When I first came to the Cinque Terre fifteen years ago, it was the kind of place that you could show up to without a reservation. You found out about it by word of mouth, usually from another backpacker.
“Chin-kweh. Trust me, you have to go.”
You were as likely then to end up chatting on the stone steps down at the marina with a new Italian friend, drinking some home-brewed vino out of plastic cups, than you were another traveler. Everyone who came here felt like they were stumbling into a little pocket of undisturbed Italian realness.
Things have changed since then. A lot. The Cinque Terre are written up in the most popular travel mags and zillions of travelers have shared their “this place is amazing” thoughts online.
The result? More people on the streets. Especially in the high season, which typically runs from Easter all the way to the end of October. Try to show up now without a reservation and there’s a good chance you’ll be stuck without a place to sleep.
Planning to travel to the Cinque Terre in 2019?
As Cinque Terre experts, we want to distill what modern travelers need to know now.
Behold our hot list of the best places to travel in Italy in 2018! These are the lesser-known spots that we’re lovin’ now.
1. Matera (Basilicata)
Matera is a wise addition to your Italy trip in 2018. After all, this might be the last year that it can truly be considered “off the beaten path” — it’s been named European Capital of Culture for 2019, which will no doubt hotfoot it right onto the world’s radar. Go anytime before then and you’ll have the caves to yourself. In drizzling winter or in peak season summer, this place is nothing short of impressive.
What’s so special about it? Two words: cave dwellings. This is one of the few places on the planet that has been continuously inhabited since Paleolithic times. Paleowhaaaat? Just means these digs are old! The Sassi is a district in Matera characterized by 1500 prehistoric cave dwellings that were home to its inhabitants for thousands of years, until as recently as the 1950s.
The caves lay abandoned for decades until a group dedicated to restoring them stepped in and began to clean them up. By 1993 they had been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Little by little boutique hotels, restaurants and bars started to open up right in the caves themselves. On our gorgeous Southern Italy tour, we bring guests to stay in one of the most enchanting of these hotels.
Matera only just started to become a real tourism destination in 2014 — a mere four years ago! That’s virtually unheard of in Italy, one of the most visited countries on earth and home to places like Venice, which are practically (and literally!) sinking under the weight of the visitors that tromp through every year. Now, we’re recommending it as one of the 5 Best Places to Travel in Italy in 2018!