If you’ve only got a short stay in Venice, one of Europe’s most romantic cities, don’t despair. The best sights and the atmosphere of Venice can be yours in as little as 24 hours— as long as you plan it right. Read on for tips on getting the most from a quick trip to Venice.
In Italy’s Puglia region, the architecture starts to look more gnome-like than Italian villa. Specifically in the town of Alberobello, clusters of these settlements, known as trulli, set up in a bewitching fashion. Standing in the midst of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, you half expect a gnome to pop out from a trullo. And while this part of Italy seldom makes a visitor’s list, it should just to see these strange structures in the flesh.
Image: pak shilla
A town translating into “Beautiful Tree” might leave visitors with a few questions beyond the name. While some are of the opinion that Alberobello is a mere tourist trap, the trulli truly are structures you have to see to believe, tourists or no tourists.
What’s a Trullo?
Chances are, if you haven’t been down to Italy’s Puglia region, you probably have never heard of a trullo. The trulli are limestone dwellings characteristic of this area of Italy. They are mortar-less in their construction, a prehistoric building technique that still managed to keep out the rain. The roughly worked limestone used to make the trulli hail from boulders in the neighboring fields of Alberobello. A trullo features a pyramidal, domed or conical roof. Sometimes, in Alberobello in particular, you will see mythological or religious symbols sketched on to the roofs in white ash.
Why were they built this way?
The mystery surrounding the trulli of Alberobello and Puglia is one few can figure out. Once you see all of the trulli of Alberobello, you may wonder why this style of architecture can be found here and in no other area of Italy. Many believe the trulli were constructed in such a fashion so that they could be taken down quickly. This was in hopes of avoiding taxation on new settlements. Others believe the trulli were merely set up this way for punitive purposes, as they were a cost effective structure to build and live in for peasants without heaps of cash. Many contend they are positively prehistoric, what the early residents of the area came up with for dwellings.
Are they all just homes?
The trulli of Alberobello do not just function as private residences or homes. Wandering around the Zona dei Trulli, you will see shops and restaurants in a trullo or two. Many date back to the 14th century in their construction. The Chiesa Sant’Antonio is even in the trullo shape, situated at the top of Rione Monti. The church tops with a trullo dome measuring 19.8 meters.
Can I stay in one?
Many companies have realized the appeal of the trulli of Alberobello, turning dozens into apartments and hotels for rent. While you won’t be hard press to find a trullo to stay in, you will pay for it. Staying in these witch-hat structures isn’t necessary a budget option. However, in very few circumstances can you claim you stayed in a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Staying in a trullo is similar to that of a cave. There are generally no windows with the exception of skylight type opening in the roof. If you are looking to unplug from the rest of the world, most Internet and cell phone signals don’t enter these thick limestone walls.
Is there any other reason to come to Alberobello?
Those that find themselves in Alberobello are probably here to see the trulli. However there are other aspects to this town you can appreciate. After you have explored the Zona dei Trulli, the dense mass of 1,500 beehive0shaped houses, head over to the New Town. Less touristy, you find a quiet piazza for a drink, amongst most of the locals of Alberobello.
Written by: Suzy Guese
With an estimated hike time of 5 hours and 11 kilometers to cover, Cinque Terre sounds more like a workout than a vacation destination. This piece of the Italian Riviera is the most popular and well known in the country. Travelers suffer through the expensive hostels, restaurants and workouts for views unlike any other. To avoid high prices and wearing yourself thin while on vacation, the beginner to the Cinque Terre should follow this guide.
Why is The Area Called The Cinque Terre?
For those unfamiliar with the Italian language, Cinque Terre means the “five lands” in Italian. The area gets its name for five towns carved dramatically along the coast of the Italian Riviera. The fabulous five include Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore.
Go In the Off-Season
There is nothing worse than arriving to the Cinque Terre hike and having to wait in line. In late spring and summer, this area truly fills up with travelers. Going in the off-season is a completely different experience. You will be forced to pay double for hotels and food in some cases. The hike can also be far too crowded to actually enjoy it throughout the crowded summer months.
Book Accommodation Early
Despite the time of year, the Cinque Terre is not a last minute destination you can just book on the fly. Hotels and hostels fill up quickly. It is important to book well in advance to avoid paying too much for sub-par accommodations. If you fail to book early, you might consider staying in towns outside of the classic five along this stretch of coastline such as La Spezia.
Know The Hike Before Setting Out
If you aren’t a very avid hiker, the Cinque Terre hike could seem a bit more than you bargained for on vacation. However if you know the trails and what you are getting into beforehand, you don’t have to take on too much. The trails between each of the five towns vary in intensity. For example, the easiest walk stretches from Manarola to Riomaggiore. The paved path is called the Via dell’Amore for many a couple have traversed this scenic stretch, hand in hand. Much more challenging are the narrow trails in some parts of the Cinque Terre. The hardest hike comes from Monterosso to Vernazza. With steep ascents and descents, you must keep your wits and stamina about you to avoid a misstep.
As any guidebook will tell, the focus of the Cinque Terre is obviously hiking. While the attraction does come through being able to walk from town to town, there are other substitutes to enjoy about this area. Rather than walking, you can also take the train to each town. Each village has its own quiet little piazza where dinners can’t help but seem like a dream. If you aren’t here for exercise, you should be in this location for the views. One of the best views comes at night above Riomaggiore. This view is also rewarding during the day. You just have to hike through town, up quiet the hill to see it all. Another view rivaling that of Riomaggiore comes at the lookout in Corniglia. Almost storybook in appearance, non-hikers can enjoy the views and hop on the train with no damage to the feet.
Be Careful What You Pack
As mentioned, most people are at the Cinque Terre to make the famous hike through the five towns. Packing for the Cinque Terre is a whole other ball of wax. You should have proper hiking and athletic shoes. Flip-flops will not do along some of the more intense stretches. Throw in sunscreen to avoid the classic tourist red lobster color and be sure to drink lots of water. If you are backpacking through the Cinque Terre staying in one town and then moving on to the next, you will want to pack light if you plan on forgoing the train ride for the trail.
Written by: Suzy Guese
As the sun shines on Matera, you need sunglasses to dull the brightness. What doesn’t seem real, a town not on the same page of any other Italian town, Matera nestles away in one of Italy’s most forgotten regions. A city so bright is hard to imagine in any other light. Unlike any other vision in Italy, Matera’s construction is what makes it an attraction. Its story is what makes it a fascinating piece in Italy’s puzzle. Set up in the southern region of Basilicata, in between Calabria and Puglia, Matera must be prepared for to enjoy its fame, shame, scandal and triumph completely. The backstory is just the beginning when it comes to Matera.
What To Know
In order to understand Matera and its importance to the south of Italy, you have to consider why the city looks the way it does. In the remote Basilicata region of Italy, Matera finds a home, loudly in cave form. Since Paleolithic times, the town has been inhabited, making it one of the oldest settlements in the world. The landscape of Matera allotted for carved out settlements, called sassi. Early residents were able to live in such a fashion that they could gain a harmony between man and the natural environment just by being at home.
What Was the Scandal
During the 1940s and 1950s, one of Italy’s great scandals took place in Matera. Residents began living in the sassi again as poverty was far too overwhelming and rampant. Disease thrived and the infant mortality rate sat at 50%. The government was forced to step in, removing people from their caves and into government housing. The problem with Matera is that it is comment on Italy’s poor south, an area frequently and throughout history, neglected by the Italian State. After drawing shame, Matera would be placed back in to the limelight by UNESCO when the city was deemed a world heritage site in 1993. Since that time, travelers in small numbers have been arriving to explore the sassi of Matera. Everyone loves a good scandal.
What To Read
Before taking off for Matera, you will understand the city’s past history and conditions if you pick up Carlo Levi’s Christ Stopped at Eboli. Mussolini exiled Levi to Matera for his anti-fascist views. In the process, he observed a horrific south. Levi concluded that Matera was a place so devoid of hope, Christ would never have visited. Malaria infested and high infant mortality rates, his work aimed to tell just how impoverished Italy’s south was.
What To Watch
When Mel Gibson needed a Jerusalem for his controversial film The Passion of the Christ, he turned to Matera to set the stage. The movie was filmed throughout the town’s sassi. Gibson saw the Biblical backdrop in Matera, much has many had seen before him. Pier Paolo Pasolini also selected Matera for his work The Gospel According to Saint Matthew. Upon arriving in Matera after seeing why filmmakers believed in Matera’s setting, you will understand why the town is just so biblical.
What to See
While in Matera, the main attraction is obviously the sassi, in other words the caves. The ancient city is composed of stone houses carved out of the cliff. To see what the sassi were like in the 1950s, Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario presents a model of the problems plaguing the south, specifically in Matera. Travelers should also wander through the two main districts of Matera, Sasso Barisano and Sasso Cavesoso. As the city is the attraction, get lost in the maze-like streets that truly are a maze.
Written by: Suzy Guese
The Romans called it Surrentum. The Greeks thought it was poison. Sorrento has captured attentions regardless of what previous residents have called her. Her beauty is undeniable, with location naturally favoring the southern Italian town. Clinging to the dramatic cliffs that lookout on to the Bay of Naples, Sorrento keeps a close watch on Mount Vesuvius, knowing the volcano’s previous record to be destructive. Getting Cheap Flights to his part of the world shouldn’t be a problem and it’s certainly worth a visit.
Sorrento was long thought to be where the mythical sirens in Greek legends lived, those who tried to entice Odysseus and his crew. The sirens were only escapable with the help of earplugs to avoid staying here eternally. The Greeks were right about Sorrento. It does have a certain poison you should hate, as it is a tourist town, but the area also provides a taste you can’t resist. Perhaps it is the location, but there is a great deal waiting to lure you to Sorrento and keep you here. The Greeks weren’t lying about Sorrento. Plug your ears or you could be here awhile.
Sorrento’s main song and dance is known as the tarantella. In town, a number of venues put on the traditional song and dance for visitors. While somewhat of a “thing for tourists”, tarantella is an integral part of Sorrento’s culture. Sorrento Musical puts on the typical dance of southern Italy, located in the Tasso Theater. You can also catch a show at Favnonotteclub. Both show tarantella in different manners and styles. However the same message gets across, one of showing foreigners the most important stories of Sorrento and the Kingdom of Naples over the last 500 years.
Take in sunset at Villa Comunale Park
An iconic Sorrento experience comes while watching the sunset over the Bay of Naples. One of the best vantage points to see that sun go down comes at Villa Comunale Park. The park resembles more of a town square, but you aren’t here to play in the greenery. You come to Villa Comunale Park to catch the views over the water to Mount Vesuvius when the sunset turns it all lava orange, no eruption required.
Pop in the medieval cloisters of Chiesa di San Francesco
Usually on the weekends, a wedding is taking place at Sorrento’s Chiesa di San Francesco. A beautiful place indeed to get married, the church is also a nice place to visit, specifically for its medieval cloisters.
Hang out with a fisherman in Marina Grande
Marina Grande has the sort of old-world Italy feel you hope to still find in a country quickly moving with the rest of the world. Even in such a tourist town like Sorrento, the fishing harbor of Marina Grande is still very much old school. Fishermen cast out for the day from this point, as run down buildings with charm wave good-bye. A few restaurants can be found down here where you can sample the catch of the day.
Bathe in Mythology
If you follow Via Capo, you should hit the Bagni Regina Giovanni, the rocky beach right near the ruins of the Roman Villa Pollio Felix. At Punta del Capo, it is considered one of the favorite swimming spots in the area. It was once completely blocked off, serving as the private harbor for the ancient Roman Villa. The reason Sorrento scared off the Greeks can be better understood at Grotta delle Sirene. Just east of Marina Piccola and past Sant’Angello, the grotto boasts remarkable water colors. It plays on the Greek legend of the enticing sirens ruling this area. One look, and you too could find Greek legend to be a reality.
Written by Suzy Guese
Cefalú enjoys being classically appealing, a Sicilian town where the locals will be the first to help you when your rental car gets jammed down a side street. Suddenly the whole village is out to direct, in no need of returning to the workday at hand. Yes, Cefalú is a class act built on a spur jutting out into the Tyrrhenian coast. The setting for Cinema Paradiso, the narrow medieval streets of Cefalú have been inhabited since the 9th century B.C. Backpackers can thank Roger II for much of the town’s creation and grand design, lending those charms you leave Palermo for in the first place.
· Location, Location, Location—Cefalú has location on its side. The city rests on the coast, in between Palermo and Messina. If you are arriving from the mainland of Italy by train, you will probably land in Messina. You can go by bus or train to Cefalú. The same can be said for Palermo. Alternatively, hire a car from Erento and go at your own pace.
· The Show in Town—The big show in town is Cefalú’s Duomo. The Norman Cathedral is recognizable for its two towers. At the center of town, Roger II wanted to pay back a higher power after his life was spared in a violent storm. His vision for the Cefalú Duomo would come to fruition by 1240. While the exterior is impressive, inside is the real showstopper. The oldest Byzantine Norman mosaics in Sicily liter the walls and ceiling of the Duomo. Christ is clad in mosaics with blond hair, for he was a Norman after all, or so the Normans would have it.
· A Portrait of a City’s Art Scene—Cefalú does not have the art scene of Palermo, but it does contend its Museo Mandralisca is important just the same. If you find yourself here, you are probably looking to see the Portrait of an Unknown Man by Antonello da Messina. Antonello was a great Renaissance from neighboring Messina.
· Shop until you drop—Before the sun starts to set and the day is not complete, the shops of Cefalú reopen after the afternoon siesta. As the shop front start to open, the crowds arrive. Even if you aren’t in the market to buy anything, it is a scene to join.
· Make the Climb to La Rocca—Cefalú stands apart from other Sicilian major cities with its La Rocca, the craggily rock on top of the village. You can follow the Salita Saracena, an enormous staircase to the top. After around thirty minutes, you can be at La Rocca, known for its glorious views of the town below.
· Just Beachy—The main appeal of staying in Cefalú is to take advantage of the beach. Along the side of town, there is a fine beach, crowded with beach blankets in summer time. In the off-season it is just as enchanting. Sit at a restaurant along the water and watch the water lap up the shores.
Just 50 miles from Palermo, rather than sticking to the big city, Cefalú lends that seaside charm all with a 278 meter crag La Rocca watching over it all. If only rocks could talk, Cefalú’s story would probably be even more intriguing.
Written by GYE contributor Suzy Guese.