Why: Little-known except by Italians, Matera is due its moment in the spotlight as one of two European Capitals of Culture in the other is Plovdiv, in Bulgaria. Inhabited since the 10th century BC, and built on the slope of a ravine, its centrepiece is the Sassi, an ancient town composed of striking, prehistoric cave-dwellings carved into the rock.
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Thankfully, it's one of southern Italy's fastest-growing towns today, and has even had some Hollywood star-dust sprinkled over it - featuring as a filming location for movies such as The Passion of the Christ and Wonder Woman. Studded with churches, bars and boutiques, this is a beguiling combination of ancient and relatively modern.
Visit before the crowds! For more information, visit materaturismo. More: 20 greatest destinations in Italy — and the best time to visit them. Two of this archipelago of five islands are inhabited year round - Ponza and Ventotene. Palmarola offers seasonal, summer accommodation, while Santo Stefano which housed a notorious prison until , available for guided tours and Zannone are home only to wild goats and seabirds. Crescent-shaped Ponza, the biggest - though at 9km2 that's not saying much - oozes stylish, seaside charm, its harbour peppered with cafes and bars perfect for sipping an Aperol spritz.
Beaches are pebbly, and boat tours essential to spy its secret grottoes and inlets. On Ventotene, you'll find the ruins of Roman villas, colourful piazzas and superb scuba-diving opportunities, while Palmarola is surrounded by granite arches and sea stacks, its turquoise waters ideal for snorkellers. For more info, see italia. Why: When it comes to the Italian Lakes, some hog all the headlines we're looking at you, Como, with your celebrity residents, like a certain Mr Clooney…. But Lake Iseo, just three hours' drive southeast, is smaller and quieter, though arguably just as beautiful.
What it lacks in flashy hotels and historic, waterside palazzi, it makes up for in scenic hiking trails, a medieval castle, a protected nature reserve, Torbiere del Sebino, and the Tadini Academy Gallery, which houses one of the oldest art collections in Lombardy.
Add in boat trips to Monte Isola, a picturesque island in the middle of Iseo, the choice of several ski resorts, and a challenging but beautiful mile cycle trail around the lake, and you have a diverse, year-round destination. Not to mention its proximity to Franciacorta, which produces delicious sparkling wine Get there: The nearest airports are Milan Linate, a one hour 40 minute drive away fly with Aer Lingus , or Bergamo, 1hr and 20 minutes away direct flights with Ryanair. For more information, see visitlakeiseo. Win a holiday? Vote now in our Reader Travel Awards! Why: In Italy's foodie region - which is home to Parma ham , Modena balsamic vinegar and Bologna mortadella, tortellini, lasagne - you name it , the teeny town of Comacchio has only one, er, gourmet ingredient to offer: eels.
They thrive in the nearby lagoons, and as a result are served baked, grilled, fried, or in risotto, but 'anguilla marinata' that's pickled eels to you and me are the area's speciality. There's an eel festival every October, and a factory devoted to pickling them has been here for decades. In fact, Sophia Loren once played the part of an eel pickler in a short film in the s, which led to her doing some advertising for the company.
Line of Drift and Mosaics from the Map by Robyn Rowland
Aside from this, Comacchio is a charming spot, criss-crossed by canals and bridges, which make it a handy stand-in for Venice for budget-conscious film-makers. Sit at an outdoor table in a restaurant by one of the canals, lined with colourful houses, and soak up the atmosphere. It's, ahem, eely good. Get there: The closest airport is in Bologna Ryanair flies direct ; Comacchio is a 95km drive.
For more information, visit winefoodemiliaromagna. More: Revel in Rimini.
Why: As medieval walled cities go, Bergamo is exceptionally beautiful, but stays out of the limelight thanks to better-known examples, such as Lucca, San Gimignano, or Verona. It would be a shame to pass it by, steeped as it is in gilded, baroque churches, frescoed chapels, cobbled piazzas and botanical gardens. Its centrepiece is the historic old town, or citta alta, elevated above the more modern citta bassa.
Walk around its walls, constructed in the 16th century when Bergamo was owned by Venice, in an effort to protect it from threats by the Republic of Milan, and France.
Here, you'll also find the old town's vibrant centre, Piazza Vecchia, perfect for gelato-eating get yours at locals' favourite, Caffe del Tasso , people-watching, and architecture-exploring. Notable churches include the Capella Colleoni, its marble facade teeming with sculptured Biblical scenes and mythological stories, and the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore; the columns of its exterior archway rest on carved, stone lions.
Get there: You can fly directly into Bergamo itself with Ryanair, or, for a bigger choice of flights, Milan Linate is only 40 minutes away Aer Lingus. See also visitbergamo. Why: When people think of the Amalfi Coast, they usually think of two or three towns: there's Sorrento, the gateway to the idyllic, if expensive, Isle of Capri; chic Positano, star of the film Only You, and popular with the rich and famous; and Amalfi itself, a noble town with an impressive, black and white cathedral.
But Ravello is almost in the middle of the coastal road that stretches from Sorrento to Salerno, and because it's set back from the sea, on a hill, people tend to just Which is a mistake, as it's got some of the most picturesque gardens in Italy, set around historic villas. Known as the City of Music, thanks to its annual concerts and festivals, you can catch an open-air concert in the sumptuous grounds of the Villa Rufolo, which apparently inspired Wagner to write Parsifal. Elsewhere, admire the breathtaking view from Villa Cimbrone's Terrace of Infinity, lined with classical marble busts, or take an evening passeggiata in the main square, Piazza Vescovado.
Get there: The nearest airport is Naples fly with Ryanair year-round , after which it's a scenic - if somewhat hairy - two and a half hour drive along the Amalfi coast. For more information, see visit ravello. More: Sicily's best kept secret revealed - and it's not Taormina. Why : More than just a horse race, Siena's Palio is billed as 'the toughest in the world'. And it certainly provides a spectacle that is not to be missed.
Put simply, it's a race that takes place twice a year - on July 2, in honour of the Madonna of Provenzano, and August 16, for the Assumption of Mary - in Siena's Piazza del Campo, and has been run continuously since Jockeys are only assigned their horse four days before the race, followed by practice heats and trial runs. Ten horses and riders bareback , who each represent one of the city's 17 wards, or neighbourhoods, and are dressed in their colours and emblems, must complete three laps of the piazza. And, that's it - except to say just that would be do a disservice to the chaotic frenzy of the crowds, the deafening thunder of the horses' hooves, and the fierce, committed passion of the riders.
Get there: The nearest airport is Florence; Siena is an hour's drive away. For more information, visit discovertuscany.
More: Siena: 24 hours in Italy's sweetest city. Why: Straddling the dramatic Dolomites, which connect Italy with Austria, Bolzano is the region's valley hub. Both Italian and German are spoken, and restaurants abound with hearty mountain food which blends the best of both countries, from Sachertorte and strudel to polenta and gorgonzola. Of course, as you're surrounded by mountains, hiking and skiing are strong seasonal options, but in Bolzano itself, don't miss the top tourist attraction, a man called Otzi.
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