Traveling to Italy usually involves a visit to the Big Three: Rome, Florence and Venice. All must-see cities for everyone visiting the country. But as more travelers look for unique experiences and off the beaten path destinations going further afield is necessary to achieve your Italian dream vacation.
In late October, I had the opportunity to join I.D.I. Travel, a destination specialist with extensive knowledge of travel to Italy and France on an eight day educational journey through parts of Southern and Eastern Italy. The itinerary included popular destinations like Rome and the Amalfi Coast as well as less traveled areas like Matera and the Apulia region. Having traveled all over Italy from Cortina to Cortona, including Florence and Venice multiple times, for some reason Rome and the Amalfi Coast had eluded me. The other locations I had just read about through research so was excited to experience something new.
As the saying goes, “all roads lead to Rome.” This was also true for the first stop of my itinerary although my mode of transportation was not quite from ancient Roman times but still considered vintage. I.D.I. Travel known for their experiences arranged a tour of Rome in classic ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s vehicles like Bentley, Fiat, Volkswagen Beetle, and Excalibur. It was a thrilling way to see the sites of Rome that was made even more special with our own professional photographer to capture the fun as well as a prosecco toast to our amazing views of the city.
Other activities included a pizza making class with a professional chef in her private kitchen as well as a tour of Ostia Antica, an ancient Roman city and archaeological site just six miles from the Rome airport making it a great alternative if time doesn’t allow for a trip to Pompeii which is three hours south of Rome.
Not to be outdone by their exceptional excursions, I.D.I. Travel also excels at representing some of the country’s most exquisite hotels many of which are part of Sequel Travel’s preferred list of hotels where we can offer our clients exclusive amenities. In Rome, I stayed at Six Senses Roma, a beautiful mix of modern and classic Roman architecture located in the center of the city. The Six Senses brand is focused on wellness and sustainability so guests can enjoy a green oasis amidst the hustle-bustle of Rome.
Three hours south of Rome, we made our way to the Amalfi Coast, but not before stopping in Naples for a delicious food tour. Our tour included traditional Neapolitan staples like pizza and gelato as well as other treats from the region like sfogliatella, a filled pastry and taralli, a small bagel shaped cracker. Our quick visit to Naples came to an end and it was time to make the hour long drive further south to Positano. The winding roads hugging the coast revealed amazing views at every turn. But it was the stay at Le Sirenuse that delivered an unforgettable view from my private balcony overlooking the hill town and Tyrrhenian Sea.
Since 1951, this iconic, family-owned hotel has welcomed high-profiled guests from royalty such as Princess Caroline; musicians like Mick Jagger and tennis player, Roger Federer to movie and reality stars including Audrey Hepburn, Reese Witherspoon, and Kylie Jenner. The casual and welcoming vibe the owners and staff exude to all of their guests made me feel right at home so much in fact that I didn’t want to leave!
But leave I must and this time it’s just a short 10 mile drive to the town of Amalfi where I stayed at Santa Caterina. This Belle Époque villa turned hotel is perched on a cliff with dramatic views of the Amalfi Coast yet retains a homey feel with touches like lovingly cultivated gardens of olive and fruit trees to antique hand painted majolica floor tiles.
During my time on the Amalfi Coast, I.D.I. Travel arranged a visit to an agritourism farm run by the same family for over 70 years. A walk amongst the fragrant lemon groves gave way to a limoncello tasting as well as sampling a variety of olive oils. A mozzarella making demonstration ended our tour but not before a hair raising ride through the village’s narrow alleys on a classic Ape Calesse delivery scooter!
For the second half of the trip I would head east across rolling hills and farmland to the stunning vistas of Matera in the Basilicata region or the instep of Italy’s boot. Matera and the adjacent neighborhoods of Sassi di Matera are from paleolithic times and is known for its cave dwellings that housed generations of the city’s poor. The area was so derelict that it was known as the “shame of Italy” and it wasn’t until the 1970’s that the city’s rebirth began. In just over 50 years since the start of the restoration, it’s been named a European Capital of Culture, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and considered one of the most beautiful places in all of Italy. During my visit I had the distinct pleasure of staying at Sextantio le Grotte della Civita, a beautifully restored cave hotel with a romantic and rustic elegance.
The last stop on my Italian adventure took me further South to the Apulia region located in the high heel of the boot. I stayed in Risorgimento Resort which is perfectly located in the historic center of Lecce. Known for its baroque architecture, the city is often referred to as “the Florence of the South”.
The real treat though was spending time in the village of Sternatia where the average age of its citizens is 80 years old. Residents still speak Griko, a Greek dialect from pre-Roman times. I toured the town with my guide Mimino, 91 years young and had an amazing lunch in a private noble house prepared with love by local Nonnas, the name for Italian grandmothers. It was the best meal by far and that’s saying a lot!
The time had come to bid arrivederci to my wonderful hosts at I.D.I. Travel and the amazing experiences we shared. Reflecting on my tour of the “second” Italy, the road less travelled, I realize that the experience was one of a kind, and would recommend it highly to people seeking a different way to see Italy.