Naples & the Amalfi Coast
Naples, Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast are the Italy of your wildest dreams; a rich, intense, hypnotic ragù of Arabesque street life, decadent palaces, pastel-hued villages and aria-inspiring vistas. Southern Lifestyle Passionate, effusive and often generous to a fault, Campanians have a way of making other Italians seem just a little uptight.
Puglia, Basilicata & Calabria
The Italian boot’s heel (Puglia), instep (Basilicata) and toe (Calabria) are where you can witness the so-called Mezzogiorno (southern Italy) in all its throbbing intensity. This is a land of drying washing on weather-worn balconies, speeding scooters in Dickensian alleys and dilapidated centro storicos (historic centres) that haven’t yet qualified for a Unesco listing.
The Ionian Coast is dotted with Sicily's superlatives – the island's highest volcano, Mt Etna, is here; the queen of all resorts, Taormina, perches on a clifftop; and it's home to Sicily's second-largest city, Catania. Catania is the region's centre, a wonderful and shabby city with a great pulse and active street- and nightlife.
Tossed like colourful dice into the beautiful blue Bay of Naples, the islands of the Amalfi Coast are justifiably famous and sought out. They are tantalisingly diverse as well. Procida, Ischia and Capri vary not just in ambience and landscape but also in their sights, activities and size.
Syracuse & the Southeast
With its outstanding classical ruins, beautiful baroque towns and sandy beaches, this is Sicily's top draw. The temptation is to stay in Syracuse, hanging out in the piazzas and sunning yourself on the seafront, but drag yourself away and you'll be rewarded with some of Sicily's most charming towns.
Rising out of the cobalt-blue seas off Sicily's northeastern coast, the Unesco-protected Aeolian Islands (Vulcano, Lipari, Salina, Panarea, Stromboli, Filicudi and Alicudi) are a little piece of paradise, a magical outdoor playground offering thrills and spills at every turn.
Southern & Western Salento
The Penisola Salentina, better known simply as Salento, is hot, dry and remote, retaining a flavour of its Greek past. It stretches across Italy's heel from Brindisi to Taranto and down to Santa Maria di Leuca. Here the lush greenery of Valle d'Itria gives way to flat, ochre-coloured fields hazy with wildflowers in spring, and endless olive groves.
Basilicata has an otherworldly landscape of tremendous mountain ranges, dark forested valleys and villages so melded with the rock faces that they seem to have grown there. Its isolated yet strategic location on routes linking ancient Rome to the eastern Byzantine empire has seen it successively invaded, pillaged, plundered, abandoned and neglected.
An unashamed resort, Sorrento is nonetheless a civilised and beautiful town. Even the souvenirs are a cut above the norm, with plenty of fine old shops selling the ceramics, lacework and intarsio (marquetry items) that are famously produced here. The main drawback is the lack of a proper beach: the town straddles the cliffs overlooking the water to Naples and Mt Vesuvius.