Have you been to Italy or Sicily and fallen head over heels? Do you dream of returning and seeing a new side of the Bel Paese? Have you never been but yearned to dive deep into the culture and explore the different regions?
Our favorite lesser-known but must-see sites of Italy and Sicily
Caesar Augustus Gardens & the Faraglioni Rocks, Capri, Italy
Visit the luxuriant Caesar Augustus Gardens for the best views of the Faraglioni rocks. Established by the German industrialist Friedrich Alfred Krupp, the gardens are an incredible feat of engineering and have some of the most important island flora found on Capri. While not large, the terraces and gardens form ornate picture frames for 360’ of Capri’s breathtaking panoramas, including one of the island’s most iconic sights, the dramatic Faraglioni rocks.
The three towering rock formations rise from the blue Tyrrhenian Sea just off the island’s coast and are known by Stella, di Mezzo, and di Fuori. A snapshot with this family of sea stacks in the background is a must for all visitors to Capri. And the Caesar Augustus Gardens offer the most stunning views of them.
Isola Bella on Lake Maggiore, Italy
Taking a boat out to Isola Bella in Italy’s Lake District is a must. One of Lake Maggiore’s islands, Isola Bella’s palazzo, and exquisite gardens once hosted the nobility of Europe. The beautiful island is heavenly with its extravagantly Baroque Borromeo palace and gardens. Built for pleasure, the ornate palace has seen its fair share of famous guests and politics. Even more stunning than the palazzo, however, and the main reason to visit, is the perfectly manicured and gorgeous Italian-style garden, laid out on ten terraces.
When you visit, you’ll discover even more impressive sights in the ponds, fountains, and an array of statues and sculptures. Full of flowers and rare exotic plants, the gardens were designed to awe. Not to be missed is the “Theatre,” and it’s a crowning statue of a Unicorn, the emblem of the Borromeo. Perhaps the most dazzling of all are the pairs of strutting white peacocks that call the island home. Needless to say, Isola Bella is absolutely spectacular.
Sferracavallo Village in Sicily
At the foot of Mount Capo Gallo, built into coastal cliffs, is the village of Sferracavallo. Founded in the 15th century by a group of fishermen, the town is included in the Isola delle Femmine – Capo Gallo Nature Reserve. The aqua waters of the bay, paired with an alternating coast of beaches and cliffs, make this little town a gem of a Sicilian fishing village. Famous for its tasty and traditional fish cuisine, its restaurants boast fresh-caught fare and amazing sea views.
Sassi di Matera in Italy
Those that are after all of it, the wonder, the photographs, the history, and the culture of a place must add a visit to Matera and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Sassi di Matera to their list. The town of Matera is fascinating, as it is one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in history, dating back to the Paleolithic period. The Sassi are perhaps among the first human settlements in Italy.
A labyrinth of cave dwellings, churches, staircases, and arches, hewn out of the solid rock, the dwellings are as striking as the Mesa Verde Dwellings of Colorado. Roofs serve as streets, and the limestone facades hide the caves dug into the rock behind them. Buildings seemed stacked, one above the other, looking over the steep ravine. Across the ravine, visitors can still view honeycombed hillside settlements that date back 7,000 years.
A previous source of shame for the government, as Matera was an area steeped in poverty, what’s most surprising about the cliff-dwellings is that they were occupied until 1953 when the conditions were deemed unfit for living in. Today, many caves have been renovated and retrofitted, turning them into houses, hotels, restaurants, and bars.
The Dolomites Mountain Range in Italy
If you’re after some of the most beautiful panoramas in Italy, then the Dolomites should be high up there on your list. The Dolomites mountain range in the Italian Alps is known to be breathtaking from any view. However, if you’re not up for spending a week or two hiking seeking to capture reflections of the range in a mountain lake, one of the best views can be found in Renon (or locally, Ritten).
The high plateau rises above the city below and houses a commune of 17 villages that are exactly what you imagine Italian-mountain villages be. Follow the Adige Valley to Bolzano, the capital of the southern part of the Tyrol. In Bolzano, take a cable car to the top of the Renon, and ride on the century-old Tramvia, or Funivia. Once at the top, you can enjoy incredible panoramas and perfect spots to frame your shot of this gorgeous range.
Mt. Etna in Sicily
Mt. Etna in Sicily is the most active volcano in Europe and the oldest recorded active volcano in the world. Ascend through the fertile foothills, bypassing small villages, lush forests, ancient craters, and lava flows to see amazing lunar landscapes and houses surrounded by lava. Admire stunning panoramic views over the eastern Sicilian coast and the Ionian Sea. If you’re in Sicily, Mt. Etna is a wonderful and unmissable experience and one to check off your bucket list.
Catullus’ Grottoes, Lake Garda, Italy
On the shores of Lake Garda, in the small village of Sirmione Grotte di Catullo, an archaeological complex known as Catullus’ Grottoes has the most impressive example of a Roman villa in northern Italy. It’s referred to as Catullus’ Grottoes due to the legend that it was once home to the Latin poet Catullus. When the villa's remains were discovered, the rooms had caved in, the foliage had overgrown the site, and the villa appeared as caves or grottoes. The villa remains are dated between the end of the 1st century BC and the 1st century AD. According to archaeologists, it was an impressive house decorated with columns, mosaics, and frescoed walls.
The villa also once featured long porticoes and terraces almost suspended above the lake and a central, extensive garden. Today, the center garden is the location of the Grande Oliveto, Great Olive Grove, one of 1,500 on the complex. With the blue of Lake Garda in the background, the shining silver leaves of the olive trees, and the remaining columns and structures, Catullus’ Grottoes are a must for any traveler in the area.