Summer in Italy is synonymous with dramatic coastlines, sips of limoncello, Vespa rides, and hidden unspoiled beaches. It’s no surprise that Italy has become one of the world’s premier European travel destinations. Thanks to its beautiful beaches, great weather, and phenomenal cuisine, the peninsula feels synonymous with vacation season, particularly its iconic Northern destinations like Rome, Florence, and Venice.
While abundant in must-see history, however, these popular regions are also bustling with tourists, long lines, and steep prices. Braving the swarms of visitors to walk around the Colosseum on a steamy July day is anything but relaxing. If you’ve already visited Italy’s most famous spots or you’re simply an adventurer invigorated by the idea of cruising off the beaten path, there’s nothing better than Southern Italy vacations. Ready to immerse yourself? Discover the hidden gems tucked away south of Milan.
Situated near Naples and Pompeii and overlooking the Amalfi Coast, Sorrento is one of Southern Italy’s gorgeous coastal towns. At the center of it all is Piazza Tasso, bursting with restaurants to while away an afternoon. Take a pit stop at Bar Ercolano for a cappuccino or cool down with a lemon granita. This outdoor restaurant in the center of the piazza is the perfect place to people watch. Don’t miss out on one of Sorrento’s most famous libations, the lemon liqueur known as limoncello. Sip this sweet concoction at sundown while taking in the city’s magnificent coastal views.
La Grotta Dello Smeraldo
When Italians take their own vacations, La Grotta dello Smeraldo, aka the Emerald Cave, is a popular pick for sitting back and taking in some sun. Nestled into the coves of Conca dei Marini, not far along the Amalfi Coast from Sorrento, La Grotta dello Smeraldo gets its name from the bright green light that fills it, and visitors can take a boat ride to explore the cave in its entirety. Round off your trip with a meal at Chez Black, a restaurant located directly on the beach. This dining spot is famous for its spaghetti topped with locally caught seafood.
City lovers will adore the way Bari entwines the charm of the Italian countryside with the metropolis feel of Italy’s larger destinations up north. A port town nestled along the Adriatic Sea, Bari is home to both high-end shopping retailers and vast scopes of beachy terrain, melding its history with a healthy dose of modernity. Take a walk through Bari Vecchia, Bari’s historic region. Here you’ll find a variety of street food vendors selling treats like panzerotti, a type of fried calzone, and focaccia, a thick bread topped with Italian herbs and cherry tomatoes.
In Italy’s Basilicata region lies Matera, an ancient town with history etched into its landscape. Its dwellings, referred to as the “Sassi” di Matera, are chiseled into the region’s hills, and the city’s distinctive look made it a prime filming location for Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to stay overnight in the Sassi while in Matera. Luxury hotel Palazzo Gattini even has a suite with its own private swimming pool that overlooks the city’s hills. When you enter Matera, you’ll be whisked into another world.
Located along the Adriatic coast at the Southern tip of “heel”, Lecce contains a lush landscape that is rich in booming feats of Baroque architecture, like the Basilica di Santa Croce. While in Lecce, stop by L’angolino di Via Matteotti, a cafe famous for serving Puccia, a type of stuffed flatbread native to Lecce. With its prime seaside location, Lecce is also a gorgeous pit stop for spending time by the water.
Next up: Beyond Positano—this is where Italian locals go to escape the crowds.
This story was originally published on April 28, 2016, and has since been updated