Think you’ve done Italy? Here’s a list of activities guaranteed to show you another side of this most beloved of European destinations
The list of culinary delights that hail from Italy's Emilia-Romagna region reads like a foodie’s fantasy shopping list: prosciutto di Parma ham; Parmigiano-Reggiano and Fossa cheeses; balsamic vinegar of Modena; Sangiovese and Lambrusco wines. All through the year, food and wine festivals in the Emilia-Romagna region celebrate the best of the ingredients on their doorstep.
Festival del Proscuitto di Parma attracts over 100,000 visitors to the city of Parma to feast on its most famous export. The White Truffle Fair of Sant’Agata Feltria (or 'Truffle City') is held near Rimini every October, as is Mortadella Bò, a celebration of mortadella – a sausagey cold-cut meat, a favourite in picnics all over the world. There’s even a festival dedicated to salt – in Cervia, in September.
They take their food seriously in Emilia-Romagna, and with a bit of planning, you can too.
Tucked into the heel of Italy, this little-visited province may not have the cultural clout of Venice, Rome or Florence, but what it lacks in notoriety, it more than compensates for with a bewildering range of monuments – from neolithic tombs to Gothic cathedrals, a stunning coastline and vast swathes of empty countryside to explore.
Lecce is a charming historic city dominated by brilliant Baroque architecture. The White City, Ostuni, is a delight with its Moorish white-washed houses spilling down its three hills towards the large café and gelateria-lined Piazza della Liberta. Alberobello is pimpled with trulli (circular houses) – over 1,000 of them stacked up on a slope like old-fashioned sugar pots. And across the region, you’ll find countless opportunities to walk, cycle and eat.
Head to Puglia in late spring or early autumn, when the heat is less intense and there are fewer crowds. The coast is never far away though, including picturesque harbour towns like Otranto, where sail boats and fishing trawlers formed orderly rows across the turquoise shallows of a harbour where, 3,500 years ago, Mycenaean traders beached their ships.
Tuscany, in central Italy, is a work of art: rolling hills, luscious valleys and fields packed with poppies and giant sunflowers. Scattered across the landscape are many towns, perched high on the hills, home to hearty foods, medieval history and awe-inspiring works by the Italian masters. What better way to explore it than on another Italian masterpiece, the iconic Vespa?
Riding through the region’s hilly countryside and villages, with the mild sun caressing your head and the wind in your hair will make you feel totally free. It’s easy to find parking too, in one of the Tuscany’s iconic hilltop towns. While everyone else has to leave their vehicle in one of the carparks outside the town walls, you’ll be able to ride right in, many times parking next to the café or restaurant where you’re having your lunch.
Better still, why not stock up with provisions and have picnic in some beauty spot you come across in your travels? There’s a hook under every Vespa seat with the perfect drop for a bag full of crusty bread, sun ripened tomatoes and slices of Parma ham.
Europe’s largest protected wildernesses, Majella National Park sprawls across provinces of Chieti, Pescara and L'Aquila in Abruzzo and boats 500 kilometres of hiking trails. The vast high-altitude plateaus and wild and imposing canyons are home to wolves and bears, but also dry-stone huts that served as retreats for monks, Neolithic cave paintings and ancient stone towns that lay within the park territory.
This being Italy, there’s a focus on food here too. Food-loving Italians come here to salivate over menus of hearty mountain fare: rich peasant soups, lamb, wild boar sausages, the country’s best lentils and some heady red wines.
Rising out of the cobalt-blue seas off Sicily's northeastern coast, the Aeolian Islands lay like volcanic breadcrumbs, scattered across the Tyrrhenian Sea. Easily reached by ferry from Milazzo, each has its own character and offer stunning scenery, sensational seaford, and in some cases, sulphuric delights.
Base yourself in Lipari, the largest island in the chain, with plenty of accommodation options and boat connections to the other islands. From here, Volcano, with its smouldering volcano and therapeutic mud baths is but a short boat trip away. The most ‘active’ volcano is on Stromboli, a constantly grumbling cone where lines of red lava illuminate the night sky. There was a mini-eruption in 2007, but that hasn’t stopped many of Italy’s top designers buying holiday homes here.
The beautiful island of Sardinia doesn’t appear on most people’s ’must visit’ list of potential mountain biking destinations and yet the island has so much to offer. A dense network of perfect mountain bike trails, great weather, stunning scenery and fantastic food are just some of the highlights.
Head for the historic south-west corner of the island – home to a vast area of cork and ilex forest and dotted with ancient mines that once provided work for thousands of local people. Here you’ll find some of the best mountain bike trails on the island – everything from flowing woodland single track to ancient Roman supply roads and scenic coastal jeep trails. A warm welcome, great accommodation and heart Sardinian food, it’s the perfect mountain-biking destination.
First built by troops during the First World War, these paths – or ‘iron ways’ – criss-cross the Dolomites offering hikers (and the occasional intrepid cyclist) a nerve-racking route across the mountains. Many have been upgraded and extended, but sheer edges and deadly drops abound.
Sound a little too hardcore? The Viel Del Pain trail offers an easier introduction to the Dolomites experience with stunning views of the Marmolada glacier and a great rifugio with the best hot chocolate in Northern Italy.
Should you find yourself in the South Tyrol, drop by the Corones Museum on the summit plateau of Mount Kronplatz. Sitting at 2,275m above sea level, with jaw-dropping views over the Dolomites range, this museum dedicated to Alpine history is an architectural wonder and the brainchild of Reinhold.
Italy is perfect for short breaks, with every region, and indeed many towns, offering a delight for every sense in bite-sized portions. Whether renaissance art, medieval architecture or pasta is your thing, there’s somewhere in Italy sure to satisfy, and doubtlessly served by an affordable budget airline.
Whether you're heading to Siena, Verona, Venice, or Florence, our writers have unearthed the best places to stay and eat and the things you must see and do. And more importantly, they’ve snuffled out a host of activities that won’t cost you a single Euro. From sampling chocolate in Naples and exploring Siena’s Contradas Lucca by bicycle, weekends of adventure or indulgence (or both) but a few hours away.