Italy's north may have the euros, but the south has the soul. Beautifully sun-bleached, weathered and worn, this is Italy at its most ancient, complex and seductive.
Italy's south is a never-ending feast: bubbling, wood-fired pizza and suckerpunch espresso in Naples; long, lazy lunches at vine-framed Pugliese farmhouses; just-caught sardines by lapping waves on a Tyrrhenian island; lavish, luscious pastries in chintzy Palermo pasticcerie (pastry shops). Should you go mushroom hunting in the wilds of Calabria? Taste-test your first red aubergine (eggplant) at an heirloom trattoria in Basilicata? Feast on fresh sea urchin on an Adriatic beach? Or just kick back with a glass of crisp local Falanghina as you debate who has the creamiest buffalo mozzarella – Caserta, Paestum or Foggia?
A Warm Benvenuto
You'll rarely be short of a conversation south of Rome. Southern Italians are naturally curious, famously affable, and quick to share their opinion. Family and friends are sacred, and time spent laughing, arguing or gossiping is as integral to southern life as lavish Sunday lunches and long, hot summers. Here, simple questions can quickly turn into earnest conversations, while casual chats can easily transform into budding friendships. So pick up a few local words, polish that smile, and don't be surprised if you head home with a string of new life-long amici (friends).
For millennia at the crossroads of civilisations, southern Italy is littered with grand cultural legacies, from those of the Greeks and Romans, to those of the Saracens, Normans and Spanish. Channel the classics at the Greek temples of Segesta and Paestum, or on the chariot-grooved streets of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Even older are the prehistoric sassi (cave dwellings) of Matera, yet another of the south's World Heritage–listed wonders. Compare the Byzantine glitter of Sicily's cathedrals to the darkness of Caravaggio's Flagellazione in Naples, then watch the region outdo itself with some of the country's finest baroque.
Why I Love Southern Italy
By Cristian Bonetto, Author
Southern Italy is like the Slow Food of travel. While much of Europe marches to an increasingly homogenised beat, this raffish corner of the continent dances to its own hypnotic tune. Here, melancholy folk songs still fill the air; eyeshadow is applied thick and bright; and hearts are proudly worn on sleeves. Many of my fondest travel memories have been formed here: epic Sunday lunches with new-found friends; hot winds whistling through ancient temples; quiet swims in milky blue Tyrrhenian waters. I might hail from the north, but my heart belongs to the Mezzogiorno.
Rugged mountains, fiery volcanoes and glittering coastal grottoes – southern Italy feels like one giant playground waiting to be tackled. Crank up the heart rate white-water rafting down Calabria's river Lao; scaling Europe's most active volcano, Stromboli; or diving into prehistoric sea caves on Puglia's Promontorio del Gargano. If you need to bring it down a notch, consider slow pedalling across Puglia's gentle countryside, sailing along the Amalfi Coast, or simply stripping down and soaking in Vulcano's healing geothermal mud. The options may be many, but there is one constant – a landscape that is beautiful, diverse and just a little magic.