Southern Italy is a completely different experience from Northern Italy, and its smaller towns and cities are another step away entirely.
That’s not to say I don’t love Northern Italy, with its beautiful, wide European streets, soaring mountains (depending where you go) and culture coming out of every nook and cranny. But there’s a charm to Southern Italy, the living embodiment of la dolce vita that not only encourages you to slow down and enjoy your surroundings but also leaves you craving more (and its not just the amazing food).
After our incredible four days sailing around the Amalfi Coast, we zigged across Italy’s boot to Puglia, before zagging back down to Tropea and towards Sicily.
In Alberobello (the town literally has beautiful in its name), we wandered around the most picturesque town I think I’ve ever seen (and dodged plenty of snap-happy visitors who clearly agreed), feasted on some of the most delicious fresh produce I’ve ever tasted and enjoyed an impromptu music festival in the main square (even though, sadly, we couldn’t sing along to any of the songs).
Alberobello also served as the perfect gateway to the rest of Italy’s boot heel, with several stunning seaside towns only a few hours drive further south.
We explored the Grotta della Poesia, a little known but captivating spot that was a locals paradise (and Italians in the know on their own summer holidays). After several photos and a quick dip, we carried on to Otranto to wander the cobblestoned streets of the old town. We feasted on fresh tuna tartare and swordfish carpaccio, local wines and delicious risotto, which we then had to walk off with some shopping (of course).
We stopped again to enjoy Marina Serra’s natural swimming pool, carved out of surrounding rocks and again in Santa Maria di Leuca for gelato and a view of the very heel of Italy.
Dinner was served in Gallipoli – yet another picturesque town with plenty to see and admire. Sunset was a stunning sight as clouds rolled across the town and the sun turned the sky into a rainbow of blues, pinks, oranges and purples.
Tropea was the perfect stop-off on our drive across the south of Italy and gave us a much needed break from all the exploring (and eating). The stunning town was a great spot for sunbathing, swimming and sightseeing with picturesque lookouts dotted around the town and the beautiful beach embracing typical Italian seaside-chic with brightly coloured umbrellas dotting the sand.
Sicily was a bit of a mixed bag for us. We’d heard rave reviews about Italy’s Football (not least from my friends who hail from the south) so I think we were all a bit stunned by both the amazing beauty of Sicily’s coastal towns and somewhat overwhelmed by its chaotic, gritty cities of Catania and Palermo.
The tiny, picturesque towns of Taormina and Cefalu were awe-inspiring, with stunning views and perfect postcard scenes, lazy afternoons on the sand and way too many Aperol Spritzes.
Taormina boasts old world charm and a reputation for vacations done right. The town is a mix of tourist and luxury shops, cute cafes and fine dining, topped off with iconic Italian cobblestoned streets and breathtaking views of the Sicilian coastline. As with all good things, Taormina was maybe slightly too beloved, with hoards of visitors, both local and foreign all competing for those same views, tables and holiday memories.
Cefalù on the other hand was our hidden gem of Italy. We passed it on our drive to Palermo and decided to revisit when the heat drove us out of the city and in search of somewhere to cool off. Still touristy but definitely less discovered, Cefalù speaks of a different kind of old world, where Nonnas hang laundry and fishermen haul in their daily catch.
The views were no less spectacular, only this time we were serenaded by a violinist and competed only with the stray cats for space along the pavement. There’s not as much to ‘do’ in Cefalù but wander slowly, eat and drink well, and relax on the beach; probably why we loved it so much.
Driving through Southern Italy is an amazing Summer holiday location, perfect for going slow, eating well and letting life wash over you. While the bigger cities have their own distinct (loud) personalities, the smaller towns are each unique in their own ways and offer new insight into la dolce vita. I’ll always love Rome, Florence, Torino and Venice, but Southern Italy has its own style that just can’t be compared.