Choosing that perfect summer destination in Italy isn’t easy. There’s just too much choice. I should know, I’ve travelled and lived in Italy for 15 years, and I can still never decide where to go for the next long weekend. So to help out my fellow summer travellers, I’ve made a list of my favourite favourites. Those special Italian places which will jump off the map and straight into your heart. Ready? Follow me.
For me, the no 1 spot at any time of year in Italy. Tuscany is a magical place full of Renaissance wonder, hilltop towns like San Gimignano, and bucolic landscapes knitted with olive groves and lined with cypress trees. But where do you go in summer? If you’re an art lover, it goes without saying you need to visit Florence, though you’ll have to put up with the crowds. I particularly love Siena and Lucca with their spectacular architecture and more relaxed atmospheres.
But in my opinion, if you want something really different here, head for the Maremma in the south. This place is dotted with fairytale towns like Sorano, Sovana and Pitigliano, and is home to some of the most memorable views you’ll see in Tuscany. Visit the charming coastal town Porto Ercole, and try the 6 km long unspoiled free beach at La Feniglia in the southern part of Monte Argentario. It’s a nature reserve, so your experience will feel that much more authentic.
The Cinque Terre is exactly what its name suggests. The ‘five earths‘. Five well-preserved towns where colourful buildings jostle for attention on the steep hillsides like a bunch of Liquorice All Sorts. Riomaggiore is the largest and de facto capital of this famous five – pretty with a small harbour and plenty to see.
There’s Manarola, Monterosso, Vernazza and Corniglia – the latter giving you a great vantage point to photograph all of the towns together. The best way to travel between them is by train which trundles between each of these towns. If your legs are up to it after walking up and down the steep roads, there is a coastal mountain path that offers some wonderful views.
Puglia has recently been discovered by international holidaymakers, but remains a wonderfully peaceful and relaxing place to visit at any time of the year. I fell in love with Salento. Or to be more specific, the heel of the Italian boot. An area that takes in Lecce in the north with its rose coloured baroque buildings, the atmospheric coastal town of Gallipoli, that lives on an island just off the mainland.
Otranto to the east is a lively town with a fascinating history – an important port for the Romans, invaded by the Ottomans, and with a wonderful historic centre to show for it. There’s a 15th century Aragonese castle and an elegant seafront looking out to sea. The beaches in Puglia are a delight, and the people are welcoming. The seafood? Out of this world.
While the Italian lakes are a favourite summer haunt, I’ve opted to give you a taste of two in particular. To start with there’s Lago Maggiore. This lake is a sophisticated and relaxed spot known for its views and shores covered with camellias and azaleas. Grab a ferry to Isola Bella to see its famous gardens, and visit Villa Taranto on the outskirts of Verbena with its fascinating botanical collection. Romantic and elegant. On the other side of the spectrum is Lago di Como. Stylish and chic and lined with neo-classical villas it is a celebrity haven that is still accessible to the rest of us. Visit idyllic Bellagio and you’ll wish you never have to leave.
THE AMALFI COAST
I couldn’t very well make a list dedicated to summer hotspots and not include The Amalfi Coast. Perhaps one of the most dramatic coastlines in all of Italy, it is nothing short of inspiring. Think colourful towns clinging to the side of steep cliffs. Think chic spots like Capri and laid back beach bars where you can eat the most sublime seafood imaginable.
Positano and Sorrento are both unmissable, and a boat trip out to the island of Ischia is essential. Here you’ll find great long beaches where you may just be able to find a bit of free sand. I visited the Amalfi coast in mid-August and it was very crowded so my advice would be to try an go in June or September.
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Ben Carson is a travel writer and editor at Love from Tuscany.