Dreaming about an Italy trip in 2018 or beyond?
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!
Matera is located in Basilicata, right in the “instep” of the boot — notoriously one of the least populated and least visited regions in the country. So if you’re looking for that elusive place that’s ooh-la-la gorgeous but mostly untouched by modern tourism, Matera might be your jam.
Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ was filmed here because it still looks like what Jerusalem might have looked like thousands of years ago. Speaking of Hollywood, Francis Ford Coppola’s ancestral village is in the Basilicata region, just outside of Matera. He built a fantastic escape here.
Choose your hotel wisely. There’s a new part and an old part of Matera. For the most magical experience, make sure you stay in the old part where cars can’t go. That area is called the Sassi. Want to visit and do all the things we recommend, without the hassle of planning it yourself? Join our Southern Italy tour — we stay in Matera for 3 nights.
It’s not an easy place to get to, so stay at least 3 nights. You can drive from Puglia or the Amalfi Coast.
2. Aeolian Islands (Sicily)
Super bella. Super tranquila. A more exotic Italy, with a pinch of Greek Islands.
There’s an art to traveling Italy, and that is knowing what to do when. The biggest mistake foreigners make when planning an Italian vacation is not taking the season into enough consideration. We recommend the Aeolian Islands when the season is “on” — between Easter and October. During August, the Italians are on holidays there, so book well in advance or you’ll be sleeping on the steps of a pizzeria. The founder of Italian Fix, Bianca, threw her birthday party at Hotel Signum, one of our top hotel recommendations (we take clients there on our Sicily tour for women).
There are 7 islands that make up the Aeolian Islands. One is an active volcano called Stromboli. It smokes and spews lava, and you can walk right up to the crater. (Or just drink a spritz in a café down in town. Yes, people live at the base of this hottie full time.)
The islands aren’t easy to get to, so 3-4 nights is a minimum recommendation. In a perfect world, stay for a week! The closest airport is Catania, but you can also arrive from Palermo. Once in Milazzo, you ditch your car and take the hydrofoil. Logistics are a bit tricky on the Aeolians — joining our Sicily tour lets you avoid sorting them out on your own.
3. Maritime Alps (Piemonte)
Talk about unique! Where else in the world do the Alps meet the Mediterranean? Since the area borders France, you’ll feel that cultural mix too.
Hiking in the mist here is about as serene as it gets in Italy — even during the high season, you’ll have the well-marked trails to yourself. Perennially snow-capped mountains and glaciers tower over valleys filled with flowers, animals (like ibex, chamois, and wolves), and lakes.
Lago della Vacca (Cow Lake) is slowly filling with scree (small broken rock fragments that are rolling down from the mountains), so there will be only a grassy plain here in the not-too-distant future. Be one of the last generations to enjoy this beautiful body of water in one of the most secluded spots in the Maritime Alps.
Attilio Mussino, the illustrator who brought the story of Pinocchio to life with his drawings, lived out the end of his life in Vernante, where you can still see hundreds of murals illustrating the famous puppet’s adventures. You’ll get the impression that Pinocchio, the fox, and the cat are actually chasing each other through the streets of this little Alpine village.
Since this area was also the favorite hunting grounds of the last Italian royal family, the House of Savoy, they left hundreds of kilometers of cobblestoned trails and mule tracks which still exist.
Nature lovers note: there are 2600 species of plants living here — that’s half the number of plant species in all of Italy, which itself has more floral diversity than any other European country — including 40 of the 80 species of orchid native to Italy. We said it was unique!
You’ll need 3-4 nights. In the winter go for the skiing. In spring, fall and summer for hiking, cycling and climbing. There’s also a spa open year-round right in the Park. Closest airports are Nice (France) or Torino (Italy). Check out the park website for more intel.
4. Tropea (Calabria)
The area has baby-powder-soft sand beaches, and it’s a hot spot for Italian vacationers (they call it La Costa degli Dei or the Coast of the Gods). It’s completely under the radar, virtually undiscovered by foreigners. The summer months in Italy get very busy in well-known beachy zones along the Ligurian and Tuscan coast, so it’s good to know some other spots where you can soak up the hot-weather vibe.
Tropea is famous for its unbelievably sweet red onions. Head to Gelateria Tonino in town for their red onion ice cream! You can also travel to the island of Stromboli by boat to see the exploding volcano at night.
Tropea is located right at the toe of Italy’s boot. Legend has it that this town was founded by Hercules.
Tropea travels are reliant on a car. You’ll also need at least 3 nights. If you’re traveling in summer, stay longer and day-trip to surrounding areas. The closest airport is Lamezia Terme. You can drive from the Amalfi Coast if an adventure is what you need while discovering the best places to travel in Italy in 2018. Want to see Tropea in 2019? Email us as we have an unadvertised tour that travels to this gorgeous town.
5. Palermo (Sicily)
Each year, just one Italian city is named the Italian capital of Culture. In 2018, that city is Palermo! Palermo is on the Italian island of Sicily, and it’s hella fascinating.
There’s tons planned for the city this year — check out this event calendar for details. For incredible sunsets overlooking the entire city, eat dinner at Seven. Feel the vibe on Instagram here. We also love the rooftop patio on top of the department store La Rinascente! Here is our founder, Bianca, taking in the view.
Getting to Palermo is a cinch ’cause — ta da! — it has an airport. (When traveling Italy, this is something to cheer about!) So it’s simple to add a trip to Palermo to your European itinerary by using the convenient “hopper flights” within Europe. We have some sweet tips on how to get to Sicily here.
Getting to Palermo is easy because it’s the only place on this list with direct airport access. Staying 2 nights will work. That’s how long we stay in Palermo during our tour of Sicily. If you do head to Palermo, don’t rush away again too quickly. Head down the coast to Cefalu or the Aeolian Islands (during summer), or go to Taormina (during winter or anytime).
We want to hear from you! Had you heard of any of these places before reading about the best places to travel in Italy in 2018? Which Italian destination is on your radar for this year and beyond? We’d love to hear your thoughts below!