Would you like to visit Southern Italy? Great idea, because the South of Italy is an ideal place to spend your holidays, as well as being one of the most beautiful areas of Italy. Get ready to be awe-struck by its incredible beauty and to taste its delicious food (and fantastic wine). Travelling through Southern Italy is a journey through the culture, the history and the traditions of the most beautiful country in the world. If you don’t know how to plan your trip in southern Italy, here are 5 places you shouldn’t miss and a few suggestions for an on the road tour.
Many people say that Italy is one of the most wonderful countries in the world. Natural beauty, incredible masterpieces, age-old culture, and fantastic traditional food and wine: all rolled into one. These are all precious elements that should be part of any lengthy tour, and they can all be found in Italy, and in particular in Southern Italy, one of the most loved and renown areas you’ll ever come across. Travelling through Southern Italy is not only a journey through wonderful scenery, it’s also a way to come into contact with centuries of Mankind’s history. So if the question is “Is it worth visiting the South of Italy?”, there’s only one answer: absoloutely yes!
Best places to visit in Southern Italy
It’s not easy to decide where to go and what to see in the South of Italy: there’s so much to choose from. But if you are thinking of going on a tour in southern Italy, here is a short list of the 5 best places to visit. These are unique places, for which the South of Italy is famous worldwide.
Napoli and Pompei
The starting point of any Southern Italy tour should be from its emblematic capital: Naples, a city that can quite easily be compared to Rome. Naples does not need any kind of introduction because its fame is world renown. The city looks over the stunning Gulf of Naples, dominated by the profile of the Vesuvius volcano. The city is famous for being the birthplace of Pizza, as well as famous sweet delights, such as “Sfogliatelle” filled with ricotta, Rum Babas and fried “Zeppole”, just to name a few. Besides its fantastic food, Naples is charged with history, culture, tradition, and art. An old Italian proverb quotes “See Naples and die”, meaning that once you see this city you are so content that you can die happily. Not far from Naples is the ancient, unique city of Pompei, where you can visit the famous archeological discoveries of the terrible erruption that hit the area in AD 79, completely destroying both Pompeii and the nearby city of Ercolano. Walking through these ruins truly gives the sensation of reliving the Past.
The Amalfi Coast
The Amalfi Coast is a narrow stretch of land that overlooks the Mediterranean Sea, connecting Naples to Salerno. Travelling on this road, whether by car or on a motorcycle, the views are amazing. There are lots of picturesque villages and small towns to visit along the way (like Amalfi and Positano), famous for their handmade crafts and delicious food and wine products. It’s no surprise that in 1997 the Amalfi Coast became one of the UNESCO World Heritage venues.
The Calabria Coastline and Sea
If you look at Italy from Space, the country looks like a woman’s boot. Calabria, one of the Southern Italian regions is the tip of the boot, surrounded on three sides by the Mediterranean: the Tyrrhenian Sea, the Ionian Sea, and the very narrow Messina Channel, which separates the city of Reggio Calabria, on the mainland, from the city of Messina, in Sicily. Calabria has some of the most beautiful beaches in Italy, so it would be a shame not to stop for a swim in any one of these places: Diamante, Isola di Capo Rizzuto, Scilla, Tropea, Praia a Mare or Soverato, just to mention a few.
Puglia’s Coastline and Sea
As stated, Calabria is the tip of the Italian boot, while Puglia is Italy’s heel (Tacco d’Italia). Another beautiful region where the beaches are simply spectacular. Puglia is a narrow, long strip of land that looks onto both the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Ionian Sea. Some of its most famous and stunning beaches have fascinating names: Torre dell’Orso (Bear’s Tower), Porto Badisco, Cala dell’Acquaviva (Livewater Cove), Marina di Pescoluse, Punta Suina (Pig’s Point), Baia di Porto Selvaggio (Wild Harbour Bay).
Matera, Città dei Sassi (City of Stones)
Our last suggestion for a trip in Southern Italy takes you across a complete change of scenery. Gone are the rolling hills of Calabria and Puglia: say hello to the rugged landscape of the Basilicata region. Matera, known as the Città dei Sassi (City of Stones) lies in two canyons carved by the Gravina River. Here you can visit the “Sassi”, the complex of cave dwellings carved into the ancient river canyon; the Romanesque Civita district; and the Piano with its stunning Medieval Renaissance buildings. An unforgettable experience.
Discovering Southern Italy on a motorcycle: Chronicles of a trip from Matera to Gallipoli
This is the travel diary of Janine, an Australian woman who joined one of HTR tours together with her husband. The Amalfi Coast and Southern Italy is perfect for couples.
It was lovely to wake up in the beautiful city of Matera with the rain falling outside. It’s the first time we have seen rain so far and it gives the ancient city a different look altogether.
I can’t help but recap last night as we enjoyed yet another incredible feast and I could feel a real sense of pride in our first night in the south, particularly for showing us the best in local and traditional food. I loved the banter between Enrico and our waiter, especially the examples of dialect they were exchanging. This meal was a favourite of mine, with the variety of local vegetables to share amongst us and of course there was the pasta! Incredible. The trattoria was buzzing and Jim even managed to befriend some locals on the table next to us, sampling some strange and exotic cuts of meat.
Another slow walk home with Enrico sharing stories, correcting my Italian along the way. I am beginning to love more and more, this slow pace of conversation and strolling each evening.
After breakfast we walk up to the Matera Cathedral making sure that along the way we keep a careful eye on where we have come from. It could be very easy to find yourself lost in this city that feels like a maze, the “Sassi di Matera”. On our return to the beautiful L’hotel in Pietra the rain clears and the sun appears in perfect time for us to wander back to the bike in readiness for our afternoons adventure.
We wave goodbye to the trusty Franco and head off towards il tacco d’Italia, to our next stay in Gallipoli.
As always, we stop at the perfect time for coffee and todays first stop in Taranto was no exception, at Bernardi Cioccolateria. After our espresso at the bar and a small snack for lunch, we head to view the beautiful display of cioccolati. Finding it too difficult to resist, Rob and I indulge in a few incredible treats. I must say here that at this point, in classic Enrico style, he did tell me that I was eating like a little pig! It sounds much nicer when said in Italian of course, but when in Rome one must sample as much as possible!
From Taranto, we head south along the coast. The most fascinating thing I notice as we travel along the coastline and through the beach side towns was that being out of the summer months, the towns were completely empty. Shops are closed, houses shut and no people as far as the eye could see, with the exception of two other riders who passed us along the way. It is amazing to ride along and have the road to ourselves and try to imagine what it would be like in the peak season riding through these towns. I love the emptiness and peace of riding here, it is like nothing we have experienced so far on our journey.
Not far from Porto Cesareo we come to a stop in our road travels. An unexpected roadworks and road closure creates a small diversion for us, but nothing that discourages team Enrico and Fabio. A quick reconnaissance of the situation sees us on our way towards Porto Cesareo.
In Porto Cesareo some of us enjoy gelato, some a lovely rest or even a nap in the sun before getting back on the bikes to head toward our final destination of Gallipoli. The afternoon ride is stunning along this coastline and just prior to our main destination, we stop for a quick photo shoot near Nardo. We take some fabulous photos here with the bikes lined up overlooking the sea, Enrico doing his best to ensure every moment of our tour is captured with great care and always humour.
Arriving into Gallipoli after some motorway kilometres, what a pleasure it is to ride through the narrow-cobbled street to be greeted by Franco and the lovely staff of the Relais Corte Palmieri. Yet another beautiful hotel for our next two nights.
The evenings plans are organized, sunset drinks on the terrace overlooking the roof tops of Gallipoli. We share some wine from Franco’s uncle as well as the beautiful caciocavallo formaggio that Franco had purchased the day before. Enrico lines us all up for a kissing photo and as always, our evening is off to a great start!
We walk to dinner with a quick stop for a glass of wine along the way in a beautiful bar. It is here that Enrico enlists the girls to write a story for each day of our tour. Dinner is very different tonight, being on the coast now, seafood is the main fare. We have some raw surprises included along with the staple food of fava beans. Once again, we find that the restaurateur is very keen to show us the best of the local foods. We drink great wine and of course finish off with our Limoncello at the end.
We opt for the slow walk home again, to help the evenings festivities digest and I find Gallipoli to be a most beautiful seaside city to wander at night
This morning we head off for our loop ride with one of the highlights being il tacco d’Italia. Another perfect riding day with blue skies and sunshine. As we head further south I notice the architectural changes become more apparent with an Arabic influence as well as the odd Norman tower along the way. Our arrival into Santa Maria di Leuca is nothing short of spectacular. On the hill, overlooking the sea and the magnificent view of the city with it’s white hue, this must be one of the best locations to stop in Italy. This picture below says it all, just magnificent! What a day to be on the bikes in Italia.
Leaving Santa Maria di Leuca and we head north on the other side of Italy! The landscape of the Puglia region is beautiful with olive trees and stone walls lining the roads. And what great roads we are on now, perfect for the bikes with the weather to match.
We pull up at a roadside vendor, one of the great Enrico tours moments to ensure we are experiencing the true Italia. Our friendly vendors name is Cesare and we spend an hour here chatting and sampling his beautiful produce. Prickly pear, capers, olives, sundried tomatoes even vegetables from the sea. As we stand on the road side sampling each item, I enjoy listening to the banter between the men and trying to pick up words and phrases that I can understand. What a moment to have on our tour, one of my absolute favourites so far. Cesare is so generous with us all and so very proud to share his produce. Enrico and Fabio purchase some olives and other treats then we load up the bikes and continue on our way.
The sea is a spectacular blue as we continue north along the gentle winding roads of the coast. I think that this is one of the most enjoyable riding days so far. The roads are peaceful and the scenery is spectacular. I love the contrasting colours of the landscape against the blue waters. The south of Italy and the region of Puglia is truly bellissimo!
It’s time for our lunch stop and we find ourselves at Captain Morgan in San Foca, located on the beach. A perfect place for fresh seafood and a cold beverage. We sample local sea urchin “Riccio di mare” as a starter, not something any of us have eaten before. Quite an unusual taste but definitely something you need to experience when travelling in these parts of Italia. A great seafood lunch follows along with some beer and prosecco and time to relax and enjoy this lovely stop.
The coast road heading north from San Foca continues to be stunning and we enjoy a relaxing ride before we head into the city of Lecce for an hour of wandering on our own. Lecce is another beautiful city with its stunning cathedral and lovely streets to wander. We might be a bit weary now and knowing that our return to Gallipoli is not far makes the motorway ride home feel quite welcome. This has truly been an incredible riding day in Italia.
Our day draws to a close and our stay in Gallipoli would not be complete without a spectacular seafood dinner. Before we wander to our restaurant on the water, Rob and I enjoy the privilege of talking with a local family who invited us in to their home opposite our hotel. Enrico and Fabio chat with the women and translate some of their family story for us. Once again, I see and feel the pride that the Southern Italian people have and feel quite humbled by the way they openly share their stories and home with us.
Dinner is once again quite spectacular. A showcase of local seafood, lobster risotto followed by seafood platters. So much food to enjoy, beautiful wine, fabulous company and another slow walk home.
What a fabulous day, one of the best!