How to avoid the crowds visiting Tuscany, Sicily, Marche

What’s a trip to Italy without exploring the arched passages of the Colosseum, skipping the Spanish Steps and gazing in marvelous rapture at the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel?

“Absolutely relaxing,” said Margherita Migliorini of Villa di Capannole, luxury accommodation in the Tuscan countryside. His family have owned the villa – which was once a working farm – for generations.

Italy is one of the most popular places in the world to travel. The country welcomed more than 95 million tourist arrivals in 2019, the third highest in Europe after France and Spain, and the sixth in the world after the United States, China and Mexico, according to the World Bank.

With 55 in all, Italy is tied with China for having the most UNESCO World Heritage sites, although not all of them are teeming with tourists, like the rural landscape of Val d’Orcia in Tuscany.

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Now Italy is letting in international tourists. The European Union agreed this week to reopen its borders to travelers who have been vaccinated with approved vaccines, as well as those from a list of countries with low rates of Covid-19 infection. The list could be finalized as early as this week, according to Reuters.

Italy had previously announced that residents of the EU, the European Schengen area, the UK and Israel can avoid quarantine if they test negative for Covid within 48 hours of arrival. .

Travelers from the United States, Canada, Japan and the United Arab Emirates can bypass quarantine requirements if they arrive in Italy via “Covid-tested flights” to Rome, Milan, Venice or Naples. These flights require passengers to test negative before and after arriving in Italy.

These towns are among the busiest tourist destinations in Italy, which leave lesser-known parts of the country calm and peaceful, even during the summer.

Road trips through Sicily

In 2019, just under half (nearly 42 million) of all travelers to Italy arrived for vacation, according to the Bank of Italy’s 2020 International Tourism Survey. More than 9 million of those newcomers have purchased travel packages, according to the report.

While the term “package tour” may refer to a tourist bus caravan under the tutelage of a guide waving the flag, there are companies that design accompanied or self-guided trips for vacationers seeking seclusion.

Mondello, a district of the Sicilian capital of Palermo.

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The Milanese tour operator Find Your Italy specializes in “off the beaten track” tours of the country. Small-group tours are available to destinations like Abruzzo and Puglia, as are self-guided routes, which start from 645 euros ($ 780) to places like Langhe, Piedmont, and Sicily.

“I think this year could be a good chance for individual travelers to also visit the cities of art, as they will not be as crowded as usual, due to the lack of large groups scheduled,” said Roberta Leverone , business leader, at CNBC.

From March to November, Find Your Italy runs 11-day self-guided tours of eastern Sicily, which include excursions led by archaeologists, art historians, chefs and wine producers, according to the site. Company web.

“We are offering this tour with [a] the self-driving option, but it is possible to have it with a private driver, ”Leverone said.

Sicily is popular in July and August, so Leverone suggests a visit to Milan and Lake Como to avoid the crowds or a food, wine and nature tour through Sardinia, which she says is quiet all year round, except in August.

Scuba Diving in the Sunken City of Baia

The aristocrats once flocked to the thermal baths of the ancient Roman seaside resort of Baia, near the coast of Naples. The same volcanic activity that once drew wealthy Romans to the area is why part of the city now sits 50 feet below the sea.

Baia was once a hedonistic retreat for the rich; now most of it, including parts of the nymphaeum shown here, is at the bottom of the sea.

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Seven underwater archaeological sites with remains of ancient villas, overturned columns and colorful mosaics can be explored by scuba divers and, to a lesser extent, snorkelers.

One of the most important submerged sites is Claudio’s Nymphaeum, which was once part of an imperial palace. Although most of the site contains original Roman ruins, underwater statues have been reproduced, with the originals being transferred to the Museo Archeologico dei Campi Flegrei, a nearby museum which reopened in April.

Caving in the Marche

In the Marche region – located along the central “calf” of the Italian boot – is the Grotte di Frasassi, or Caves of Frasassi.

Guided tours take visitors along a trail to see features such as the crystallized lake and the Endless Hall. Travelers can get a glimpse of the caves through a video of a live acapella performance of Andrea Bocelli’s “Silent Night” last December.

Like the Grotte di Frasassi, the Temple of Valadier is also located near the small village of Genga, home to less than 1,700 inhabitants, in a remote part of the province of Ancona del Marche.

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The cave can be explored in under two hours, leaving plenty of time to visit the Temple of Valadier, an octagonal church built at the entrance to a nearby cave. The Grotte di Frasassi website offers one- to three-day itineraries for visitors, which include stops to see 13th-century frescoes in the medieval town of Fabriano, the narrow alleys of the ancient town of Jesi and tastings of Verdicchio, the famous white wine region and a spreadable salami called ciausculo.

“The Marche is one of the best regions for travelers looking for a more immersive and authentic experience in Italy,” said Juliana de Brito, founder of the Wonderful Marche website. “In the Marches, it is still possible to find the heritage of ancient trades transmitted over time and [which are] risk of disappearing. “

This includes papermaking traditions dating back to the 12th century and the artisans who make shoes by hand, which Brito says can be found in the southern Marche, where some of Italy’s most famous shoe factories are located.

She also recommends the area’s natural parks, which include the many coastal Monte Conero trails that can be explored on foot, by bike or on horseback. She calls the Marche “a food and wine paradise”.

“It’s an incredible mosaic that mixes geography, climate and history,” said de Brito.

Hike the active volcanoes of Italy

Italy contains the only active volcanoes in mainland Europe, and a 15-day tour takes travelers through them all – Vesuvius, Etna, and Stromboli, as well as Vulcano (which is dormant, but not extinct) .

The summit caldera of Vesuvius, near the Bay of Naples.

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The “Volcanoes of Italy – the Grand Tour” by Volcano Discovery, a travel agency specializing in volcanic tourism, focuses on nature, culture and archeology. It is a walking and study trip, the latter describing a journey that combines learning and travel.

The difficulty level is described as “easy to hard,” and it’s done in small groups of six to 12 travelers, according to the website.

The next tour is scheduled to depart in October this year, although custom dates are available upon request.

Above the colors of Castelluccio

Although the small Umbrian village of Castelluccio located high up in the Apennine mountain range in central Italy was badly damaged by an earthquake in 2016, people still come for outdoor activities naturally. socially distant from the region, such as rafting, cycling and “La Fioritura”, or “La fleuraison” which takes place every year from the end of May to the beginning of July.

The blooming of flowers under Castelluccio di Norcia, before the 2016 earthquake which damaged much of the village.

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Meanwhile, vibrant daffodils, poppies, violets and clovers fill the plateau where the city is located, a remarkable sight when combined with hang-gliding or paragliding. Tandem flights are available for beginners starting at 100 euros ($ 122), according to the website of Prodelta, a local gliding school.

Wellness retreat in Tuscany

Tuscany is high on many travelers’ list, but those who can avoid the allure of Florence, Cinque Terre, and San Gimignano can find solace from a distance in luxury villas, such as Villa di Capannole, near of the city of Bucine.

The villa is quintessential Tuscan country property and includes a swimming pool, separate cottage (for large groups) and stunning views of the bucolic landscape. Guests can travel to the small towns that dot the area during the day and relax with sumptuous, home-cooked Italian dinners, prepared by the owners who live nearby, at night.

Rates range from 3,500 to 5,920 euros ($ 4,285 to $ 7,250) per week.

Travelers who prefer hotels may want to consider Como’s flagship European resort, Como Castello Del Nero, which will reopen on June 11 with a renovated wellness center. The hotel can organize outdoor activities such as truffle hunting – the estate is home to three types of black truffles – as well as the ultimate remote experience – hot air balloon rides at sunrise.

Those planning this summer can look into the Monteverdi Tuscany, a luxury hotel located in the village of Castiglioncello del Trinoro. After an 18-month renovation, the hotel will reopen its doors to guests with a regenerating clinic, renovated spa facilities, and new hotel suites in January 2022.

Like the Colosseum, but without the crowds

Private visitors to skip the Colosseum in Rome this summer should know that they have other options.

TripAdvisor reviews are unequivocal on one of the best reasons to visit the Flavian Amphitheater in Pozzuoli: “quiet”, “practically for yourself” and “we were the only tourists there”.

The underground passages of the Flavian Amphitheater in Pozzuoli, Italy.

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The site, located outside of Naples, is the third largest amphitheater in Italy and once accommodated as many spectators as the Colosseum – around 50,000 people. It is known for the impressive preservation of its underground chambers which show where gladiators and animals were kept and how trap doors and pulley systems were used to hoist them into the arena.

Verona’s smaller arena attracts more visitors, although still far fewer than the 7 million tourists who visited the Colosseum before the pandemic. Violent gladiatorial fights have been replaced by a more benevolent form of entertainment: opera performances.

The nearly 2,000-year-old venue has hosted the Verona Opera Festival since 1913, and tickets for this year’s festival, with shows scheduled throughout the summer, go on sale on May 25. .

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