The maze like Matera by night
3. Matera, Basilicata and Massafra, Puglia
Matera has become more well known in recent years thanks to being awarded the Capital of Culture 2019, but this fascinating spot, one of the longest inhabited human settlements in the world is a must visit. The selection of caves that make up the Sassi, the old part of the city which is now surrounded by the new section, is incredible to explore. The inhabitants all left these cave-like homes when disease was rife, but they are now open to discover with the history of poverty left behind.
If the accommodation prices in Matera make you bulk, then staying at relatively nearby Massafra or Castellaneta, which are more off the beaten path, are good bets.
Both are much quieter and relaxing, but offer plenty of lesser discovered attractions. Whether you explore the castle of Massafra and marvel at its old Viaduct or visit the beaches or perched town of Castellaneta, this triangle of close by spots provides plenty of fascinating history to discover.
Book your rail tickets for Italy in advance and secure savings
In general, when travelling by train in Italy and Europe, the best value fares are those booked in advance.
With a variety of high-speed and slower trains serving Italy, you can usually find the right journey at the right price. I’d suggest searching for routes and tickets on Italiarail before travelling to secure discounts.
If you are planning to travel to Italy for more than one or two trips, consider purchasing an Italiarail travel rail pass which will allow savings on extended travels.
4. Tropea, Calabria
Calabria, much like Puglia on the other side, is a region of azure waters, sandy beach days, great value and off the beaten path Italian experiences. As a lot of international visitors to Italy stick to the north, the south, in general, provides a more affordable beach destination.
That’s not to say it’s without the crowds though, especially in the peak summer months when locals head south for their vacations. One of the most impressive features of Tropea is the Santa dell’Islo church which is perched on a large rock overlooking the beach. The 12th-century cathedral and fortified old town add to the splendour, and it’s a great base to explore more of the Calabria region.
Beautiful Varenna in Lake Como
5. Varenna, Lake Como, Lombardia
Lake Como is a real gem in the Lombardia region, most famous for its capital city of Milan. While Bellagio and George Clooney’s home may be its most famous draws, there are countless villages and towns around the lake with lesser crowds and that are equally, if not more beautiful.
Varenna is across the water from Bellagio and was my favourite of those I visited. During a crisp November day, with snow-capped mountains really showing off the bright colours of the houses here, I felt like I had all of Varenna to myself. It might not be off the beaten path Italy all year round, but out of season it really feels that way. With spectacular castles and grand houses in the mountains above, and the little coffee shops with their lakeside views at water level, Lake Como is the perfect place for a long weekend of rejuvenation.