Southern Italy Top Attractions
Below the chaos of Naples is Napoli Sotterranea, a netherworld of ancient Greek quarries and aqueducts, Roman streets, and World War II bomb shelters. Parts have been cleaned up and made accessible to the public.
The Ruins around Vesuvius
This may be the closest you’ll ever get to time travel. Thanks to Vesuvius’s blowing its top in AD 79, the towns round its base were carpeted in fallout and preserved for posterity. Allow a good half day to look around bustling Pompeii or the more compact, less busy, and better preserved Herculaneum. For the best Roman frescoes, head to the Villa Oplontis between the two ancient cities.
The Amalfi Coast
One moment you’re gazing out at a luxury sailing craft, the next you’re dodging mules on precipitous footpaths. “Comforts of the 21st century in a medieval setting” just about sums up the remarkable Amalfi Coast.
You can see why Matera is a favorite with filmmakers shooting biblical scenes. You get that “time warp” feeling, especially in early morning or at night among the Sassi, with buildings seemingly gouged out of the limestone cliffs.
With its much-feted Baroque facades and extensive Roman remains in the city center, Lecce has a legitimate claim to being Puglia’s fairest city. As an added bonus, nearby are a largely undeveloped coastline and the magical walled town of Otranto.
Bronzi di Riace, Reggio di Calabria
Few bronze statues have survived intact from the ancient Greek world. The presence of not one but two larger-than-life bronzes, restored to almost perfect condition, is reason enough to trek to Reggio di Calabria, on the eastern side of the Strait of Messina.
You can take the single-gauge railway around its foothills, splurge on an SUV experience near the summit, or just stroll across old lava fields on its northern flank. Alternatively, go down into the gorge of Alcantara and see what happens when lava flow meets mountain spring water.
Palermo, Monreale, and Cefalù
When it comes to medieval mosaics and Norman cathedrals, Palermo and its environs are the envy of the world. Biblical scenes in the newly restored Palatine Chapel in Palermo shimmer in ripples of gold leaf, and nearby Monreale and Cefalù’s cathedrals are replete with heavenly golden mosaics.
Imperial Roman Villa, Piazza Armerina
“Villa” doesn’t begin to describe this opulent palace from the latter years of the Roman Empire. The stunning mosaics that fill every room are perhaps the best preserved and certainly the most extensive of the ancient Roman Empire.
Few buildings encapsulate history better than the Duomo of Siracusa. The cathedral started life as a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena sometime in the early 5th century BC, as one glance at the majestic fluted columns inside confirms.
The 20-km (12½-mile) stretch of the Costa Smeralda, on the island’s northeast is an oasis of lush Mediterranean maquis enclosing white sandy beaches with crystal-clear water. One of Europe’s most expensive locations, it attracts the jet set in summer, but the crowds disperse and deals can be found outside high season. Further north, the pristine beauty of the Maddalena Archipelago led UNESCO to declare it a World Heritage Site.
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