Ciao! My name is Enri. I’m a photographer and film-maker who is absolutely passionate about travelling and storytelling. I grew up in Brazil, in a city up in the mountains called Petropolis, located one hour away from Rio de Janeiro. Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting one of the most amazing hidden gems in Italy: Puglia.
I was there for two weeks creating travel content and it couldn’t have been more exciting. We visited several cities, stayed with a local family, learned how to prepare pasta, ate the best gelato, practised yoga by the sea and last but not least, visited an olive oil farm. I had the pleasure of watching the sunrise most days and I fell in love with this region of Italy.
But, of course, this wasn’t my first visit to Italy. I’ve done many trips to Italy now and I have also lived in three different places in Italy for several months at a time. Each region of Italy is different and has a distinct dialect, food and people. That’s why there are so many hidden gems just waiting to be discovered in Italy.
Hidden Gems of Italy: Tuscany, Puglia and Dolomites
There is nothing wrong with visiting the famous spots of Italy such as Rome, Florence and Venice. These places are incredible historical destinations after all. But these cities are usually bursting with people who are just trying to explore tourist-trails without really getting a true experience of the culture.
I totally encourage people to mix in the popular spots with less known cities. This leaves margin for the unexpected and to go with the flow a bit. Forget the fear of missing out (fomo) and don’t worry that you haven’t visited every museum in a city. Do enjoy some, but also reserve time to just sit in a café and observe life.
The beauty of travel is to learn about the different ways of life and cultures than your own. So, give yourself the time to do it. My favourite regions of Italy to get lost and immerse in the local way of life are Tuscany, Puglia and the Dolomites. There are so many hidden gems to discover in these beautiful regions of Italy.
I choose Tuscany for its gorgeous green fields lined up with cypress trees and lovely medieval cities. It’s the stereotype of the perfect getaway paradise. Imagine driving through the countryside here without a plan and stopping off at places that catch your eye. This is quintessential Italy but there is still so much yet to discover.
Puglia is another special region of Italy, especially in summer. Here you will find warm weather and even warmer people. The food is out of this world good and Puglia is quite cheap in comparison to the rest of Italy. I also love the crazy beautiful cities which are located right by the crystal-clear sea. Do I need to say more?
For a totally different experience, there is the Dolomites mountain range and the beautiful lakes of this area. If you like hiking you’ll be able to see places that you never imagined could exist. If you mix in a few of these regions of Italy with the popular spots such as Rome, and take Italian language group courses along the way, you will have an amazing trip.
Immersed in the Culture, Food and History of Italy
One of the great benefits of exploring the hidden gems of Italy is that you will get to immerse yourself in the rich culture of this magnificent country. As I imagine happens in every country, people are a bit different according to the region, but in general I see Italians as warm, talkative and passionate.
The people of Italy are always curious about foreigners, and they are willing to chat and help, even if they don’t speak your language. Italians definitely need to use their hands and gestures to complete sentences, to put rhythm in everything. It’s amazing to watch!
There is also a very interesting and healthy slow food culture of always cooking fresh ingredients, and that can be confirmed by the 3 hour breaks they usually have in the middle of the day from work. From this they are able to go home and have a meal with their families.
Certainly there are many delicious dishes in Italy and each region has one speciality. Food is a religion and it’s really impressive the care with which they cook, their selection of ingredients and the patience. It’s quite funny to observe in supermarkets how local people like to order fresh cheese or meat, and then explain what they going to do with it and how.
This usually generates a group chat with people around them about how to prepare that dish right. So, to list some of them, one must for sure try: pasta with pesto sauce while in Liguria, tagliatelle al ragù in Emilia-Romagna, pizza in Campania, Carbonara in Rome and Arancini in Sicily.
I always try to meet locals during my trips too — be it with apps such as Couchsurfing, in which you can actually stay with a local family, or I try contacting people through Instagram and exchange ideas about good photography spots and places to meet for some pics and coffee.
When it comes to historic monuments one can’t go wrong when visiting Rome and Florence. Both these cities have a number of special and well kept sites. But the places that really impressed me were the cities that were over a thousand years old, and in which local life nowadays incorporated the old sites just like they belonged to these days.
Just to name a few, I absolutely recommend you to go to Siena, Venice, Cortona and probably the most impressive of all for me, Matera, which has also been named the European Capital of Culture for 2019. This amazing town is over 9,000 years old and includes the Sassi area, a complex of caves carved into the mountains.
My Ultimate Travel Tips for the Hidden Gems of Italy
The best thing you can do in Italy is to live the local life by not doing the traditional hop-on hop-off bus tours. I recommend getting a house in the heart of Tuscany, renting a car and going to the local grocery stores, buying a beautiful selection of cheese, salami and wine, and relaxing with your friends and family in the gardens and enjoy the views.
Regarding practical tips, avoid eating at restaurants close to the famous landmarks as they are usually overpriced and tourist-adapted versions. Always check reviews on online, and even better, check the reviews in Italian. Local people are really picky and if a restaurant is going against traditions or offering bad ingredients they will leave bad reviews.
Also, take it easy and don’t expect everything to be perfectly on time. Buses, trains and people will always work around the timetable. They are never 100% on time punctual like some countries. But who wants to be watching a clock when you travel anyway?