Does watching Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy have your stomach growling and your itch to travel growing more and more intense with each episode? Until Italy opens back up, you're welcome to join us at the next Nine Muses Travel Culinary Passport event: Live from Tuscany: Make Italian Cavatelli - with a musical surprise! This week the CNN show visits Tuscany, Tucci's former home; what a perfect time to sign up for our homemade pasta cooking class - taught LIVE from our chef's kitchen in Tuscany!
When you're ready and able to indulge in an Italian escape, the oft-overlooked regions of Puglia and Umbria are filled with rich history, outstanding natural beauty, and fascinating villages all worth heading off the beaten path to experience. I hope you enjoy this guide of must-see secret gems in Italy!
ITALY OVERVIEW & FUN FACTS
Shares a border with Switzerland, France, Austria, and Slovenia
Highest number of UNESCO Heritage Sites in the world
Official language: Italian, but English is spoken in many cities
All three of Europe's active volcanos are here.
There are more than 1,500 lakes in Italy.
WHEN TO VISIT ITALY
Italy has a Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters. The hottest months are July and August with temperatures in the high 80's. Throughout winter, northern Italy remains cooler and gets snow while southern Sicily near Africa has warmer winters. Unfortunately, Italy isn't currently open for tourism; in the meantime, they've got a lot of systems put into place to maintain safety as a priority especially at the major sights, using thermal body scanners, reduced capacity, and social distancing, and quarantine-free flights on select Italy/USA routes are in the works.
LEADER IN UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES
Italy has a record 55 UNESCO sites: 50 cultural and five natural. Neapolitan-style pizza was even recently awarded UNESCO status! (Mental note for a future Culinary Passport event.) Some of the UNESCO sites first named in Italy include:
Church and Covenant of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan (houses The Last Supper)
City of Rome
City of Florence
City of Venice
Piazza del Duomo, Pisa
Historic center of San Gimignano, Tuscany
Sassi di Matera
GETTING TO KNOW PUGLIA
Located at the heel of the Italian boot
Greek heritage and settlements bring a Greek architectural flavor
Famous for its white-washed hill towns
Longest stretch of coastline in Italy with over 500 miles of crystal-clear water and sandy beaches
One of the richest archaeological regions within Italy
50-60 million olive trees providing 40% of Italy's olive oil
Laid back, slower pace of life, off the beaten path, authentic small town feel
Capital city: Bari
One hour direct flight from Rome to Bari
WHEN TO VISIT PUGLIA
The ideal months are May, June, and September followed by April and October, which are both shoulder season months when you might find some cooler temperatures and rain. You'll want to avoid July and August because of the high temperatures, and steer clear of the national holiday of Ferragosto in August when many businesses close for the whole month. Puglia is a hot spot for local Italian travel during July and August, when it's crowded with tourists from all over Italy.
PRIVATE GUIDED PUGLIA
The area is still an off the beaten track region of Italy, where most people don't speak English. Private guides are extremely helpful in less touristic areas like Puglia, where you'll run into language barriers.
Specialists in Puglia are hand-picked, thoroughly vetted, and familiar with American guests.
Tour at a pace that works best for you, with more flexibility for your personal interests.
Private transfers are especially important because there are almost no local taxi options.
MAGICAL MUST-SEES OF PUGLIA
Explore the "Trulli" of Alberobello (pictured above), the cone-shaped, stone dwellings dating back to the 16th century; they were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. Step inside a typical Trullo with a specialist guide to admire the architecture and learn about their unique history.
Visit Sassi di Matera - which translates to "Stones of Matera." The Passion of the Christ was filmed here, and the sassi/stones originate from a prehistoric settlement suspected to be some of the first human settlements in Italy. An expert guide will share how the Matera settlers lived as you tour the Casa Grotta cave dwellings. Matera held the 2019 title of European Capital of Culture.
WHERE TO STAY IN PUGLIA
Borgo Egnazia: This luxury village-in-a-village is steps from the Adriatic with sea views, surrounded by olive groves, and offers 183 rooms, casettas, and villa options plus four pools and three restaurants. Justin Timberlake was married here!
Palazzo Margherita: Renowned director Francis Ford Coppola realized his dream to convert a 19th-century palazzo into a luxurious boutique hotel in his grandfather's hometown of Bernalda. Choose from nine, uniquely special rooms and suites with original stone walls, frescoed ceilings, clawfoot tubs, and hand-painted tile floors. Amenities include 100 Italian films selected by Coppola you can watch in the hotel's screening room, an eat-in kitchen where you can take cooking classes, and a lovely café overlooking the town square.
GETTING TO KNOW UMBRIA
Landlocked central region bordering Tuscany, Lazio, and Marche
Nicknamed the "Green Heart" of Italy for its woodlands, pastures, and meadows
Known for its medieval towns, wine, black truffles, and beautiful forests
Capital city: Perugia
Closes airports: Florence and Rome
WHEN TO VISIT UMBRIA
The ideal months are May, June, and even July plus the grape harvest months of September and October followed next by the winter months; Umbria is near the Marche border and high Apennine Mountains with great skiing. Avoid August because of the high temperatures and Ferragosto holiday when many business close for the whole month, throughout Italy. Umbria also draws lots of local Italian tourists during August.
UNFORGETTABLE UMBRIA EXPERIENCES
Admire the Umbrian hills with views from the elevated town of Orvieto; see its cathedral with a private guide and learn about St. Patrick's Well and Etruscan underground tunnels below Orvieto.
Make the popular pilgrimage stop in the well-preserved hill town of Assisi, birthplace of Saint Francis, and visit the famous 13th century Basilica of St. Francis and its stunning frescoes. Stop next at the village of Montefalco to taste DOC-awarded wines from this region.
Marmore Falls are the world's tallest man-made waterfalls, created by ancient Romans. If you're a thrill seeker, you can raft through the region's category four rapids with your own professional rafting guide and enjoy the beauty of the Umbrian forest.
The chocolate festival in Perugia is one of the largest in Europe and a decadent delight!
WHERE TO STAY IN UMBRIA
Palazzo Seneca: This premium 16th century Umbrian palace is located in Norcia, a small medieval town, and offers just 24 rooms and suites, a private garden, jazz lounge, and restaurant featuring local products.
Sina Brufani: Stay in Peruglia overlooking the Umbrian valley in an ancient mansion converted to a luxury hotel with 94 rooms and suites, delicious restaurant, and a really cool indoor swimming pool with a glass floor above 3,000-year-old Etruscan ruins.
WHY USE A TRAVEL ADVISOR?
Nine Muses Travel can custom build a completely private itinerary just for you, your family, or your group. We can arrange rental vehicles, private guides, and the best accommodations to maximize your time in Italy, with expert advice on how to get the most out of this incredible country. We can also INCLUDE these amenities at ALL the hotel properties mentioned in this article.
Complimentary room upgrades at check-in, subject to availability
Complimentary daily breakfast
Early check-in / late check-out, subject to availability
Nine Muses Travel works with exceptional land operators who add unparalleled value:
RISK-FREE bookings you can change (dates & destination!) for any reason up to 7 days prior
World Travel & Tourism Council "Safe Travels" stamp of approval
Expert guides: historians, naturalists, artists, unique locals with insider tips & insights
Flexibility with your touring - See and do as much, or as little, as you prefer!
24/7 real-time support
Contact Nine Muses Travel when you're ready to uncover Italy's secret gems and to learn more about me and what I can do for you!
I design journeys that inspire by highlighting local arts and culture, history, and cuisine for intellectually curious clients longing to feel deeply inspired by exciting destinations, culinary delights, and authentic cultural experiences on a life-changing, joyful journey of discovery.
Founder & President