A Travellerspoint blog

Italy

Alberobello - Bari, Italy

sunny 29 °C
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We reluctantly left Matera and drove on to another gem in the Puglia region - Alberobello.

It’s known for its trulli, whitewashed stone huts with conical roofs and has around 1,500 of them! It's akin to a Smurf village and wowed us yet again.

We stayed in an Airbnb for two nights which allowed us to wander through the streets and enjoy some great Italian food - pizza, pasta, ice-cream, taralli and calzone di cipolla and more.

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We also took a half day trip to Grotte di Castellana, a vast and complex area of underground caves that extend for a length of 3348 metres and reaches a depth of 122 metres. It's Italy's longest natural subterranean network with an incredible range of underground landscapes, and extraordinary stalactite and stalagmite formations.

From Alberobello, we drove to Bari via some other Italian coastal gems - the towns of Monopoli and Polignano a Mare.

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Matera, Italy

sunny 31 °C
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Matera is not the stereotypical destination to check out in Italy, however it was a highlight of our trip. Not only is it visually stunning, with a fascinating maze of streets and laneways, on a hillside right by a massive gorge, it's also said to be the world's third-longest continuously inhabited human settlement. The first inhabitants were here some 7,000 years ago living in natural caves in the tufa limestone

This year the UNESCO World Heritage Site was awarded the title of the 'European Capital of Culture 2019' and is quickly becoming one of the country's most singular tourist destinations. It's a city that makes you feel like you've been transported back in time and offers so much to travellers.

We explored the town on foot and ate some delicious food at Trattoria del Caveoso.

Be sure to check out:

  • Palombaro Lungo - A giant cistern lying under the city's main square with arches carved out of the existing rock, it is huge and was still supplying water to the city within living memory.
  • Casa Noha & Casa-Grotta di Vico Solitario - A glimpse into the how life used to be in Matera. The house within the cave has a bed in the middle, a loom, a room for manure and an area for a donkey and a pig.
  • Cathedral - A stunning 13th-century Pugliese-Romanesque cathedral set up high.
  • Museo della Scultura Contemporanea - Italian sculpture from the late 19th century to the present day with examples of graphic art, jewellery and ceramics.
  • Chiesa di Madonna delle Virtù - This monastic complex from the 10th century is one of the most important monuments in Matera with dozens of chambers carved into the limestone.
  • Chiesa San Pietro Barisano - From the 12th century, St Peter's is Matera's largest rupestrian churches.
  • Matera Gravina - Take the trip across the gorge and explore more caves as well as getting a great view back over Matera itself.

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Pompeii, Italy

sunny 28 °C
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Pompeii is home to one of Europe's most fascinating archaeological sites. The ancient Italian city, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was buried under 4 to 6 m of volcanic ash and pumice in AD 79 following the giant volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius which towers beside it.

Now largely excavated, it has revealed a preserved city showing a unique snapshot of Roman life, frozen at the moment it was buried. Roads, buildings, paintings, as well as entombed wooden objects and human bodies are on display. It's one of the most popular tourist attractions in Italy and fascinated us for hours as we explored the vast area.

The following day, we drove up to the volcano that caused the destruction - Mount Vesuvius. You drive part the way up, get a shuttle bus to a second point and then climb the rest of the way right to the crater. The views across Pompeii, Naples (which is Europe's most densely populated city), and the ocean is immense. As is the view into the crater itself which is steaming and a stark reminder of it's the destructive forces that lie deep inside.

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Cinque Terre, Italy

sunny 21 °C
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A change of pace was welcome as I caught back up with my travel buddies in Cinque Terre, one of Italy's most famous areas. It's based right on the Italian Riviera coastline with 5 centuries-old villages perched on rugged cliffs with rocky beaches. Each town has pastel coloured buildings, with vineyards, steep terraces and harbours filled with fishing boats. It's home to great seafood and the Liguria region’s famous sauce, pesto. It's a perfect place to hang out for 4 or 5 days as there are walking trails between each village with stunning sweeping views the entire way.

Prior to getting there, I met a doctor during the train trip who couldn't grasp why the region was so famous as 'there are dozens of other villages just like these, right across the Italian coastline'. Wow.

We based ourselves at Monterosso, the largest and northern most village as it was much easier to find accommodation. From there, we did day trips to each of the other villages - first to Venazza where we enjoyed pizza and pasta in the main square. It was a fair walk at 12km, and is the longest between each village however there are trains running between each village meaning you only have to walk one way.

Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore were also great as we indulged in the views, great food and stunning buildings. On the final day, we took a ferry to Porto Venere, which is further south allowing us to take in views of each village from a different perspective. Porto Venere was a great place to see in it's own right with eight-storey harbour front houses and sights such as:

  • Palmara - An island with towering cliffs, picturesque coves and rocky beaches.
  • Castello Doria - A 16th century castle perched up high.
  • Church of Saint Peter - A small church on a rocky point right by the ocean from 1198.

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Dolomites, Italy

semi-overcast 10 °C
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We said our goodbyes to Venice and despite wanting to stay longer, we were excited about the drive ahead of us and the mighty Dolomite's that await.

With so much to explore, and limited time we picked a few places to visit and were blown away by the whole region as we drove north. We stopped for lunch at Longarone and various towns along the way until we arrived at Cortina d'Ampezzo where we'd booked for 2 nights in an Airbnb. The property was great - a chalet, set on a hillside and not far from town.

We planned on hiking the 'Three Peaks' circuit, however as it was still coming out of winter, there was too much snow to do the full hike. Instead we drove to Lake Antorno and hiked up to a Refugio called Refugio Auronzo. It was slow going in the snow, however still offered an incredible view. It would have been even better if there was an option to stay overnight!

After a couple of nights we set off, stopping at Giau Pass for a tasty coffee and a brief walk to admire the spectacular view. It seemed to only get better as we went on to reach Passo Pordoi, a mountain pass that stands at an altitude of 2,239m. This is situated between the Province of Trento and the Province of Belluno. To reach it there are as many as 28 hairpin bends! We jumped on a the cable car that took us up higher to 2,950m where we enjoyed 360 degree views, right across the region.

We stopped in to bunker down at San Pietro in another Airbnb. This town is home to one of the Dolomite's most famous views - the Church of Saint John in Ranui, with the stunning mountain backdrop.

A huge day, followed by a well deserved meal at Hotel Kabis. Wow.

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Venice, Italy

overcast 18 °C
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This trip wasn't meant to happen. But when my sister flagged the idea of celebrating her 40th birthday in Italy, my Mum keen to go for the first time, and then not 1 but 2 wedding invitations in the UK right around the same time - it had to happen!

We met in the truly unique city that is Venice for a birthday celebration that took us to bars across the city into the night.

It's a fascinating place that it's literally a maze of winding lanes and canals across 100 small islands. We stayed in an AirBnb right in the heart of it all, complete with a roof-top area that gave us a great view over one of the many plazas.

After a boozy night one, we explored the vast city and took in giant attractions like:

  • St Marks Square - The largest square in the city and a melting pot for tourists.
  • St. Mark's Basilica - Venice's best-known church, and one of the most easily recognised in the world,
  • Palazzo Ducale and Bridge of Sighs - A perfect example of Venetian Gothic architecture.
  • Grand Canal & Rialto Bridge - The largest canal that sweeps through the heart of Venice with a bridge that marks the island's first settlement.
  • The Arsenal and the Museum of Naval History - once was the largest and busiest in the world until the end of the 17th century.
  • Plus endless churches and museums.

One of the best reasons to stay right in the heart of it all? After dark, the crowds die down, it transforms into a much quieter place allowing you to soak it all in.

On our last day, we walked to the city's entrance via the bustling food market, enjoyed a Venetian coffee and then picked up a rental car to explore some more!

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Italy - Rome

overcast 19 °C

The cheapest way to fly from Toronto to Europe, was via Rome. Would you believe it?? Once our gear was sold, I booked the flight and off I went with Air Transat. Two days in Rome and then a flight to Helsinki.

It has been 10 years since I explored Rome, and as this was my first view of Europe after such an extensive time in North and South America, let's just say I was yet again blown away. It's like an enormous museum with unmatched history and character. With less than 48 hours, and like a kid in a lolly shop I wandered in and around a good portion of the city centre. It's not just the main sights, but the people and their way of life. Properly enthralling. Gone are the modern glass building, 6 lane highways and gigantic SUV trucks. Hello colourful ancient building, winding lane ways and smart cars.

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The Funny Palace hostel was ideally located next to the main train station and after delicious pizza, coffee and ice-cream - I found myself boarding a plan to the next destination: Helsinki, Finland.

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