I've always known Italy was my favorite country; I knew it from the first moment I visited many years ago. But my latest trip to the country's south cemented that love so much deeper, that it truly was hard to return to the 'real' world. As New York transitions into Fall, I catch myself daydreaming of lazy afternoons enjoying the October sun seaside, spritz in hand.
For this trip, we wanted to avoid the crowds in hotspots like Capri and Portofino, and instead head south to Sicily, Calabria and Puglia in search for the best hidden beaches, restaurants only locals know about, and to hunt down the freshest ricci (sea urchins). We discovered that, and much much more. And not surprisingly, it turns out that off season really is the best time to visit – the crowds have gone but sunny days, warm ocean temperatures and goosebumps-inducing charm remains.
Read on for some of my tips, and add to your 2020 bucket list... Florencia x
If you're planning a trip to Italy, I urge you to spend some time in Sicily. You should absolutely hire a car as it's the best way to get around. Cefalù – a charming coastal town in the island's north and one of the prettiest places I've ever been to – was my favorite spot (and it's an easy drive from Palermo airport). The small protected cove is impossibly picturesque, and we spent afternoons immersing ourselves in the slower pace of life, swimming, and enjoying long lunches. As for food, you can't go wrong. Do I have recommendations? Sure! But isn't part of the fun discovering places for yourself? And given most restaurants offer freshly plucked from the ocean treasures, every spot is as delightful as the next. My favorites were Al Porticciolo, Il Vecchio e Mare, Deja vu, and Piper Cefalù.
If you have time, you should also visit Scopello, San Vito lo Capo, and the tiny island of Favignana. The 'jewel' of Sicily, Taormina? Yes it was beautiful, yes it was full of tourists. If you do choose to go, don't miss Il Barcaiolo, a fabulous trattoria in Spiaggia Mazzarò that will melt the hearts of even the most hardcore foodies.
Then, time to drive your car onto a ferry, have a quick espresso, and arrive in Calabria – the journey is a quick 20 minutes. I didn't know what to expect with Calabria, and everything about it surprised me. Every village has its own unique charm. It's real, raw, untouched; it's not trying to show off. The absolute best meal I had in Italy was at Ristorante Glauco, a tiny restaurant in Scilla with a dreamy terrace overlooking the Tyrrhenian sea. The spaghetti mare was exquisite, the staff were warm and friendly, and the views were breathtaking. A must-visit if you find yourself in magical Scilla. I could have spent weeks in Calabria alone, but with limited time (and in between seeing family!), we managed to visit Tropea, Pizzo, Capo Vaticano, Reggio Calabria and Roccella Ionica (the home of a major annual jazz festival).
Our trip finished in Puglia, the southern region and "heel" of the boot known for its whitewashed hill towns, rustic tranquility, and impressive Mediterranean coastline (hundreds of kilometers of it). If you're thinking of visiting Puglia, I have some advice: buy a one way ticket and don't come back. But if you must come back, do what I did and start planning your next visit immediately. Because you will want to return. We based ourselves at a charming Airbnb in Polignano a Mare, with the hopes of doing day trips that would allow us to explore multiple towns and beaches each day. The highlight was Grotta della Poesia, a natural pool that is part of the archaeological site of Roca Veccia. It was an unforgettable swimming experience. If you're there during the summer, get there before 10am to avoid the crowds. On the drive back, we discovered Al Rifugio di Capitan Morgan – a basic eatery on the beach that locals call an institution. Order dozens and dozens of mouthwatering ricci, polpo and gamberi fritti, and the house white wine. Our visit to Alberobello was short lived. I wanted to love it, and had been dreaming of visiting for years, but it felt so touristy, with giftshops in every doorway. If you're interested in visiting to see the trulli (traditional Apulian dry stone huts with a conical roof), spending a few hours exploring the town should suffice.
Back to Polignano... I encourage you to explore and get lost in the town's windy, cobbled streets. There are so many hidden beaches and coves to explore, and some can only be reached by boat. If you're adventurous, Polignano is a cliff jumpers' dream. Lama Monachile, the famous while pebbled beach that Polignano is known for, is indeed impressive. Some of my other favorites were Grotta delle Rondinelle. Porto Cavallo, and Ponte dei Lapilli. Bring your snorkeling gear, because you'll want to use it. And the really special spots? Well, they don't have names. As for bars and restaurants, I loved Le Muse e Il Mare, Antiche Mura and La Locanda Porta Picc (which was so fantastic we went there twice). Spnzè – tucked behind a hidden, quiet street – was perfect for a night cap. A tip for your last night? Enjoy a pre-dinner aperitivo on the roof of Aquamarea for the most impressive sunset views and soothing sounds of crushing waves.
Headed to southern Italy? Feel free to DM us for recommendations. Until next time!