Italy is one of the countries in the world with the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites. From its historic centres to its archaeological wonders, the country is a veritable cornucopia of cultural treasures. Southern Italy has a formidable heritage, including Baroque palaces and trulli, as well as a great many artistic masterpieces preserved in museums, churches and public buildings.
Moreover, it is important to take into account that the history and development of art in Western culture is intimately linked to the land of Dante owing to the immense artistic output that has taken place since the Middle Ages.
Puglia, Sicily, Sardinia, Calabria, Tuscany, Campania... Southern Italy is also a set of fascinating and diverse landscapes, composing a natural heritage without equal in the world
With its unique geological features and vast history, Sicily is home to an array of treasures scattered throughout the island. Among these wonders, we recommend a visit to Syracuse and the rocky necropolis of Pantalica; Etna, Europe's highest active volcano; and of course Scala dei Turchi, or 'Stairway of the Turks', a multi-level cliff of white rock creating dramatic natural terraces.
With its splendid towns, picturesque villages and remarkable baroque monuments, choosing between the countless possibilities for visiting Puglia is no easy task. We recommend the Trulli of Alberobello, traditional dwellings with cone-shaped limestone roofs; Castel Del Monte, a 13th century castle with unique architecture; the Sanctuary of San Michele Arcangelo, a fascinating complex of sacred buildings belonging to different eras, classified as World Heritage by UNESCO. And of course we can't forget to mention Lecce, Otranto, Galipolli or Ostuni.
The Amalfi coast is an area of great natural diversity, and has been richly decorated since the early Middle Ages, with major architectural and artistic works. The rural areas symbolise the ability of the inhabitants to adapt to the land, with terraced vineyards, orchards on the lower slopes and wide pastures in the highlands.
When visiting, don't miss Positano, Ravello and Amalfi. Suspended between the water and the slopes of the Lattari Mountains, these beautiful villages are hugely romantic, with breathtaking views and charming medieval passageways that have inspired some of the great figures of classical music and literature through the centuries.
Inhabited since ancient times, Campania is characterised by the influence of a variety of cultures. To fully understand the cultural dimension of this region, it is essential to visit the bustling city of Naples, which is alive with contemporary life, art, culinary culture and literary tradition. Don't leave without a stop at the ancient city of Pompeii, towered over by the sleeping Mount Vesuvius.
Many Italian festivals are rooted in historical events and combine local traditions such as processions, competitions between city districts, flag throwing, gastronomic fairs and other festivities.
During Carnival, Italy comes alive with an explosion of colour, music and traditions that differ from region to region, town to town. Our personal selection of the most interesting and characteristic carnival celebrations in the south includes: the mysterious and ancient Mamoiada carnival, which does not have floats but is marked by quirky folkloric masks: Issohadores and Mamuthones; the Carnival of Putignano, which mixes ancestral traditions with contemporary creations, with impressive floats made by papier-mâché masters; and the Carnival of Acireale, the most famous in the whole of Sicily, a historical event full of colour and music, dating back to the 16th century, during which a battle of oranges and lemons was organised.
There is also the Madonna Bruna festival, held on 2 July in Matera, which culminates in a spectacular fireworks display illuminating the Sassi of Matera.
The Maggio di Accettura is a unique combination of paganism and religion, belief and superstition, over-the-top festivities and traditional crafts. During this event, held in May, the maggio, a large old oak tree, and the cima, a holly tree, are taken from the surrounding forests to be "married", symbolising fertility and union in the heart of the village.
More than a destination, Southern Italy is a way of life. This region has many traditions rooted in the local culture and lifestyle.
Here are our tips for living like a true Italian and discovering southern Italy through the eyes of a local!
Take your time: you can plan an itinerary, but make sure you have time to relax and discover the "Dolce far niente", a relaxed southern Italian lifestyle that encourages you to enjoy life's simple pleasures: lazy lunches, swimming in a turquoise sea and aperitivi at sunset.
Also, be open-minded and always able to change and reschedule your next stop and the city to visit. Southern Italy is full of hidden treasures, which the locals are happy to show to those who know how to wait, listen, savour and enjoy a slow and contemplative pace of life.
Rent a car: The best way to keep track of your itinerary and change it according to your instincts is to rent a car, which you can easily do from the airport where you land.
Having your own car will allow you to get off the beaten track and visit less accessible places, while travelling at your own pace. For example, you can drive around Puglia and then into Basilicata and Calabria, regions with extraordinary natural and cultural heritage. Choose the coastal roads, which may take a little longer, but offer breathtaking views.
Sample local delicacies: when visiting southern Italy, you'll realise that every region, town and village has its own local products and traditions. Ask for local food and drink and the waiters will be happy to tell you about the history, nature and production of each product.
To make the most of the local cuisine, plan a stop at a trattoria or a country masseria. These are restaurants and accommodation set in old farmhouses where the owners grow their own produce and cook it for guests.
Dreamlike landscapes, elegant cities, extraordinary history and renowned gastronomy have made southern Italy an infinite source of inspiration for authors.
Our personal selection begins with The Leopard, Il GattoPardo, a work about the upheaval in Sicilian life and society during the Risorgimento. Considered one of the most important novels of modern Italian literature, it was adapted for the big screen with Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale and Alain Delon. Immersing yourself in this work will give you the chance to understand the life of an aristocratic Sicilian family before a visit to Sicily and Palermo.
If you're looking for a light comedy, don't miss Benvenuti al Sud, an adaptation of Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis, which tells the story of a postman from northern Italy who feigns a disability to ask for a transfer to Milan. When he is discovered, he is sent to a small village near Naples (Castellabate) for two years. He settles there alone, with his prejudices, before befriending its inhabitants.
Fans of crime thrillers will choose Io Non Ho Paura. This film by Gabriele Salvatore is based on the eponymous novel by Niccolò Ammaniti. The story takes place during the 'Years of Lead', a period in the 1970s characterised by terrorism and kidnappings, and features a nine-year-old boy discovering a crime committed by the entire population of his southern Italian town. Many scenes were shot in Puglia and Basilicata.