Tropea, Calabria
Lee Marshall writes: "Calabria doesn’t feature anywhere like as prominently as Sicily or Puglia in Italian summer-sun brochures. The barely regulated sprawl that clutters up much of the coast is one reason. But there are honourable exceptions – like Tropea, a classy enclave that is the region’s answer to Positano or Taormina. The old town, full of good trattorias and shops, garlands a rocky outcrop above a gently shelving sandy beach, which is popular with families. Tropea’s evening passeggiata is one of Italy’s busiest and most snail-paced – perhaps because of the sweet distraction of the historic ice-cream emporium Gelati Tonino (Corso Vittorio Emanuele 52) halfway along. The crazier flavours here include onion and cuttlefish; we recommend the lemon granita."
14. Val Camonica, Lombardy
"This valley is home to one of the world’s largest collections of prehistoric rock carvings and Italy’s first designated UNESCO World Heritage Site - but there's not a tourist in sight," says Kiki Deere. The Naquane National Park of Rock Engravings in Capo di Ponte is the area’s highlight. Base yourself in nearby Brescia (see above).
15. Alpi delle Marittime, Piedmonte
Another of Tim Jepson's top secret spots. "In France the Alpes-Maritimes are well-known – they’re the mountains you glimpse from much of the Côte d’Azur," he says. "But the same mountains rise in Italy, where – probably because of their peripheral position – they’re barely known, even to Italians. While researching a book on Italy’s wild places, I had one of the best week’s walking of my life here, with ravishing scenery, good maps, fine tracks (many built when the area was a hunting reserve for the Savoy kings) and barely a soul in sight. Even if you’re not walking, it’s lovely country to explore by car."
For our guide to the best Italian activity holiday operators, follow this link .
16. Aosta, Valle d'Aosta
The capital of Valle d’Aosta, Italy’s smallest region, harbours some of the country’s best-preserved Roman ruins, including ancient roads, a crumbling theatre, city walls, bridges and old crypts. For more information, see the local tourist board's guide .
17. Udine, Friuli-Venezia Giulia
Kiki Deere explains: "One of the most important cities of the Venetian Republic, it is today home to grand architecture and galleries displaying scores of works by Italian painter Giambattista Tiepolo."
Following a visit in 2012, Donald Strachan wrote : "This area was part of the Austrian Empire between 1797 and 1866 and there's still a dash of the Habsburg in Udine's thriving café society. The prosperous centre is compact, clean and organised – those Austrians again – with a warren of tiny piazzas and a pleasing ratio of bakeries and butchers to postcard vendors. Everywhere I walked, I also met Venice, the city that ruled the region for almost 400 years. Piazza della Libertà, Udine's architectural set-piece, is dominated by the Loggia del Lionello, whose Gothic arcades, dressed in pastel-pink banding, mirror the Doge's Palace. And the Lion of St Mark, symbol of Venice, is carved prominently on Andrea Palladio's Arco Bollani and the Renaissance Loggia di San Giovanni."
18. Parco Nazionale del Pollino, Basilicata
Another good bet for activity holidys. "There are few roads, few towns, and few visitors," says Tim Jepson. "The Pollino mountains in southern Italy offer some of the wildest landscapes in Europe."
19. Norcia, Umbria
We touch on Umbria's glorious landscapes above. The base for exploring them should be Norcia, according to Abigail Butcher . She writes: "Set in the heart of the Valnerina, on the edge of the Sibillini National Park in Umbria, the pretty walled town of Norcia is gastronomic heaven. Agriculture is key here in the green heart of Italy, where lentils grow on the plains and even in the height of summer the area is a vibrant green. The region is famous for its salami, black truffle, wild boar and pork products, so visitors come here to eat – but also to walk. The rolling mountains of the National Park offer endless opportunities to hike, bike and horse-ride right on the doorstep."
20. Secret Rome
Rome is no secret, but it does have lesser-known attractions to explore. Lee Marshall recommends Ostia Antica, a wonderful alternative to Pompeii just outside the city; San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, an architectural marvel by Baroque maverick Francesco Borromini; and San Clemente, "one of Rome’s most worthwhile but least publicised sightseeing treats".
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