Image credit: Venissa
Italy may be one of the most popular holiday destinations and arguably most beautiful countries in the world, claiming everything from gorgeous architecture and art to topnotch cuisine to flatteringly-beautiful natural attractions, but there are endless ways it can continuously surprise you. Quotient taps on its different facets, showcasing a slew of easy-to-access experiences that are uniquely Italian and inspire you to live the good life.
Wake up to breakfast in a rupestrian church in Matera, Sicily
The Sassi in Matera, Sicily, are one of the most beautiful examples of troglodyte settlements in Italy. This unique hamlet is known to be home to the earliest inhabitants in the country as well as some impressive monastic communities.
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, these surreal-looking stone districts boast a wealth of locales ranging from fancy restaurants to luxurious hotels to quaint cafes, to even centuries-old rupestrian churches.
To get a taste of the high life here, head to La Gotte della Civita, located in the oldest part of Sassi, and facing the stunning Murgia park and its rock-hewn churches. You can start your day by having breakfast in a 19th-century cave church, which will impress you with its candle-lit niches and naves and crackling fire hosted in a confessional booth.
Matera, named the European Capital of Culture for 2019, definitely offers more reasons for visitors to explore a lesser-known region in Italy.
Have dinner in an alpine agriturismo or rustic farm
Mangia, mangia! This spirited expression which urges you to dig in all that Italian cuisine has to offer, will often be heard during your escapade to this postcard-pretty European country. And what better way to fully get a taste of authentic Italian delicacies other than pairing them with the most perfect scenery?
In the humbling Dolomite mountains, the family-run El Brite de Larieto is immersed in the largest larch forest in Europe, not too far from the glitzy mountain resorts of Cortina d’Ampezzo. The charming farmhouse is not only nestled amidst dominant mountain peaks rising up at every turn, but it is also known for its impeccable local produce, which comes straight from the farm (to qualify for the agriturismo status, the restaurant cum accommodation needs to have a functioning farm).
Think rigorously homemade dishes such as cured meats to desserts, including ice cream and panna cotta and fresh mountain cheeses. Drive up to experience the rustic restaurant, to take a glimpse of the working farm and the creamery that produces fresh milk and cheeses, and even get the chance to be one with nature, higher in the Dolomites, as El Brite de Larieto also features a “mobile kitchen” where a picnic will be set up for you at a higher altitude.
Sample world-class wines at Mount Etna volcano
Sicily’s Mount Etna boasts one of the most otherworldly scenery in Italy. At first sight, it resembles a lunar landscape of black sand, volcanic rocks and oozing lava that is as stark as it is beautiful. But what not many travellers know is that the wines from Sicily’s fast-growing Etna wine region are, perhaps, the most exciting on the island — Sicily itself boasts one of the oldest wine-making lineages in the world.
Visiting wineries near the volcano makes for an easy day trip from Taormina and Catania. The primary wine-producing zone here rises up the slopes of Mount Etna to an elevation of around 1,000 metres and higher so no visit is complete without tasting the local wine that grows from the rich, volcanic ash! Besides, not only will you get to step foot on some of the highest commercial vineyards in the world, but you will also literally level up your experience by wandering through old and new lava flows, and even getting a peak into a real lava cave, where you can find ice in any season!
Discover a ‘secret’ island adjacent to Venice
Everyone loves beautiful Venice, but unbeknownst to many travellers is the unassuming, adjacent island of Mazzorbo, located about 30 minutes from Venice on the LN vaporetto (waterbus) from Fondamente Nova.
Home to a vineyard that has overcome the challenge of the high tide for centuries, giving rise to a wine with truly unique characteristics, the island has a peculiar charm. Visually, it is dominated by a bell-tower of an abandoned church, and a good dose of tranquility permeates here. Although you may seem far from the hustle and bustle of Venice, the island has plenty to offer for the wine and cuisine lover, including dining at a Michelin-starred restaurant, visiting the walled vineyard of Venissa and having lunch in a lush garden, among green vines and the waters of the Venetian Lagoon.
Bask in the exotic Pontine Islands
Italy doesn’t resemble tropical locations such as Maldives but just off the coast of Rome and Naples is a cluster of islands that may confuse travellers about their current location. Teeming with azure, glimmering waters and rugged natural scenery, the marine paradise of the Pontine Islands is a real example of intact Italian identity.
For a secluded and no-frills experience, pop by Ponza, which is inhabited year-round and it’s still considered one of the country’s best-kept secrets. There’s also Palmarola, a visually-enthralling island surrounded by craggy rocks and teeming terraced vineyards; the island is only inhabited during summer. As well as swimming and sunbathing, the archipelago offers plenty opportunities for boating and diving.