The 17 Best Places to Visit in Puglia

The heel of Italy’s boot, the region of Puglia is far less crowded than other parts of Italy, yet it has a lot to offer.

While not completely undiscovered by tourism, and indeed rather popular in the summer, Puglia is still a bit of a hidden gem in terms of Italian tourism. You won’t find the crowds of Venice, Cinque Terre, or Rome here – though you also will find plenty of beach-hoppers in the scorching summer months on Puglia’s gorgeous stretch of coastline.

While Puglia’s coastline can be a bit busy, many of its most beautiful towns and cities are inland, offering a respite from the summer crowds in the small villages that feel a bit lost in time, like Locorotondo, Martina Franca, and Ostuni.

And while not part of Puglia proper, a trip to Matera in the Basilicata region is often paired with a Puglia trip and is well worth the detour.

While Puglia looks deceptively small on the map, there are quite a number of wonderful places to visit in Puglia, from coastal towns to vibrant cities to quiet hilltop villages.

I’ve included my favorite picks of Puglia (marked with an editor’s choice demarkation) as well as asked several travel bloggers to suggest their favorite destinations in Puglia in order to create a more comprehensive list of places to visit in Puglia. Mix and match at your preference to create your own perfect Puglia itinerary!

The Best Places to Visit in Puglia

Monopoli

Editor’s Choice

This beautiful city on the seaside perfectly combines both an old and new town with a stunning walled city set on a lovely patch of the coastline.

The old town of Monopoli is quiet and quaint, with beautiful historic buildings, tasty trattorias and restaurants, and lovely guesthouses and hotels. There is a lovely harbor area where you can watch the boats bob in the water, and a small stretch of rocky beach where people enjoy laying out in the sun nearly all year round.

Meanwhile, the new town section is vibrant and lively with tons of bars, shops, and restaurants clustered around the main plaza, with a youthful and fun vibe to this part of the city.

Monopoli perfectly combines the vibe of a modern Italian city with a historical center, creating a wonderful getaway in Puglia in a picturesque setting.

Bari

Editor’s Choice

The capital city of the region and the start of many trips to Puglia due to its airport with plentiful flights to the rest of Europe, it’s hard to miss Bari when you visit Puglia.

Bari is a large city with many sights worth seeing, but most tourists make a beeline for its old town, Barivecchia. You’ll find the Basilica di San Nicola there, which dates back to the 11th century and the Castelo Svevo, a Norman-Swabian castle built in the 12th century.

But just wandering the streets of the old town without a purpose is well worth it, as you’ll see often women rolling orecchiette – little ear-shaped pasta – by hand, as if something from another time.

Just outside of the labyrinthine old town, you’ll find the modern area of Murat, laid out in a grid with plentiful shopping, restaurants, and bars to peruse and get a more comprehensive feel for what modern-day Bari is like for the hundreds of thousands of people who call this city home.

Savelletri

Contributed by Amanda O’Brien of The Boutique Adventurer

There are two main reasons to visit Savelletri in Puglia – sunsets and seafood. As these are two of my favorite things to find when I am traveling I had a fantastic time in Savelletri!

Savelletri is a seaside town in Puglia. Its closest major town is Fasano and it is about halfway between Bari and Brindisi. Savelletri has a public beach but is best known for its little fishing port. If you are staying somewhere with a kitchen head down with an icebox and grab a fresh catch from one of the local fishermen.

Even better, have lunch at one of Savelletri’s seaside seafood restaurants! You won’t have to travel far as there are about ten seafood restaurants clustered along the little fishing port. Il Veliero Savelletri has perhaps the most prime position on the port with both indoor and outdoor seating. Osteria del Porto is a couple of minutes’ walk away and receives rave reviews from the locals.

My personal favorite was Momo Pescato e Cucinato where we enjoyed amazing spaghetti with local mussels and clams washed down with local organic wine.

Make your lunch a long one – or in the summer head to Quattro Creative Wine Bar for an early evening Aperol Spritz – to ensure you are in Savelletri for its amazing sunsets. Deep oranges and pinks are offset by the dark navy of the ocean and the fishing boats and little port provide the perfect foregrounds! 

Gargano

Contributed by Trijit Mallick from BudgetTravelBuff

Gargano is one of the most beautiful parts of the southern region of Puglia. If you are planning a trip to Gargano, you should know that there is a lot more to see here than just beautiful beaches and mountains. This popular Italian tourist destination is also known as the ‘Spur of the Boot’.

From greener mountains with lush pine forests to beautiful coastline with limestone cliffs, sea caves and white sandy beaches, Gargano will not disappoint you at any season. The nearby airport is Bari Airport. You can reach to Gargano by train or bus. Take a train from Bari to San Severo station, then continue to Peschici on the Gargano line.

Here are a few of the best things to do in Gargano. The beautiful town of Vieste is the must-see place while visiting Gargano in Puglia region. This historic old town is perfect for strolling around with a stunning sea view. Enjoy a full day exploring the town and end with relaxing on the beaches.

If you are an adventure enthusiast, take a 30-minute drive from Vieste to Foresta Umbra. Explore the Gargano National Park taking any of the trails along with the coastline. This protected nature reserve is perfect for bird watching and some wild orchids. 

Take a sea cave tour to Grottoes from Vieste to see the years old sea caves and grottoes. You cannot afford to miss this boat trip while visiting Gargano.

Keep your one day reserved for Tremiti Islands tour. Explore the castle-monastery and enjoy a seaside lunch in Isole Tremiti, Italy’s only island in the Adriatic sea. You can also do swimming or snorkeling in the sea.

If you are planning for a trip to Gargano, I would highly recommend staying there at least 2 nights. You can stay in L’isola dei Sapori Boutique Hotel Restaurant which is located right by Lake Varano and an ideal hotel to stay with your family.

Molfetta

Contributed by Rohan Cahill-Fleury of Life With Less

Molfetta is a quiet little town on the coast of Puglia. As with much of this area, its main draws are its charming old town and coastal outlook. With the easy and cheap train system running through Bari and the surrounding towns it makes a great day trip or stop off on the way to other parts of the region. Because it’s one of the lesser-known towns it’s a great place to wander without other tourists around.

Molfetta has been around since the fourth century and has a quaint little, old town complete with balconies, stone archways, and watchtowers overlooking the ocean. Molfetta’s old town sits right next to a picturesque little harbor. This is also the site of the local fish market which sells produce fresh off the boats. There are, as expected in Italy, several beautiful and historic churches in the town as well as an excellent selection of gelaterias, pizzerias, and delicatessens.

Just outside of Molfetta town is Pulo di Molfetta which is a huge sinkhole making way for an incredible network of caves. Some of them can be visited but others have been deemed unsafe because of mining and earthquake damage. There are plenty of great apartments and B&Bs available in Molfetta making it easy to use it as a base for a few days when exploring this gorgeous part of Puglia. 

Martina Franca

Contributed by Sabrina Brett of Moon & Honey Travel

Martina Franca is a disarmingly elegant town dating back to the 10th-century. With its polished stepstones and Juliet-like balconies, Martina’s Baroque-style Centro Storico is a delightful place to spend a few hours or even a full day.

During your visit, head to the impressive Piazza Maria Immacolata for espresso, or just a good dose of people watching. Visit the 18th-century Basilica di San Martino. Tour L’Acropoli di Puglia to learn about the olive oil production in the Istria Valley. And spend the rest of your time exploring Martina’s labyrinth of streets. When you’re craving something to eat, go to La Pasteria, Gaonas, or Cibando.

If you’re visiting in July or August, time your trip with the Festival della Valle d’Itria, Martina Franca’s summer opera festival.

Located in the province of Taranto, it’s easy to include Martina Franca in any Puglia itinerary. Consider stopping here on your way to or from Alberobello, Ostuni, or Locorotondo.

Discover more secret places to visit in this Italy travel guide.

Trani

Contributed by Megan Starr of Megan & Aram

Trani is undoubtedly one of the best places to visit in Puglia, Italy.  And while it is one of the best places to visit in the famed Southern Italy region, not many people actually know about the city of roughly 54,000 residents. 

A short train ride away from Bari, Trani is known for a few notable sights, such as the Trani Cathedral built by Frederick II of Swabia in 1233 that sits on the calm and idyllic harbor and the Svevo Castle, a fortress that sits right on the sea that you’re able to visit for an affordable price. 

One of the best things to do in Trani is to head to Villa Comunale di Trani, a large park and promenade that hugs the seafront.  The green spot is large and home to a few cafes and many locals taking a stroll with their dogs.  Also inside of Villa Comunale di Trani, visitors will get to see several sculptures of famous Tranesi that are spread out within the park.  It is a perfect way to connect with the city’s history- from its role in the Crusades to its modern-day position in the south of Italy.

Trani is located a mere 40 kilometers from Bari and is a fantastic day trip from the city.  In Trani, you can do everything from taking a stroll around Villa Comunale di Trani to enjoying a Moscato tour and more.  It is also a prime place to indulge in figs, olives, and almonds and boasts some of the finest ingredients in the Puglia region.  It is absolutely one of the best off-the-path places to go to in Puglia.

Polignano a Mare

Editor’s Choice

The picturesque seaside town of Polignano a Mare is known for its tiny strip of beach, Cala Porto, which is beautifully nestled between two cliffs, creating a ‘secret beach’ feel.

Unfortunately, the beach isn’t so secret — this is one of the most popular places to visit in Puglia. But as you wander around the old town of Polignano a Mare, you’ll see why this town has so much to offer.

While indeed quite popular with tourists, Polignano a Mare still manages to maintain an authentic feel, bursting with Southern Italian charm. Its old town streets are undeniably charming, and there are plentiful restaurants and cafes that beckon you to order an espresso and relax a while.

If you’re the kind of person who likes to buy souvenirs when you travel, we found the best souvenirs of our trip in Polignano a Mare, which has gorgeous ceramics — for something unique, pick up a ceramic cactus paddle, which is symbolic of the region.

Santa Maria al Bagno

Contributed by Nadine Maffre of Le Long Weekend

Located between the better-known Puglia towns of Gallipoli and Lecce, Santa Maria al Bagno could be easily overlooked while touring Italy’s heel.

But despite shying away from the limelight, it’s a seaside town well worth spending time in. Stop in at Salsedine Beach Bar to sunbathe where the cool kids hang out, or head into the middle of town to jostle for space at the town’s main beach. The petite cove gets busy with locals in the summer months, but in May and early June, there’s plenty of space to shake out your towel.

The sheltered bay is one of the best places to swim in Puglia due to its unspoiled coastline and crystalline water. When you’ve worked up an appetite, simply head across the road to one of the trattorias that spill out onto the main square.

If it’s not quite beach weather, or you’re looking for more things to do, there are also plenty of natural and cultural attractions to keep you busy. Head into the Museum of Memory and Hospitality, which tells the stories of Holocaust survivors after the Second World War. Visit the Torre del Fiume which used to play a key role in protecting this coastal area, and explore the Porto Selvaggio reserve for walks in a protected forest.

Ostuni

Editor’s Choice

The picturesque white-washed city of Ostuni is one of the most beautiful places in Puglia, with both a lovely historic town and a more modern and lively new town with plenty going on to entertain you for an afternoon or even a longer stay.

The old town of Ostuni is repainted in white every two years to keep it looking fresh, and indeed, it almost gave me a bit of a Cycladic island vibe with its white walls and colorful doors and shutters. Its historic defensive walls separate the old town from the new and are an interesting place to wander around during your time in Ostuni.

We also found some of the most beautiful Italy souvenirs here and couldn’t help shopping quite a bit while in Ostuni!

Meanwhile, the new town of Ostuni has some notable architecture worth seeing, centered around the Saint Oronzo column in Ostuni’s main square, Piazza della Libertà.

The Ostuni Cathedral and the Ostuni Town Hall (which used to be a palace) are also must-sees for architecture lovers.

Lecce

Contributed by Wendy Werneth of The Nomadic Vegan

Located in the far south of Puglia in what’s known as the “heel” of Italy, Lecce is a beautiful historic city filled with ancient Roman ruins and ornate Baroque palaces and churches. It’s often referred to as the “Florence of the South”.

But while Lecce is arguably just as beautiful as Florence, the two cities look very different. Florence is the birthplace of the Renaissance, whereas Lecce is built in the extravagant Baroque style that became popular a century or two later.

And in fact, the specific type of Baroque architecture found in Lecce is so distinctive that it has been given a name of its own: barocco leccese, or Lecce Baroque. Some identifying features of barocco leccese to look for include twisted columns, floral motifs and wrought-iron balconies.

You’ll find some of the best examples of this Baroque architecture among the buildings that line Via Palmieri. And of course, there are also the city’s many churches, including the Church of Santa Croce and the Cathedral. The former is famous for its rose window, while the latter is quite unusual in that it has two ornately carved façades — one facing north and another facing east.

Be sure to try the delicious local cuisine while you’re in Lecce too! A popular street food here is the stuffed bread roll known as the puccia, which is sold at specialty eateries (puccerie) all over town. And you can’t fail to notice the orecchiette being served up at every restaurant in town. By far the most popular shape of pasta in these parts, orecchiette are made fresh with just semolina flour and water (no eggs), making them one of many vegan-friendly dishes in Puglian cuisine.

Alberobello

Editor’s Choice

Famous for its trulli – traditional Apulian round huts with conical roofs, made of white-washed stone – the small town of Alberobello is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town has over a thousand trulli still beautifully preserved today, making it a must-see on virtually all Puglia itineraries.

… which inevitably means that it’s a bit crowded with day trippers, especially during the peak season, but it’s still such a unique place that I think it’s well worth seeing, even sharing it with lots of other tourists.

Most of the trulli are clustered in Rione Monte, where they have been mostly converted into souvenir shops, selling typical Italian food products, ceramics, and works made out of olive wood amongst more typical mass-produced kitsch.

It’s also well-worth exploring the more modern part of town, away from the trulli, where there are ample places to stop for a coffee and people watch.

If staying overnight, be sure to stay in a trullo (the singular form of trulli) — many have been converted into quite comfortable and unique hotels!

Torre a Mare

Contributed by Corina Preda of Another Milestone

Puglia is not such a popular destination compared to other places in Italy, but it gets more and more famous each year. Especially during summer, in Polignano a Mare, Alberobello, Bari, and other known towns you will meet crowds of tourists.

If you want to escape them and enjoy a day at the beach, try Torre a Mare. A former fisherman village, Torre a Mare took its name from the tower built to protect its residents from the attacks of barbarian ships, tower called Torre Pelosa (Hairy Tower).

Today, Torre a Mare is a seaside resort with only few attractions: the tower standing tall in the main square and the Fisherman’s Monument. It has also a small port and some less-known beaches with a stony and steep entrance into the water.

In the morning you can enjoy a cup of coffee at one of the cafes on the shore, admiring the sea and the blue boats in port. In the afternoon go and visit Cala Scizzo, a small isolated beach, used by the locals. If you are lucky, it will be only yours!

Torre a Mare is not a must-see in Puglia, but it is a great option when you need time to relax and enjoy the seaside without being hassled.

Locorotondo

Editor’s Choice

Not far from Alberobello but a world away from its tour buses and crowds, the small hilltop village of Locorotondo is one of the best off the beaten path places to visit in Puglia.

Its Centro Storico (old town) is picturesque and charming, with appealing shops, restaurants, and street scenes that encourage you to wander aimlessly for a while. Its churches are also well-worth popping your head into, which are quite impressive for such a small town.

It’s also worth checking out the vista at the panorama point at Porta Napoli, just outside the Centro Storico, where you can marvel at the gorgeous olive-tree-studded landscape which surrounds the city.

Otranto

Contributed by Katerina and Maria of It’s All Trip to Me

The sunny region of Puglia in Italy’s deep south has no shortage of stunning seaside towns. Among them, Otranto stands out for many reasons.

The gateway to the East, as Otranto is often nicknamed, is one of the most fabulous holiday destinations in Puglia but also the perfect base from where to explore the most pristine beaches in the region. Otranto boasts a very well preserved historic center, complete with its own castle, as well as a superb beachfront promenade, the utterly romantic Lungomare degli Eroi.

Few places can compete with the easy-going ambiance of Otranto. Whether wandering around the Old Town’s narrow alleys, watching the sunset from the Lungomare or spending endless lazy hours on the town’s gorgeous beach, Otranto is sure to steal one’s heart.

Apart from the charms of the town itself, though, Otranto also enjoys a superb location, close to a couple of the region’s most spectacular points of interest. The almost surreal Bauxite Lake, this masterpiece of nature and human abandonment alike is just a 10 minute drive or a 30 minute hike from the center of Otranto.

Similarly, it only takes 15 minutes by car to get to Cape Otranto, Italy’s easternmost point, in order to take in the beauty of the Punta Palascia Lighthouse and appreciate the tranquility of the surrounding area. There is no doubt that standing at that very point, facing the big blue sea and nothing but, one cannot escape the fate of eternally falling in love with the magic that is Otranto.

Margherita de Savoia

Contributed by Amélie Gagné of Mostly Amélie

Margherita di Savoia is likely not the first town that pops to mind when preparing a trip to Puglia, but let yourself be pleasantly surprised here. For lovers of nature, Margherita di Savoia is a little-known town on the Adriatic coast that has the largest salt flats in Europe (and the second biggest in the world). But brace yourself, they are bright pink!

A result of tiny brine shrimps who thrive and live in those salt basin, they also attract pink flamingos who feed on them. These shrimps are high in beta-carotene and the reason why those salt lakes – and flamingos – are pink. Is your mind blown yet? 

This mineral-rich ecosystem attracts a lot of wildlife, and Margherita di Savoia is a prime location for birdwatching. You can book a visit with the local environmental conservation organization Legambiente for the salt flats, pink lakes, and bird watching. The best time to visit Margherita di Savoia is from June to August – this is when you’ll have the best beach weather anyway. 

Because yes, Margherita also has amazing beaches, too! Kilometers upon kilometers of them, more precisely. Most stretches in the town center are privately owned and you need to pay to get in or to rent a lounger, but this has the added benefit that you’re never far from the next Aperol Spritz. For something a little less manicured, you can rent a  bicycle and ride a few kilometers north to Fenicottero Rosa Beach. It’s wilder and where all the locals hang. Do bring your own picnic though!

Pin This Guide to the Best Places to Visit in Puglia!

Not sure where to go in Puglia, Italy? This guide to the Puglia region of Southern Italy includes suggestions for the best places to visit in Puglia, from Bari to Monopoli to Alberobello to Polignano a Mare to Lecce and beyond. Create the perfect Puglia itinerary or Puglia road trip with this Puglia travel guide!

The Perfect 2 Days in Bologna Itinerary

If you’re planning a trip to Bologna, it better be to eat.

This Northern Italian city is full of some of the best food in the country, which for a country as famed for its food for Italy is truly saying something.

But besides its delicious claim to fame as one of Italy’s top foodie cities, Bologna is also full of charm. While it doesn’t have the same draws as other Italian cities — there is no touristic equivalent to the Vatican, the Last Supper, or the Duomo here — Bologna is delightfully liveable, the kind of city where you fall into a more local pace and fantasize wildly about what it’d be like to call it home.

And the food is so good that it makes it extra hard to leave.

This Bologna itinerary assumes that you have two days in Bologna, and that you’ll spend the first walking around the city and discovering it on foot, and that the second day, you’ll be enjoying the marvelous food and wine scene in Bologna (which, let’s face it, is probably the reason you’re coming).

If you have more time for the Emilia-Romagna region, slow travel around Bologna region like the Apennine mountains or in other cool cities around Emilia-Romagna like Parma and Modena.

Day One of Your Bologna Itinerary

This Bologna itinerary will walk you through the most important cultural landmarks of Bologna — and introduce you to some of its tastiest food as well.

This itinerary for Bologna has been designed to be like a self-guided walking tour on the first day, followed by a food tour on the second day.

However, if you prefer some guidance, you can always book a tour for the first day — I suggest this customizable private tour with a Bologna local, who can help orient you and cater a tour to your interests.

If you’d rather strike it out on your own and that’s why you’re reading this two day Bologna itinerary — get ready, because it starts below!

Map of Your First Day in Bologna Itinerary

Start with the landmarks of Piazza Maggiore

The main square of Bologna is the city’s heart, and you’ll find many of its most beautiful buildings and attractions within a stone’s throw of this piazza. Four palazzos (palaces) make up a rectangle around the piazza, boxing it in with gorgeous architecture.

There’s the Palazzo d’Accursio, aka the Town Hall, which dates back to the 1300s and is absolutely stunning from the outside. Just adjacent to it, you’ll find another palace, the Palazzo Re Enzo. Between these two, you’ll find the lovely Neptune Fountain.

Finally, the Palazzo dei Notai makes up one more flank of the piazza, as well as Palazzo dei Banchi.

Finally, the crown jewel of Piazza Maggiore is its stunning church, Basilica di San Petronio. The brick and marble facade is unfinished, but that doesn’t diminish from its beauty. Inside, it’s home to exquisite frescoes as well as 22 chapels along the sides of the basilica, adding to the grandeur.

Check out the view from San Petronio’s Terrace

While you’re in Piazzo Maggiore, you might as well get the best view of the city (well, one of the two!).

Head into the beautifully unfinished Basilica di San Petronio, first stopping to marvel at the interior, with its impressive 15th-century altarpiece, frescoes, and nearly two dozen side chapels.

After, pay €3 to ascend the scaffolding that gives you an impressive view over the center of Bologna – including of the ‘twin leaning towers’ of Bologna. Enter via the back of the cathedral, located in Piazza Galvani. There are stairs or you can use the service elevator to access this beautiful vantage point.

Visit the Archiginnasio

One of the most architecturally interesting buildings on this Bologna itinerary is the lovely Archiginnasio.

It used to be the main building of Bologna University, which is the oldest university in the world, founded in the 11th century. Now, it is no longer used as a university, but instead, it is home to both the Archiginnasio Municipal Library and the Anatomical Theater.

Of particular interest to many — especially the lovers of the quirky and macabre — is the Anatomical Theater, which was used by medical professors for various anatomy lectures and public dissections (yes, that marble slab you see is where a cadaver would be on display!).

It was built in 1595 and modified several times after; it was even nearly completely destroyed during bombings of World War II, but it was renovated back to its original appearance, complete with statues of various important figures in medicine, like Hippocrates.

Admission to the Anatomical Theater costs €3 for adults and it is open daily from 10 AM to 5 PM on weekdays (hours modified until 7 PM on Saturdays and until 2 PM on Sundays and holidays)

Marvel at the roof of the Salaborso Library

Next, double back towards Piazza Maggiore to see one of the most beautiful libraries in the world – the Salaborso Library.

Located inside the Palazzo d’Accursio, one of the buildings making up the ring of palaces around Piazzo Maggiore, Biblioteca Salaborsa has been the main public library in Bologna since 2001.

One of the coolest things about it is the displays of archaeological excavations which took place on the site of the library, which are now on display: showing elements of a former Roman basilica, medieval tower houses, and other public buildings.

But in my personal opinion, the real showstopper at Biblioteca Salaborsa is the architecture, and in particular, that incredible ceiling!

Access to the library is free. It is open from 10 AM to 8 PM on Tuesday through Friday, 10 AM to 7 PM on Saturdays, and 2:30 PM to 8 PM on Mondays. It is closed on Sundays and every Saturday in August.

Eat at the Mercato de Mezzo

After all that sightseeing you’ve done so far on this Bologna itinerary, you’ve probably worked up a bit of an appetite! Head over the Mercato de Mezzo, not a far walk from the central square.

The market is compact and small, not too overwhelming but with plenty of options. There are several great options for where to eat and drink in the market, but seating can be scarce, so I recommend going with an open mind (and empty stomach!) and eating wherever there’s room — it’s hard to go wrong!

Particular stand-outs to me were the stuffed tortellinis (the fig-stuffed ones will forever haunt my dreams!), ragu (obviously – this is Bologna, and this is their city’s main dish), and tasty charcuterie plates filled with delicious mortadella, which has been bastardized outside of the city to the point where it is totally unrecognizable and yet still called ‘bologna’.

Pro tip: this is about the right time for your first Aperol spritz of the day, so order up!

Visit Bologna’s towers

The most iconic sight in Bologna are ‘Le Due Torri’ – the two towers of Bologna, Asinelli and Garisenda, one of the landmarks of Italy.

Asinelli is the taller of the two and offers a stunning viewpoint over all of Bologna… if you can brave her 498 stairs, that is. What, you expect a medieval leaning tower dating back to 1109 to have an elevator?

Be warned that these stairs are not for the claustrophobic or those with fears of heights. The stairs are very narrow, with only a small railing that makes you well aware of each meter’s height you gain (and at 97 meters high, that’s quite a few!). So be prepared, and maybe don’t have more than one aperitivo before braving the stairs. But the view will be worth every huff and puff (and shudder of fear when you look down).

You’ll get gorgeous views all over Bologna, giving you a real reason to understand why one of Bologna’s three nicknames is ‘la rossa’, ‘the red one’, for its gorgeous coral-red architecture.

To avoid lines, you can buy tickets on their website here.

Walk to the Basilica of Santo Stefano

Once your feet are back on solid ground, it’s time to stroll towards your second church of the day, Basilica Santo Stefano. The name is a bit of a misnomer, as it isn’t actually one church, but a complex of several: seven, in fact.

Depending on your interest level in churches, you can see one part of it or as much as you like. I’m not a huge fan of churches, so I just wandered into the main church before moving on, but someone more interested in religious architecture and history than me could easily spend an hour or two discovering all the different elevents of the ‘sette chiese,’ the seven churches.

Stroll the porticoes down Via dell’Indipendenza

One of the defining aspects of Bologna is its porticoes: its many kilometers (40, in fact) of covered outdoor walkways which shelter Bolognans from the heat in summer and the rain on cold, wet days.

In fact, Bologna’s portici (plural of portico) were actually nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as they are a unique phenomenon in the world, with nothing else quite like it.

While you’ll find porticoes all over Bologna, stroll down one of its main shopping streets, Via dell’Indipendenza, to get a real sense of the heart of the city’s urban center.

Peek at one of Bologna’s “canals”

After strolling a bit down Via dell’Indipendenza, turn right at Via Augusto Righi and then again at Via Piella to arrive at “Finestrella”, aka ‘Little Window’.

Here, you’ll see a tiny hole in the wall cut out to make a little window, showing you one of Bologna’s small canals. I’ll be honest, it’s got absolutely nothing on Venice, but it sure does make for a gorgeous photo.

There’s usually a line of people waiting to take photos here, so you won’t miss it, but you do have to be a bit patient.

(Optional) End at the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca

Depending on how much energy you have left on your first of two days in Bologna, you can either end your sightseeing for the day and enjoy an aperitivo in one of Bologna’s many piazzas, resting your feet before a delicious dinner or you can make one last, albeit rather out-of-the-way, stop.

The Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca is about 4 kilometers outside the center of Bologna and there are several ways to get there.

The easiest way is taking the San Luca Express, which costs €10 for a return ticket to and from Piazza Maggiore. You could also take the public bus there, #58, if you are on a budget.

However, the most traditional way to get here is walking via the porticoes, which were originally built for the pilgrims who would bring a sacred icon of Mary from the basilica to the city once a year in May for a festival. The porticoes were built along this way to protect the icon of Mary as well as the processioners.

It is rather steep near the top, as it is 300 meters above the city of Bologna, so it’s not for the faint-hearted!

If you do go, though, be prepared to be rewarded with exquisite views, a gorgeous basilica well-worth exploring, and a sense of accomplishment for viewing this gorgeous piece of Bologna that many people skip.

Day Two of Your Bologna Itinerary

So, the first day of this Bologna itinerary was all about sights. The next of your two days in Bologna is all about food, food, and more food.

You may want to skip breakfast today, because your stomach has only a finite amount of real estate, and that is a precious, precious resource in Italy.

I’m going to recommend three different ways to spend a foodie day in Bologna; you’re welcome to pick the one that best suits you and your group’s interests.

The Classic Food Tour: Prosciutto, Parmesan, and Balsamic Factories

Bologna is a haven for foodies not only for the city of Bologna itself, but for its proximity to several DOP (Denominazione d’ Origine Protetta) products which can only be produced in that exact place. Those three main ones are prosciutto de Parma (produced only in Parma), Parmigiano reggiano (also produced only in Parma), and DOP balsamic vinegar (which can only be produced in Modena).

I went on a phenomenal food tour that showed me all of the above, plus a winery, followed by a 6-course lunch (which at this point was enough to almost make me burst!). It was an exquisite way to spend the day and it’s my #1 choice for how to spend a foodie day in Bologna.

Book your food tour + lunch here!

Food & Ferraris: Fun for the Whole Family!

If you’re traveling to Bologna with kids, they may lose interest in learning the exact stories of DOP this and DOP that, and what exactly makes balsamic vinegar from Modena so much different than balsamic vinegar from your local grocery store.

To compromise, schedule a tour that includes both stops at three different DOP producers, a 4-course lunch, as well as the nearby Ferrari Museum — a wonderful stop for everyone in the family to enjoy, kids and adults alike.

Book your food and Ferrari tour today!

Bologna Foodie Walking Tour

However, if you’re not as interested in leaving Bologna to see the different DOP producers and learn about parmesan, prosciutto, and balsamic, you may be better off staying in Bologna and doing a combined food and walking tour!

This 3-hour secret Bologna food tour gets you off the beaten path of Mercato de Mezzi and other well-known foodie hotspots and into the local favorites that make Bologna so well-loved by its residents.

This tour includes six stops in Bologna and allows you to try traditional Bolognese cuisine, from traditional cornettos (a breakfast pastry) to local cheeses to homemade pasta to traditional cold cuts, artisanal gelato, local wines, and even a taste of that coveted Modena balsamic vinegar!

Book your offbeat Bologna food tour here!

Where to Stay in Bologna

If you’re planning a trip to Bologna, Hotel Novecento is one of the best four star hotels in town.

My single room was clean and comfortable, with thoughtful amenities like cookies, coffees, and teas refreshed daily (not that I ever needed to eat any with all the food I gorged on). I appreciated the artful details like the funky pillows, floor-length curtains, and stylish lamps.

Plus, the fact that it had a proper workspace was a huge bonus for me!

The rooms are small (as most rooms in the historic centers in Italy are), but my single was comfortable and plenty of space for one.

They also have double rooms if you’re traveling with a partner or just want extra space to stretch out in.

>> Check out rates and availability now!

Your One Day in Matera Itinerary: The City of the Sassi

If you’re planning a trip to the beautiful city of Matera, you’re in for a treat. On my recent trip through Puglia and Basilicata, Matera was a stand-out: far more beautiful than I had imagined, and far more interesting as well.

This guide will show you what to do with one day in Matera, so you can easily plan your Matera itinerary.

While Matera is interesting enough to spend 2 or 3 days experiencing — especially if you opt to stay in one of their chic boutique hotels in one of the renovated caves — most people only allocate 24 hours in Matera, if not less, visiting Matera as a day trip from Bari. This guide will show you the best way to structure your one day in Matera to maximize what you see

How to Plan a One Day in Matera Itinerary

Start the day with a guided walking tour of Matera (10 or 10:30 AM, seasonally)

After being primed on the history of Matera, embark on a walking tour of the city, which will help connect the story of the sassi you just heard with the actual landscape and orientation of the city.

This is the guided tour I recommend, with tours daily even in the off-season. It lasts two hours and will give you a great overview of the history of Matera.

You’ll learn about its Paleolithic-era foundations nearly 10,000 years ago, the many changes of hands under empires it faced, the extreme poverty of Matera in the 1800s, the attempted forced relocation of much of its population in the 1950s, and the subsequent revival of Matera’s sassi due to renewed interest and government investment as a burgeoning film and tourism location in Italy.

Book your tour today!

A group tour is the most economical option, but if you are traveling with a large group or just prefer the flexibility of a private tour, you can also opt for a private tour.

Have a tasty lunch in Matera (12:30 PM)

After a walking tour, you’ll likely want to rest those feet and have a delicious meal. It’s nearly impossible to have a bad meal in Italy, and Matera is no exception.

We opted for a quick lunch at Da Nonna Rosa, as we wanted to maximize our sightseeing time. This restaurant offers quick service options that are already made and heated up for you to order; it seems to be a popular place mostly amongst locals taking a quick lunch break. It was tasty, though definitely not our best meal in Italy.

If you want a more leisurely lunch, try one of the following highly-reviewed restaurants, which all should be open for lunch (though do check the exact working hours, as often restaurants take off one or two days a week): Spaghetteria Miseria & Nobiltà Matera, Sassapora, or Dedalo.

Visit the Church of Saint Peter ‘Caveoso’ and its viewpoint (1:30 PM)

This Catholic church is situated right next to one of the most stunning views of Matera.

While the church itself is lovely and worth a visit, the real draw here is the view slightly to the left of the church if you’re facing it!

Explore the rock churches of Matera (2:00 PM)

There are several cave churches that are scattered across the sassi of Matera. Here are the best not to miss!

  • Church of Saint Mary of Idris
  • Chiesa di Santa Lucia alle Malve
  • Chiese Rupestri di San Nicola dei Greci e Madonna delle Virtù (which currently hosts a Dali exhibition of his sculptures as well)

You can buy a ticket to each one individually at about 3-3.50 Euro each, or buy a pass to two or three churches for slightly more (around 5 Euro for two or 7 Euro for three sights, but I don’t recall the exact pricing).

Personally, I thought the Church of Saint Mary of Idris was the most interesting, but everything in Matera is rather exquisite and worth seeing for its incredible place in history.

Stop for espresso or pastry in Piazza del Sedile (3:30 PM)

I don’t know how Italy makes the best espresso in the world, but they really do!

On your way to the next stop on this Matera itinerary, the Matera Cathedral, stop in the Piazza del Sedile after marveling at the lovely facade of the Palazzo Sedile.

With this gorgeous view, take a seat at Bar I Due Sassi where you can sip on an espresso either at the bar like an Italian or resting your feet at one of the outdoor tables like a tourist (we admittedly sat down — Matera’s neverending stairs have a way of wearing you out!)

Marvel at the Matera Cathedral (4:00 PM)

Now that you’ve seen Matera’s gorgeous rock churches, it’s time to see something a little more contemporary!

The Matera Cathedral was constructed in the 13th century and features beautiful frescoes from the 13th and 14th centuries, which have been gorgeously preserved over the ages.

Finish the day’s sightseeing at Casa Noha (4:30 or PM)

We capped off our day in Matera with a visit to Casa Noha, which was a wonderful way to remind ourselves of the incredible transformation of Matera from “the shame of Italy” to one of Europe’s two Capitals of Culture in 2019.

It sealed in just how impressive Matera is, not in spite of what it has overcome, but because of it.

Casa Noha shows a series of videos, giving you a 25-minute overview through film to the history of Matera. And what a history it is, spanning millennia, ranging from shame to triumph. You watch the videos in a few different rooms, in a cave-dwelling that used to be someone’s home in Matera before it was donated to the museum, which brings the stories even more to life.

Casa Noha is open from 9 AM to 7 PM in the high season (April 1 to end of October). From November 1 to January 10 and February 28 to March 31, the hours are 10 AM to 5 PM, and there is a break between January 10 and February 28 where presumably the museum is closed. The last admission is 30 minutes before closing, so please be aware. Admission is 6 euro per person.

Have an aperitivo (5 PM)

Now that you’ve done as much sightseeing as any sane person can do in a day, it’s time to reward yourself with one of Italy’s best traditions: the aperitivo.

An aperitivo is a drink you have when the day’s work (or sightseeing, as the case may be) is over and you’re unwinding before dinner. Because Italians tend to eat on the later side — usually around 8 PM or 9 PM — aperitivo is time for some light drinking and snacking.

Nearly any bar in Italy will serve up some aperitivos, but for an epic view, check out Terrazza Contact Bar.

Catch the sunset near the Cathedral (Depending on time of year)

For epic sunset views, I recommend walking back towards the Matera Cathedral and stopping just before you reach it, in between the Piazza del Sedile and Piazza Duomo.

The views here are spectacular!

Have a fantastic dinner (Depending on time of year & preference)

Like I said before – there’s hardly a bad way to eat a meal in Matera.

For an unforgettable dinner meets cultural experience, why not dine with a local in their own home? This dining experience has you enjoying a 4-course meal in a family home, complete with appetizer, pasta starter, main course, and dessert, including a cooking demonstration so you can bring home a little of the magic of Italian cuisine with you as a souvenir!

Book your home-cooked dinner today!

Alternately, there are several fantastic restaurants in Matera serving delicious dinners to suit a variety of budgets. For a tasty but budget-friendly restaurant, check out Osteria al Casale. For local wine and small bites, choose enoteca dai tosi. For upscale cave dining, try Baccanti.

If you’re traveling in the high season, between May and September, be sure to book a restaurant in advance if you have your heart set on anything.

Where to Stay in Matera

If you only have one day in Matera, you may not be planning to stay overnight. But if you are, here are one of the hotels I recommend — all situated in caves, so you can stay in Matera sassi-style!

Budget: Stone Rooms

With traditionally dug cave rooms perfect for families, couples and solo travelers, Stone Rooms offer great value for their accommodation. The nightly rate already includes a sumptuous breakfast in a special room which will soon become a museum!

The rooms are mostly furnished with modern Italian furnishings. Bigger families can book interconnected rooms or a larger family room. A/C and heating also provide perfect climate control if needed, but often, the caves ventilate themselves well without any need for that!

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Stone Rooms ««

Boutique: Le Dodici Lune

Le Dodici Lune perfectly embodies what you see in the sassi from afar – the stone dug cave dwellings! This hotel was originally a building in ruins until they decided to transform it. When renovating it seven years ago, they maintained a lot of the original elements, such as the stone walls. It’s truly worth staying in this hotel, and that could well be expressed by the fact that it is quite difficult to book! If you’re lucky enough to book one of their rooms, you are surely up for a spacious and relaxing stay, one that’s right inside the UNESCO Heritage Site of Matera.

They have multiple room configurations and rooms for even larger guests (up to a maximum of 7 in one room!) — great if you’re traveling with a big family. Depending on what you want, they have it; there’s even a caveroom with a spa bath! Charming glazed iron and wooden bed frames are used in the rooms, complete with elegant décor which adds a rustic appeal. The rooms are the perfect definition of something perfectly imperfect!

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Le Dodici Lune ««

Luxury: Locanda Di San Martino Hotel & Thermae Romanae

This luxury hotel, Locanda di San Martino, is popular due to its Thermae Romanae, a spa facility that was carved out of the limestone thousands of years ago! It has this otherworldly elegance that reminds me a bit of the epic luxury hotel Cavo Tagoo in Mykonos.

The hotel offers plenty of room types for all guests – some in a separate building like the suites and apartment types. All rooms are furnished with antique-looking rustic furniture with a couple of contemporary pieces to add a modern touch. It has the typical arched ceilings you’d find in a cave suite, and the ensuite bathrooms are spacious and livened up with colorful tiles.

There are several terraces in the property, and you will love the different angles of the Old Town it gives you. You can also grab your breakfast at their breakfast hall, which has rustic blue chairs and plenty of selection – someone who has a big appetite will enjoy the food. They also have valet service with a parking affiliate, great if you’re doing a Southern Italy road trip, as cars are not allowed in the historic Sassi part of town!

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Locanda Di San Martino Hotel & Thermae Romanae ««

Where to Stay in Monopoli: Your Hotels & Accommodation Guide

Trying to pick out where to stay in Puglia? If you’ve settled on Monopoli, I think you’ve made a fantastic choice.

I may be a bit biased — when deciding on where to base ourselves in Puglia for our honeymoon, we ended up choosing to stay in Monopoli, a beautiful seaside city with both a historic old town and a vibrant new town.

I think Monopoli is one of the best places to base yourselves on a Puglia road trip – not far from anything, not too touristic, and with plenty of great places to stay in Monopoli for a variety of budgets.

Where to Stay in Monopoli

Best Budget Hotels in Monopoli

For the purposes of this post, I’ve defined ‘budget’ in Monopoli as being under $100 USD a night in the peak season.

We visited Monopoli in November, so it was low-season — so low season, in fact, that many hotels and restaurants were already closed until the following year.

If you choose to stay in Monopoli during this time of year, be aware that a lot of places will be closed, especially in the old town which is the more touristic part of town — but on the other hand, hotels will be a fraction of their normal price!

However, this post assumes you’ll probably want to visit Puglia in the summer, when everyone else is traveling there, so I’ve created the budget categories accordingly. Here are my top picks for budget hotels in Monopoli.

Barbacana46 Guest House

This guest house has gorgeous cobblestone walls, and if they could talk, they would tell you the history about the house! The recent renovations done on the property have helped highlight the old architecture’s beautiful bones and show you a glimpse of what it was like in the past.

Barbacana has a few different options for Monopoli accommodations, to suit a variety of budgets and group sizes. The apartment with the balcony gives you both budget-friendly and cozy place to stay in Monopoli Centro Storico.

Everything is provided to you for a comfortable and convenient stay. It has a dining area and a bedroom, plus a fully equipped kitchen where you can try cooking some of your own Italian dishes (though frankly it’d be hard to get sick of the delicious Monopoli restaurants there are to choose from!).

The private balcony is quite small, though it is fitted with two wooden chairs – great for a morning coffee! There’s also a huge shared terrace if you prefer a larger space to relax, but it is communal.

Each unit also has an ensuite bathroom with tiled floors, complete with all the shower amenities you need. The apartment room type has a modern and contemporary vibe, but if you want something more traditional but luxurious, then you can opt for their suite with a spa bath!

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Barbacana46 Guest House ««

Villa Enea

Villa Enea is perfect for those who have rented a car but want to stay near Monopoli; parking is free, and this villa’s location will give you the best countryside ambiance in a charming house tucked in a peaceful and nature-rich location, just a few kilometers outside of Monopoli.

You will also love the front yard, which has some trees and plants that give shade and a fresh breeze as you sit on the wicker chairs outdoors. The interiors and tiles on the floors are all embellished with mandala-like designs that make it look stylish and comfortable. Most of the wooden furniture is simple and has that rustic look to complement the countryside charm it has.

All of their rooms are perfect for couples, and prices during high season are around $77 USD per night, including a free breakfast. If you don’t mind staying outside Monopoli center, it’s a great choice.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Villa Enea ««

Borgo San Martino

The location of Borgo San Martino is on a quiet street inside the historic old town, a wonderful place to stay in Monopoli’s center. There’s also a big square nearby.

The property is also run by amazing and kind ladies that will be there if you need anything. They have kept the original furniture that helps add an old-world charm to the interiors. Everything is also neatly arranged and organized.

They have three options for their rooms – single, double and quadruple. The single room is located in the attic, and just note, it can present a problem for tall people due to its low ceiling. Regardless of its size, it has the same amenities you will find in all their rooms, so it’s great for a shorter single traveler.

In all their rooms, they still have the cobblestone walls, and the lighting is strategically placed inside making everything look magical. The style of their furniture is very unique, giving a vintage charm to everything. The ceilings are arched to provide added space.

A bigger group or family can get their quad rooms, and it’s amazing how it somehow looks a little bit like a Moroccan riad due to the arches that seem a bit like caves where the beds are placed, making good use of the limited space.

You also have the option to include breakfast in your booking online to save time. They have a partner space where you can park your car, and it is not located far from the property. This house is very beautiful, and you still get to enjoy staying inside the old town with a touch of rustic style combined with its historic beauty.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Borgo San Martino ««

20 Archi

Couples and solo travelers can enjoy this remarkably clean and easily accessible accommodation in one of the main streets of the old town of Monopoli. It is also very easy to check out some of the attractions nearby without the need to ride public transportation, and if you have a car with you, you can park in one of their affiliate spaces.

Wooden floors complement the crisp and neat white furniture they use – it makes the rooms look bigger despite their small size. A small dining area with a kitchenette will help you save some money if you can cook, but if not, then there are several restaurants (and also bars) outside to help you.

You don’t have to worry about breakfast, as they’ll give you delicious Italian breakfast included per stay – I would recommend bringing it to the rooftop terrace so you can breathe in some fresh air while you adore the lovely city views!

The private bathroom is extremely clean, and you will love how they used white tiles with subtle patterns. The shower area has a glass wall to keep the water from getting into the dry area.

The entire property is covered with WiFi, but some areas that are quite far from the main source can have sluggish connection. You can actually go near the corridor and everything is good, but you can always get a local SIM or enable roaming for a smoother way to go online.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at 20 Archi ««

Villa Maria Pia

Villa Maria Pia is one of the most modern accommodations in Monopoli, with touches of rustic charm that make each area of the property something close to home.

The rooms offer white-washed walls with country-chic styles plus elegant balconies with comfortable outdoor furniture. You also get a spacious wardrobe to organize your clothes and keep them wrinkle-free. The rates of the rooms are somehow on the upper budget price range, but you’re truly getting something worth every penny here!

Toiletries and towels can be found in your private bathroom and the toilet has a bidet (fancy!). Their facilities are also friendly to guests with disabilities, and their comfort has also been carefully thought of by the owners of the property.

Breakfast in the morning has plenty of American and Italian choices – all are delicious, as we all know that Italians know how to eat!

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Villa Maria Pia ««

Mid-range Hotels in Monopoli

These hotels in Monopoli represent the middle tier of Monopoli accommodations — not too cheap, not too fussy and expensive (there are some real luxury hotels in Monopoli, which I’ll get to at the end of this article!).

We’re talking around $100-250 USD per night in peak season, though you can definitely get things on the lower end of the spectrum if you visit slightly off-season.

Albergo Diffuso Monopoli

This is where we stayed during our honeymoon and we loved it. We stayed in a two-floor apartment with a spacious one-bedroom on the lower floor with a gorgeous modern en-suite bathroom with rain shower.

The room colors were crisp and white, with a few colorful accents, and had ample wardrobe space for hanging up your clothing. Our room overlooked a quiet courtyard, where we could enjoy a delicious breakfast each morning.

The top floor was a kitchen with ample utensils and cooking equipment provided.. however, we ate out at restaurants every night during our trip to Italy (the food is too good not to!) that we never made much use of our kitchenette. What we did appreciate, however, was the complimentary bottle of wine they gave us as a congratulations (a very thoughtful touch) and the gorgeous balcony with beautiful views over the old town attached to the kitchen.

Some of the rooms have spa bath tubs and even larger balcony features, great for if you want to amp up the fanciness on your stay in Monopoli.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Albergo Diffuso Monopoli ««

Murattiane – Dimore di Stile

While this property is small and intimate, it is fully equipped with facilities and a balcony that will give you breathtaking views of the town. A fragrant scent also welcomes you the moment you step inside this hotel!

Most of the features are rather new (although you will see some old world inspirations that are typically Pugliese) because this is a newly renovated hotel.

You can choose from a deluxe or superior triple room and all of their rooms showcase a more modern contemporary style with some added unique décor (like metal flamingos and floral mandalas) plus indoor plants.

The private bathroom looks spacious because of the whitewashed walls and the use of minimalist mirrors and bathroom décors. A tiring day deserves a relaxing shower with their powerful rain shower heads — great to soothe aching muscles after a long day of sightseeing or road tripping.

They have a good selection for the free breakfast, which is served on the rooftop of the property. Right on the rooftop, you can also have a nice warm soak in the jacuzzi as well!

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Murattiane – Dimore di Stile ««

Dimora nel Benessere

Dimora nel Benessere is set on the upper mid-range price because it offers a boutique-like accommodation that has unique artsy styles for every room, which sets itself apart from the standard scene you find in most hotels.

Many of the rooms are mostly booked by couples, some here on their honeymoon, the staff will often provide petals sprinkled in the room to provide a romantic atmosphere. You can also avail yourself of their massages and treatments – they also have ones specially made for couples!

The private bathrooms have glazed iron racks and organizers that make things look a little rustic, and the gorgeous bath tub will let you soak all your worries away after a long day.

And with the price they offer, you actually have a private sauna in your apartment – isn’t that awesome?

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Dimora nel Benessere ««

Borgo Cozzana

Offering double rooms (with a deluxe option), suites and apartments, Borgo Cozzana is a newly opened hotel outside of Monopoli that has the typical authentic provincial Italian feel. It has an outdoor pool for guests to swim in, and it has sun loungers and umbrellas to keep you shaded when it’s too sunny

Their rooms are well equipped with all of the things you will need to keep your trip hassle-free. It has arched ceilings and rugged walls that will transport you to another time, perfect for setting a romantic rural Italian atmosphere. They also used wooden furniture and metal décor to keep the countryside vibe going.

The private bathroom has complete amenities and you will love that they have an area where you can sit and do your make up or fix your hair. Natural lighting also enters the bathroom as well as the entire room itself – you may use the blackout curtains if you are someone who prefers to sleep in late.

There are plenty of wellness amenities like spas, hot tubs, an outdoor pool, a fitness center, personal training sessions, massages, etc. — all that you need for the ultimate relaxing place to stay near Monopoli.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Borgo Cozzana ««

La Casa del Pescatore

If you love the beach and plan to end the day with the relaxing sea breeze from your accommodation, this beachfront hotel right in front of one of the prettiest beaches in Puglia should be the first choice you should have.

They offer apartments with a living room and bedroom that will allow you to spoil yourself with views of the sea and the port nearby. If you think those dreamy views are perfect to give you the best vacation, you can surely enjoy it with a nice glass of free Prosecco wine they’ll leave for you in your mini-fridge!

This hotel incorporates the traditional architecture together with the shabby chic style, using motifs of fishes and sea creatures in the décor. It also has a balcony that gives you a nice place to check out the views exclusively.

There is a mini-kitchen, and a complimentary continental breakfast is available for all guests. The place is also perfect for those who plan to stay for longer periods of time because they have a washing machine on-site – but if you don’t feel like doing it yourself, you can also avail their laundry service.

Past guests got a lot of insider tips from the owner, and she is very attentive to any needs all guests may have. You will love how the service makes the entire experience more special!

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at La Casa del Pescatore ««

Terradamare

A group of travelers or a family of up to four can have a spacious and comfortable stay at Terradamare. It offers apartments with 2-bedrooms plus a balcony with outdoor furniture that leads you to a dreamy view of the sea. The interiors have a perfectly rustic appeal.

The bathroom showerhead gives you several options and the best part would be the rain shower built into the ceiling, just like a rain bath! You are also provided with a smart TV that you can connect to the internet from your phone.

Croissants and coffee will help you start your day and a coupon will be provided by the owner so you can use it at the neighboring café.

If you want some relaxing massages, you can try some of their wellness offerings. Though it is set a bit in a quiet and secluded area, you can actually walk to the center of Monopoli in around 10 minutes.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Terradamare ««

Dimora Pirelli Suites & Spa

For couples who want to make the most of their stay in Monopoli, Dimora Pirelli has one of the best features and a quiet location that’s still very central.

All of their suites have divisions inside to keep the areas exclusive. The private bathroom have cobblestone walls and bathtub/shower combinations. Elegant retro prints are seen on the bed covers and curtains – they give life to the basic colors of the furnishings.

With the name “Suites and Spa” attached to it, there’s definitely a relaxing adventure awaiting you here. There’s a hot tub, solarium, sauna and a fitness center for all guests to use.

If you just want some personal time, but not really wanting something from their spa, then you can just have a nice glass of wine and maybe a good book while checking out the views at their shared terrace.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Dimora Pirelli Suites & Spa ««

Luxury Hotels in Monopoli

These gorgeous luxe hotels in Monopoli can be found for around $250+ a night in peak season.

Though if you visit in the shoulder season, note that you will likely be able to find these in the mid-range price tier!

Bellavista Suites

This property not only offers a stylish accommodation but also a very accessible and convenient location close to the bars and restaurants of Monopoli (and it also has its own on-site restaurant).

While all of their suites have a spa bath inside, if you wish to have a private pool as well, then you may opt for their luxury suite. They use mostly white furniture and décor – turning all their suites into something minimalistic and relaxing. You will also have a huge wardrobe in your spacious bathroom, aside from the tub. A huge bed with memory foam mattress goes alongside a work desk great if you need to work on your travels.

The stone walls have been there since the 16th century, and they’re also in the rooms that are fully decorated with refined classic furniture making each room look chic and refined.

All of their suites have different tiers that cater to different types of guests’ needs. Some added features are a barrel vault, hydromassage and chromotheraphy showers, and terrace with spa – those are really luxurious features that would be hard to find in an old town! This is truly perfect for someone who wants to take the spa features in their room without the need to go out to an actual spa.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Bellavista Suites ««

Attico sul Porto Antico

Attico sul Porto Antico gives couples an escape from the usual Monopoli hotels and gives them a traditional and somewhat romantic accommodation with all the luxurious amenities.

It has the typical arched ceilings and cobblestone walls plus fancy furniture and modern features like a rain shower with some beautiful colorful lights. It also has an indoor tub. Most of the features will make a great accommodation choice for honeymooners and couples!

The moment you step into your room, you will notice an antique feel with the stone walls and dramatic lamps which add emphasis to the beauty of the room.

They even have their own fireplace to keep you warm during the colder months. Someone who’s a true old soul will love how the entire place takes you back to a time that will truly give you one of the best traditional accommodations inside the old town.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Attico sul Porto Antico ««

Hotel Don Ferrante

A well-executed interior with matching traditional exterior is offered in this luxurious property that will truly teleport you to a time perfectly set between the past and future.

It has truly charming views from the open terrace that has lush vines creeping to create a rustic look with the layered rugged wood used as a shade. Sleek iron chairs and comfortable sofas are available in the living and dining area – they have an open plan style which is actually very modern. Plenty of natural lighting goes into the room giving it a brightness that highlights the best parts of the rooms.

They have many room types that guests can choose from – some are even in a separate building to give you that holiday home vibe (though getting these rooms would require you to splurge). For specific views, you should request it early, as some of these rooms can be booked quite fast, especially during the high season. There’s parking available near the property, but it can be a hassle in high season as it can get crowded.

Different events and even weddings can be held in their restaurant, Locanda Don Ferrante. It also offers all-white furnishing on their rooftop terrace and you may try some of their Italian dishes that are perfectly paired with some of the wines in their menu.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Hotel Don Ferrante ««

Bellariva Monopoli B&B e Relax

This beachfront hotel has a tropical-inspired outdoor relaxation area, with lush plants and cacti plus outdoor décor and furniture that’s all painted white. The best place to chill out in this hotel is the sun terrace where you will find a hot tub with some outdoor furniture, perfect for relaxing in the sun.

All rooms have a good view of the garden or the sea and are fully equipped with all-white painted furniture and décor, even the chandelier. The beds are extra-large, and they use really nice fabric for the pillows and cases!

The bathrooms are spacious and the shower area has either neutral colored or vibrant bold mosaic tiles. All of their suites have a private tub inside that will be perfect for honeymooners!

Bicycle and car rentals are also available at their front desk, which can be helpful to easily reach the old town – if you decide to walk, anyway it’s only 10 minutes by foot. You can also inquire about their VIP room facilities and wedding suite if you plan on getting married or having your honeymoon here.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Bellariva Monopoli B&B e Relax ««

13 Incredible Cave Hotels in Matera For Every Budget

Matera is a city with a story. It’s incredible sassi districts are made almost entirely of refurbished cave dwellings, given new life.

Matera suffered extreme poverty in the 1800s, making the sassi basically uninhabitable without serious health consequences. The subsequent attempted forced relocation of its citizens threatened to make Matera and its sassi lose their way of life.

But when a city has almost 10 millennia of history behind it, it’s hard to just give up on it, and slowly, investors – including the Italian government – began to polish up Matera, bit by bit, until it became the sparkling jewel of Southern Italian tourism that it is today, bringing in tourists in droves to learn the history of the sassi.

While you’ll certainly get a feel for what Matera is all about by following my one day in Matera itinerary, I do suggest staying overnight if it’s possible. You can choose to stay in one of the renovated cave hotels in Matera in the sassi districts, which have now been converted into cozy guesthouses, chic boutique hotels, and even luxury digs.

These cave hotels in Matera offer an experiential insight into life in the caves of Matera, though admittedly with a lot more comfort than back in the 1800s… and thank goodness for that, because those were not good times for the people of Matera.

By staying in one of the cave hotels in Matera, you’re contributing to the continued renewal of this gorgeous Basilicata city, continuing the trajectory away from its spot as the “shame of Italy” and into the European Capital of Culture that it proudly is today.

Now, I’ll go into three tiers of cave hotels in Matera. Budget hotels, which we define as roughly under $100 USD per night in the high season; mid-range hotels, which we define as roughly $100-200 USD per night in the high season; and luxury hotels, $200+ USD per night in peak season.

Keep in mind that these are only estimates which I’ve found by looking a good deal in advance — if you wait too long to book, you may find very different prices. At the same time, if you book off-season, you can find extremely good deals, so you may be able to scoop up a luxury cave hotel in Matera for a shockingly good price!

Your Ultimate Guide to Cave Hotels in Matera

Budget Cave Hotels in Matera (Under $100 / Night in Peak Season)

Stone Rooms

With traditionally dug cave rooms perfect for families, couples and solo travelers, Stone Rooms offer great value for their accommodation. The nightly rate already includes a sumptuous breakfast in a special room which will soon become a museum! Sometimes, the host will chat with you during breakfast. Past guests have noted that he and his staff are very generous, and they will surely give you the best hospitality like you can also find in luxury stays.

The rooms are actual caves, so expect it to be a little on the dark side. Some areas in the rooms have holes, which help in keeping it well-ventilated. It also allows natural lighting to go inside the rooms. The rooms are mostly furnished with modern Italian furnishings.

Bigger families can book interconnected rooms or a larger family room. A/C and heating also provide perfect climate control if needed, but often, the caves ventilate themselves well without any need for that!

Closets are also available for you to store and organize your clothes. The private bathrooms are a little small, but the shower area and toilet are separate, so you don’t have to worry about getting the floor wet after a shower. It also has tiled floors and it is squeaky clean. Lastly, you can bring your pets here at no extra cost!

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Stone Rooms ««

Il Nespolo Matera

Il Nespolo Matera is located in the quiet and more authentic Sassi area with fewer commercial spots around. You can truly enjoy the true vibe of living in Matera without spending too much on your accommodation. Despite the quiet location, it is still within walking distance to most of the famous attractions Matera has to offer.

The rooms have arched ceilings and there is proper ventilation in each cave suite. The look is a little modern due to the whitewashed walls, but you still get the arched ceilings typical of a Matera cave hotel. The floors are tiled and you have a comfortable sofa plus a flat-screen TV — who said a cave hotel was roughing it?

The ensuite bathroom has a wooden ceiling, which is a clever way to keep the moisture from the bathroom at bay. It also has tiled floors and whitewashed walls with some modern décor. Racks and organizers are available so you can carefully put your dirty laundry, wet towels or toiletries away.

Depending on the season, the rooms can get a little humid left to their own devices, but don’t worry, since there’s A/C to keep the rooms cool during the summer season. The owner has an undeniable love for the town, and he can give you pro tips for exploring Matera to the best of your ability!

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Il Nespolo Matera ««

B&B La Corte

Perfect for couples or families who want a budget-friendly accommodation that still has that cave feel but with a modern take, B&B La Corte is a phenomenal yet budget-friendly choice. This chic Matera cave hotel gives you all the look of a standard cave hotel: arched ceilings, whitewashed walls, hardwood floors, and fine wooden furniture.

It is also just beneath the Basilica and views from the rooms are stunning! Most of their facilities are newly renovated to add comfort to every guest’s stay. It is also run by a family – and past guests would give them an A+ for the quality of service. Pets are also allowed here for an extra charge.

Each room has its own work desk, fridge, A/C and heating, while some have a lovely terrace or balcony where you can snap panoramic views of the Sassi. All rooms have an ensuite bathroom, but the double room with private bathroom has special features – it has a hydromassage shower inside its shower cabin, pretty amazing!

Toiletries, slippers, and towels are free and at your disposal here. Enjoy your delicious breakfast on their terrace with extensive choices to fill up your stomach before a day’s sightseeing.

One thing most of the past guests noticed about this budget hotel is the level of cleanliness, it is a heaven for anyone who has allergies (or is just a bit of a germophobe!) You may also park your car nearby if you have a rental car.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at B&B La Corte ««

Mid-Range Matera Cave Hotels (From $100-200 USD / Night in High Season)

Alle Conche

If you’re someone who loves the rugged archaic look – Alle Conche just might be the Matera cave hotel for you. It was originally built around 1700 ,and the moment you see it for yourself, you might just run out of words to describe this beauty that has stood the test of time.

The owner has well preserved the original look of the rooms and carefully placed modern yet rustic furniture to complete its look. Some rooms have been renovated, with whitewashed walls, but there are also more natural-looking options if you truly want to feel the magic of staying in a cave dwelling.

There are only a total of four rooms in this property, and regardless if you are a family or a couple, it is perfectly fitted for your stay. You will notice that most of the décor and furnishings are beautifully arranged because the owner himself is an interior designer.

The private bathrooms are modern, and you have a shower cabin to keep the toilet area from getting wet. You are also provided with a vanity mirror and plush bathrobes for your comfort.

A great breakfast awaits you every morning, with choices of fresh fruits, still warm freshly-baked bread, and delicious jams you can eat with your coffee. Grab something to drink or eat as you enjoy the fresh air on their rooftop terrace – the views are priceless and the terrace will also show you signs of how old it has been!

However, I would not recommend this hotel to those who have disabilities because the property doesn’t have accessible features, and the alleyways to get here are quite steep.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Alle Conche ««

Le Dodici Lune

Cave hotel with canopy bed
Photo courtesy of Residence Le Dodici Lune and reused with permission.

Le Dodici Lune perfectly embodies what you see in the sassi from afar – the stone dug cave dwellings! This hotel was originally a building in ruins until they decided to transform it. When renovating it seven years ago, they maintained a lot of the original elements, such as the stone walls. It’s truly worth staying in this hotel, and that could well be expressed by the fact that it is quite difficult to book! If you’re lucky enough to book one of their rooms, you are surely up for a spacious and relaxing stay, one that’s right inside the UNESCO Heritage Site of Matera.

They have multiple room configurations and rooms for even larger guests (up to a maximum of 7 in one room!) — great if you’re traveling with a big family. Depending on what you want, they have it; there’s even a cave room with a spa bath! Charming glazed iron and wooden bed frames are used in the rooms, complete with elegant décor which adds a rustic appeal. The rooms are the perfect definition of something perfectly imperfect!

All rooms have a private bathroom, and you can spoil yourself with the all-inclusive bath amenities they provide. This is also one of the few pet-friendly cave hotels in Matera, and they will even offer your pets some bowls for their food upon arrival!

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Le Dodici Lune ««

B&B Al Vico

B&B Al Vico treats its guests to an authentic experience staying at a Matera cave hotel with complete features to keep your stay as comfortable as possible.

The views from its rooms are just so majestic that you would wish you could just retire here… even if you’re only in your 20s! The moment the town springs to life at night is a sight you should not miss.

Although it is not on the main street, you don’t have to walk past many steep alleyways and drag your luggage like it’s part of your fitness routine! It’s rather easy to get to, for a hotel in the Sassi area, anyway!

The rooms are perfectly fitted for solo or couple travelers, and it has a modern private bathroom that’s spacious and fresh. The furniture is kept minimalist, and they use contemporary styles to complement the rugged cave structure.

You will be glad that there is a socket right beside the large comfortable bed, making it easy to charge devices. There’re also some treats in your personal fridge, but every morning, they provide free continental breakfast. You have to try the yummy pistachio croissants they make — past guests rave about them!

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at B&B Al Vico ««

Basiliani Hotel

The lovely Basiliani Hotel is a complex of multiple old houses that were transformed into some spacious Matera accommodations (a total of 17 rooms). It can be a bit of a struggle to find the hotel, but you can phone them and they’ll immediately answer – in fact, they will oftentimes pick you up. Room rates are in the upper mid-range, but you won’t regret booking this gem.

They have doubles, triples, and quads for guests; all are also fully furnished and equipped with modern features. You will also love how artistic they made all the rooms – the furniture used are unique and one-of-a-kind.

Exclusivity and privacy are truly one of the best things you can expect in their rooms. The bigger rooms (quads) have a mezzanine and a total of 4 single beds. The sofa is extremely adorable, because it is lit and it looks like one of those modern geometric Japanese lamps – it is such an innovative way to light up a room.

You will love the breakfast buffet they serve every morning; it is something one should not miss while staying at this hotel. On-street parking is also available nearby, which is really convenient if you are on a road trip.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Basilani Hotel ««

Luxury Cave Hotels in Matera ($200+ USD a Night in High Season)

Ai Terrazzini

Ai Terrazzini’s location is superb and in the heart of the Sassi – it is also very near to a street lined with restaurants and cafes to try and explore (with all the authentic delicious food from Matera and Basilicata).

It is also very convenient because you don’t have to stress yourself out taking long walks with many strenuous steps just to get to the hotel. You can also see lovely views, and the cathedral is also visible from where it is nestled.

They have a total of 7 rooms, all carved out from limestone, and furnished with classic-modern furnishings. The rugged walls are still visible, though they painted it white.

You will also see tiled floors and there are still some windows that allow natural lighting to get in. Antique décor was added to give you a bit of the old-world vibe. You can get a double, triple or a family room here and they are actually on the lower luxury price range, but still has features you’d be looking for when it comes to luxury rooms.

Private parking is possible with their partner nearby, and you can also get their valet parking service, which is a plus!

They also have some shared areas like the terrace and a small function room which can be used for celebratory dinners, team buildings, and other events.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Ai Terrazzini ««

Palazzotto Residence & Winery

The Pallazotto Residence is quite easy to locate due to its gorgeous balcony, once you are set in the stone city. It took time to restructure the building without ruining the original beauty that has stood the test of time.

The owner is the architect herself, and she made sure that guests will feel at home just like how she created it. While the winery is not on-site, they can take you there to taste the wine and check out the vineyard where it’s all grown and made – the place is also fabulous and has a view of the volcano!

They have a total of 10 rooms and suites for guests to enjoy – the uniqueness and history it has cannot easily be replicated, making each room have its own individuality.

All of their rooms have a dehumidifier, A/C, minibar and a welcome package kit. You can also enjoy the inclusive breakfast where they serve you grandma-made cakes, almond pastries, cold cuts, fruits, and juices. The private bathrooms are spacious and have modern bath amenities. They also add some candles, which create a lovely, romantic atmosphere inside the rooms.

Pets are also welcome here, but you would need to coordinate with them and pay associated fees. The good news is that since they have a winery, you can still get to taste perfectly aged wines at the on-site lounge – they also have a happy hour!

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Palazzotto Residence & Winery ««

Locanda Di San Martino Hotel & Thermae Romanae

This luxury hotel, Locanda di San Martino, is popular due to its Thermae Romanae, a spa facility that was carved out of the limestone thousands of years ago! It has this otherworldly elegance that reminds me a bit of the epic luxury hotel Cavo Tagoo in Mykonos.

The hotel offers plenty of room types for all guests – some in a separate building like the suites and apartment types. All rooms are furnished with antique-looking rustic furniture with a couple of contemporary pieces to add a modern touch. It has the typical arched ceilings you’d find in a cave suite, and the ensuite bathrooms are spacious and livened up with colorful tiles.

There are several terraces in the property, and you will love the different angles of the Old Town it gives you. You can also grab your breakfast at their breakfast hall, which has rustic blue chairs and plenty of selection – someone who has a big appetite will enjoy the food. They also have valet service with a parking affiliate, great if you’re doing a Southern Italy road trip, as cars are not allowed in the historic Sassi part of town!

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Locanda Di San Martino Hotel & Thermae Romanae ««

Quarry Resort

The chic cave hotel Quarry Resort gives you the best of modern world-class features and the beauty of ancient architecture all in one place.

It has a section that has been built around 1500 AD, which was historically popular due to noblemen and people of higher status who lived here. It also has a classy terrace where you can have a drink and ask them for their recommendations of wine and cocktails.

Events (such as wedding receptions) can also be held here and it has wicker chairs and umbrellas to give you the best al fresco dining experience.

Sleek high-end wooden furniture complement the rugged walls of the carved cave rooms. Comfortable beds with soft yet sturdy mattresses have a romantic vibe due to its shape (which is sometimes round) with bold red quilted headboards.

Some artsy accents were also added to add interest in some areas of the room – which is really unique! All of their private bathrooms have complete amenities to give you the best shower experience with added free toiletries, towels and so on. If you want a private pool or tub, you have to choose their higher tier suites (e.g. Suite Queen and Suite King Pool).

They also have extra features to help guests with special requirements to comfortably stay at their hotel. It almost has everything you would need for and more plus the 24/7 front desk can help you with any tourism, business, or laundry needs.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Quarry Resort ««

Antico Convicino Rooms, Suites & Spa

Antico Convicino has exquisite rooms with designer furniture and well curated materials to create luxury suites and rooms. It also has a wonderful grotto where you will have a fine selection of local breads and cakes as well as other savory food for the optional breakfast. Pets are also allowed on request, so do not forget to send it in while booking.

The rooms have traditional cave architecture and all of the rooms have separate areas dedicated for dining, sleeping and bathing (not an open plan layout). The tiles have earth tone colors to match the rock walls and modern furniture is added. There’s one suite with a terrace if you feel the need to spoil yourself with the views. You can even have your very own private tub if you choose their King Suite – this is the highest rate you can get for a room in the hotel, but it’s totally worth it.

Just like most hotels in the area, it might take you some time to locate the hotel, but who cares when getting lost in such a beautiful place can allow you to explore more of the neighboring cafes, restaurants and shops. After a tiring day, you deserve a special treatment at their spa or sauna.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Antico Convicino Rooms, Suites & Spa ««

Sant’Angelo Luxury Resort

Don’t be fooled by plenty of hotels with promising photos on their website or booking pages, Sant’Angelo Luxury Resort gives you what you see and might even be better than the pictures.

This remarkable luxury cave resort in Matera features spacious rooms and possibly one of the best positions inside the old town – it’s okay to expect panoramic and charming views in different areas of the property as well as in your rooms because that’s exactly what you’ll get here!

They only have double rooms, apartments, and suites; which can be great options for couples looking for a luxury cave accommodation in Matera. The rooms have been decorated with fine furnishings, all with good taste. There are even fancy tiles on the floor and cornice trims on the ceiling.

Breakfast is optional, so it is up to you if you wish to include it when you book – it’s suggested so you save time, but exploring outside won’t be a problem, as there are available places to dine nearby as well, aside from the on-site restaurant.

Blaise Mautin perfumed toiletries are given in the bathroom. The suite type rooms mostly have a private tub and you may use the shower gels provided to make a bubbly relaxing bath. Parking is also available nearby and there is an ATM machine that’s near and accessible.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Sant’Angelo Luxury Resort ««

3 Days in Rome: Itinerary for a Perfect Trip

I am the kind of traveler who often finds big cities overrated. After living in New York, I didn’t quite “get” the charm of London. Paris never quite captured my heart, even after 5 visits. But Rome: I fell in love with Rome instantly, even in the midst of a bout of depression.

While normally cities’ nicknames don’t make sense to me — The Big Apple? The City of Lights? Sure. —  I instantly got why they call Rome the Eternal City. Walking around Rome, you get the sense that Rome has never and will never stop being a city.

It’s a self-assured city, a city that doesn’t have to question its city-ness. It’s chaotic but organized. Vespas zip by Roman ruins casually, people step into bars for a quick standing espresso before stepping back onto ancient streets —  everyone carries out the daily beat of their routine, as people have for centuries before them and will for centuries to come. It makes you feel the best kind of insignificant.

I’ve written this post to help you plan the ideal Rome itinerary. 3 days is not quite enough to truly get the Eternal City – I was happy with a week here – but I understand time is not a luxury everyone has. As a result, I’ve focused on clustering this Rome itinerary around the tourist sights for the first two days, and then getting you out into the interesting, modern neighborhoods of present-day Rome on the final day, neighborhoods where locals live and few tourists wander.

Day 1: Classic Rome

There are some cities in which I’d urge you to get off the tourist trail; Rome is not one of those cities. It’s one of those rare places where just about every single major tourist place is well worth your time. For your first of 3 days in Rome, I’d advise you to get a head start on ticking off most of the bucket list items on your Rome itinerary.

And what better place to begin than…

Start at the Colosseum

Is there any place more iconic than the Colosseum? You’ve undoubtedly seen countless photographs of this oval amphitheater standing proudly in the middle of Rome. Luckily, the Colosseum couldn’t be easier to find, as it has its own Metro stop. Before heading in, though, be sure to get your Instagram photos across the street, where there’s a small ledge perfect for posing with the Colosseum as your background. It’s a bit of a Rome rite of passage.

Once you’ve gotten your photos, make your way over to enter the Colosseum. Since you only have 3 days in Rome, I’d highly recommend purchasing a skip-the-line pass, especially if you are traveling in peak season (anytime between April and September). On my most recent trip to Rome, I visited in mid-October and there were massively long lines. I recommend starting your Rome itinerary off on the right foot by buying a skip-the-line ticket.

With lines like this, you can see why I’m suggesting a skip-the-line ticket…

You can book strictly skip-the-line tickets, which just allow you to bypass the lines and then see the site at your own pace, or you can buy a guided tour that also allows you to skip the line. Which you choose will depend on your budget and how much historical context you prefer to get.

Book self-guided skip-the-line tickets to the Colosseum and Roman Forum here

Book skip-the-line tickets + a guided tour to the Colosseum, Roman Forum, & Palatine Hill here

Stroll over to the Roman Forum

But personally, the Colosseum isn’t even the most impressive ruin in Rome.

My favorite historical site in Rome is the actually gorgeous Roman Forum, an enormous rectangular plaza full of beautifully preserved ancient buildings at the center of Rome.  The Forum itself is surrounded by four temples, which in centuries past were used to offer sacrifices to bring good fortune to those visiting the Forum.

Seeing these ruins, still standing proud after empires crumbled and earthquakes trembled, will make you understand why Rome is truly the Eternal City.

For centuries, this Roman Forum (Foro Romano) was the beating heart of daily life in Rome: where politicians gave speeches, criminals stood trial, and gladiators fought to the death. It’s where you’d buy your eggs, catch up on the latest gossip, see and be seen. The decline of the Roman empire naturally meant the Forum fell into disuse, and during the Middle Ages, the site of the Roman Forum was plundered constantly for stone and marble.

It wasn’t until excavations in the 18th and 19th centuries that the ruins of the Roman Forum would begin to resemble their present-day state and become one of the most-visited tourist attractions in the world. Now, it attracts more than 4.5 million tourists annually. You won’t forget the feeling of being surrounded by enduring stone that’s seen empires fall, be born, and rebuild: it’s truly one of the most special places in Rome and fully deserves a spot on your Rome itinerary.

As lines can stretch quite long in peak season, I suggest the skip-the-line tickets that combine the Roman Forum with the Colosseum that I recommended above or a guided tour for context.

Marvel at the classical Altare della Patria

I stumbled across this building after exploring the Roman Forum and was instantly captivated by how grand it was – but I had no idea what it was for. Climb to the top of the stairs and enjoy the  view of Rome laid below you, going about its business uninterrupted, in that magical way it always has.

The Altare della Patria is a monument that was built in honor of the first King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel. It features two statues of Victoria, the goddess of victory, as well as ornate fountains, majestic stairways, and a sculpture of King Victor Emmanuel.

Afterwards, you can rest your feet in nearby Piazza Venezia. Rome is beloved for its many piazzas and I always take a moment to rest my legs, sit, and indulge in a little people-watching whenever I pass a nice place to sit. Piazza Venezia is one of my favorites in Rome. While it lacks the charm of some of the other more classical piazzas, it’s at the nexus of several of the cities most iconic sights, where four major roads meet, so you can take it all in in one frenzied panorama.

Go for lunch in the Jewish Quarter

Five centuries ago, the Roman Ghetto was established by Pope Paul IV. Despite the Jews having a presence in Rome since before the days of Christianity, the Pope passed a decree forcing all the city’s Jews into a walled quarter, with the gates locked at night. The Pope demanded that the Jews pay for construction of the wall (what they say about history repeating itself rings quite true, here). Naturally, the Jews were sequestered in one of the least desirable neighborhoods of Rome, a constantly flooded section on the banks of the Tiber River.

Life in the Roman Ghetto was exceedingly difficult: severe poverty due to the job restrictions, social ostracization, humiliation and abuse during Christian ‘feasts’ — all while paying a tax for the honor of living in overcrowded squalor.

Still, despite all the hardships, the Roman Jews persevered – as Jewish communities have done around the world, despite overwhelming odds. As a result of their historic isolation, Roman Jews ended up with their own dialect, Giudeo-romanesco, which to this day only has about 250 speakers in the world left and will likely soon be extinct.

But what shows no sign of disappearing as easily is Roman Jewish cuisine, Italian food influenced by North African influences and following kosher law. Eating lunch at one of the restaurants in the Jewish Quarter specializing in this unique cuisine is a can’t-miss activity in Rome. If it’s in season, be sure to order the carciofi alla giudìa, Jewish-style fried artichokes. For recommendations on what to eat in Rome, check out this post.

Puzzle at the Pantheon

Rome’s Pantheon was built 2000 years ago, but to date, it is still in remarkable condition — and still a World Record Holder.

This iconic Rome building has had many iterations throughout its two millennia of existence and continued use, adapting itself to the whims of whatever empire was ruling over it, never falling into disrepair. It started off as a Pagan temple — hence the name Pantheon, which means ‘all the gods’ in Greek — before being converted to a church in the 7th century.

The Pantheon is an interesting building, a classical facade combined with a dark, barely-lit rotunda. The rotunda has an enormous dome with a 30-foot-wide hole at the top and is the largest unsupported concrete dome in the entire world – a record it’s kept since its construction. The oculus in the middle is the only source of natural light, making the Pantheon a bit spooky, even. It’s free to enter, which means that you’ll be one of 6 million yearly visitors.

Have an aperitivo in Piazza Navona

Around this time, you’re probably a bit tired from all the sightseeing you’ve been doing on your first day in Rome. Why not refuel Italian-style with an aperitivo in one of Rome’s many piazzas? Piazza Navona is one of Rome’s most famous and most-loved piazzas due to the iconic fountains, vibrant street life, adorable balconies, and classical architecture.

Piazza Navona has a history longer than you’d think: a square was first built here in the 1st century AD. In the late 15th century it was converted into a more formal piazza and it got its iconic three fountains in the mid-1600s, which still stand in pristine condition today.

Piazza Navona is surrounded by flower-filled terraces, classic Roman architecture, and outdoor restaurants which give it a lively ambiance during the day. Often, you’ll find musicians, artists, and magicians who offer visitors and tourists all sorts of entertainment. You’ll also find some scam artists and pickpockets as well, so keep yourself wise to your belongings. I recommend carrying an anti-theft bag like a PacSafe – this is the small daypack I use on all my European city travels.

While Piazza Navona is undoubtedly touristy, it’s still well worth sitting down at a table in the middle of this historic, beautiful square and enjoying a slightly-overpriced cocktail with your fellow tourists: it’s that special of a place. My favorite aperitivo is an Aperol spritz – light, sparkling, and slightly boozy, it’s the perfect mid-afternoon drink to power yourself up for a touch more sightseeing before calling it a night.

Stroll around aimlessly for a bit

Some of the magic of Rome exists in getting lost in its streets, in following your eyes and exploring each small stret with curiosity. While of course you’ll want to plan some aspects of your Rome itinerary, 3 days is enough to get a bit off the beaten path and explore with a bit of whimsy.

Don’t stray too far, as you’ll want to stay around this area for dinner. But do give yourself at least 45 minutes or an hour or so to walk around and explore the side streets, take photographs, and discover your own version of Rome, without the guidebook. It’s one of the most delightful things to do in Rome.

Eat dinner in the Campo di Fiori

Color me surprised, but this touristic square actually has some incredibly delicious food!

Campo de Fiori, which translates in Italian to “Field of Flowers,”  is one of the main squares of Rome, built around the statue of martyr Giordano Bruno, which forms the focal point in the square. Still to this day, it is a center for commerce and socializing. During the day, there’s a flurry of people shopping for groceries at the daily produce market, but by night, the vibe quiets down a bit as people sit down for some classic Roman cuisine. I recommend Antica Hostaria Romanesca or La Carbonara.

When in Rome, eat like the Romans do. Rome is known for four classic pasta styles: amatriciana (tomato, onion, and guanciale – similar-ish to prosciutto), carbonara (egg, cheese, and guanciale), gricia (similar, but without egg, so it’s less rich), and my favorite, cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper). Any restaurant worth a damn should be able to prepare an excellent version of any of these.

Once you’ve eaten your fill, roll yourself back to your hotel as I’ve planned an early start for the next day on your Rome itinerary.

Day Two: Classic Rome, Continued + the Vatican

Country counters, rejoice: you’re about to get to add another notch to your belt! Vatican City is widely considered to be a country by many counts (including mine) and the great thing is that you can see it pretty much in full in a half day.
This is another jam-packed day, so do try to get an early start so that you can make time for a leisurely lunch or some time to sit back and rest your feet in one of Rome’s piazzas. While you should do as much as possible considering you only have 3 days in Rome, don’t forget to take time to take a beat and people-watch: it’s one of the greatest Italian joys.

Get an early start at the Trevi Fountain

The Trevi Fountain is hands down the most beautiful fountain in the city of Rome, a city full of fountains, and it’s definitely one of the most popular fountains in the world.

Nothing can prepare you for how massive and masterful the sculpture on this fountain is. I admit, I was fully prepared to think: so what? It’s just a freaking fountain. But it’s truly worth seeing.

The fountain’s sculptures measure a whopping 20 meters high and 49 meters wide, massive on a scale you won’t be able to understand until you see it.

Of course, the only thing more massive than the Trevi fountain itself is its popularity, so one of my biggest Rome travel tips is that I recommend getting as early of a start as you can in order to enjoy the fountain without the crowds.

The legend goes that if you toss a coin into Trevi Fountain, you’ll return to Rome one day. I consider a one or two Euro coin a pretty small investment in making sure that happens 😉 Jokes aside though, 3,000 euros are thrown into the Trevi Fountain every day, a whopping 1,500,000 euros per year, which goes to disaster and poverty relief.

Walk over to the Spanish Steps

The Spanish Steps in Rome were built in 1723 to create a link between the Piazza Trinita dei Monti up top, with its two-towered church, and the lively Piazza di Spagna down below.

The beautiful design of the steps has made it a popular site for tourists from all over the world – one of the most frequented selfie spots in Rome. At the foot of the Spanish Steps, you’ll find a beautiful fountain in the form of a sinking ship, which is worth a peek while you’re in the area.

Since you hopefully were able to get an early start, take some time to sit on the steps and enjoy it before the insane crowds set in later in the day.

Walk over to the Piazza del Popolo

I know, a third piazza and you’re not even halfway through the day yet? (Is this an appropriate place for a “when in Rome” joke?)

I recommend the Piazza del Popolo for two reasons. For one, it’s kind of on the way to the Vatican, and there are some cool things to see if you walk over to the Vatican by foot. But for another, it’s home to the tallest obelisk in Rome as well as the city’s beautiful Northern gate.

However, if you weren’t able to get an early start and it’s getting close to mid-day, I recommend skipping the Piazza del Popolo and making your way straight to the next attraction, so you have time for the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel at the end of the day.

Visit Castel Sant’Angelo

Not far from the Vatican is the impressive, layer-cake-shaped Castel Sant’Angelo. Unique among castles because of its cylindrical structure with an angel statue crowning it, Castel Sant’Angelo is one of Italy’s most interesting – and ancient – castles. It was originally built by the famous Roman emperor Hadrian for himself and his family in the 2nd century AD.

What few people know is that this castle is also home to Hadrian’s mausoleum, which was the original reason for its construction. Same with most buildings that have survived multiple millennia in Rome, it’s lived several lives in the Eternal City, taking time to be alternately a tomb, a prison, a hideaway for popes, and a fortress against invaders. There are ornately painted frescoes, Papal apartments, and fantastic statues all worth seeing.

On your way to the Vatican afterwards, grab a quick bite on the go if you see something, as you don’t want to waste too much time on a long sit-down lunch on one of your busier days in Rome! Alternately, there’s a café in the Vatican Museum if you need to grab food later.

Hint: If you have time, be sure to return near the bridge sometime during your 3 days in Rome for epic sunset shots – it’s one of the best photo spots in Rome!

The Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel

This is one area where trust me, you need to do some advance planning. You can book with the Vatican Museums website, but that needs to be done several days in advance or even weeks during peak summer in order to get the time slot you want. A more popular, but slightly more expensive option, is to purchase a “skip the line” ticket or tour from a third party.

If you don’t do either of the two and just try to “wing it”, be warned: the line for the Vatican Museums is like, new iPhone-level insane. Unless you are a masochist, it is most certainly not how you want to spend your limited time when you only have 3 days in Rome.

So be prepared and book in advance or face the wrath of millions of tourists who also want to see some of the world’s most famous works of art. Keep in mind that the final admission time is 4 PM, but I recommend entering no later than 3 PM. This is because the Sistine Chapel closes at 4 PM and it’d be a shame to not see it, even though it is insanely crowded. Also, it’s worth it to give yourself a good 3 hours to explore the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel at your leisure (the Museums close at 6 PM).

Alternately, you could also switch up this day’s itinerary and do the Vatican first, then the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps, but they’ll both be really crowded. Whereas no matter when you visit the Vatican, it’s bound to be crowded – even (if not especially) in the morning!

Book your skip-the-line ticket to the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel here

Book a guided tour plus fast-pass entry for the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel

The Vatican Museums are a series of art museums located within boundaries of the Vatican City, originally founded by Pope Julius II. These amazing museums contain some of the world’s most priceless art pieces, sculptures and many other items collected by the popes throughout the centuries.

But let’s be honest about the real reason you likely want to visit the Vatican: the magnificent Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo’s masterpiece.

The Sistine Chapel was built in 1473 and is the official residence of the Pope in the Vatican City. The ceiling is the real reason for its worldwide fame: decorated with some of the world’s most beautiful frescoes depicting scenes from the Bible. Note that you are not allowed to take photos inside (this photo is a free-use stock image), and you’ll be with several thousand of your closest new friends, but it’s still majestic and 100% worth the crowding and chaos.

Important note: The Vatican Museums are closed on weekends so be sure to consider that when planning your trip to Rome and feel free to move around the days of this 3 day Rome itinerary to make that convenient. It’s more important that you get to see the Vatican than that you follow this Rome itinerary to the letter. 

Have dinner in Trastevere

I recommend decompressing for a bit at your hotel after the crowded chaos of the Vatican. Trust me – you’ll need a break from people.

Once you’ve gotten some rest, head to one of my favorite neighborhoods in Rome, Trastevere.

Trastevere is the 13th district of Rome, located on the south side of the city on the west bank of the Tiber river. This quaint Roman district is set apart by its narrow streets lined by ancient buildings and houses. It is rich with cute residences, amazing street scenes, quiet bars, and hole-in-the-wall trattorias. The Piazza di Santa Maria is also one of the cutest piazzas in the city (I know I say that a lot, but I think this time I really mean it)

During the night, tourists and locals flock to the restaurants and clubs to enjoy some of the best food in all of Rome. My favorite restaurant in Trastevere is the much-beloved restaurant Da Lucia, known for its amazing spaghetti alla gricia. Be sure to either call ahead and make reservations or show up right when it opens for the evening at 7:30 PM. For more suggestions on where to eat in Trastavere, click here!

Afterwards, find a gelato and stroll around some of Rome’s cutest streets, or enjoy some of the best things to do in Rome at night, before getting a good night’s rest for your third day in Rome.

3rd Day in Rome: Delicious & Offbeat Rome

On your final day in Rome, break a bit away from the typical tourist track and explore Rome’s green spaces, quirky street art districts, and delicious eateries. You won’t be able to understand modern-day Rome if you don’t leave the tourist trail at some point.

This day starts in one of Rome’s biggest parks, takes you to its hipster/industrial neighborhoods, and ends on a delicious note — a foodie feast, because what better way to end a Roman holiday than by stuffing your face?

Alternately, if you’re traveling Rome with kids, you can pick some Rome activities from this list that are sure to excite them after two days of jam-packed sightseeing on this Rome itinerary

Start the day exploring Rome’s green heart, Villa Borghese

In a city as packed and chaotic and decidedly urban as Rome is, you’ll likely start to crave a little green space at some point. Enter Villa Borghese

Villa Borghese is a historic park located in the city center on an 80-hectare piece of land, one of the biggest in central Rome. Inside the park, there are several buildings, including the excellent Borghese Galleries. The park has an artificial lake in the center which has a ruin of the arch of Septimus Severus (a Harry Potter-esque name if I ever heard one), as well as landscaped English-style gardens, piazzas, and plenty of open areas to rest and take in some green.

If you’re a fan of Renaissance artists like Caraveggio and Raphael, you won’t want to miss the Borghese Galleries, located within the park.

However, due to restrictions, only 360 people are allowed in at a time. If the Galleries are a can’t-miss for you, I recommend booking a special entrance ticket with guaranteed admission, so that you won’t miss out on one of Italy’s most beloved art collections.

Head over to Testaccio Market for an early lunch

The neighborhood of Testaccio is a bit far away, but easily accessible by bus from Villa Borghese. And it’s worth the detour, as Testaccio is one of the cooler neighborhoods of Rome and is home to the excellent Testaccio Market.

Testaccio Market is a community market that has about a hundred stalls, mostly set up for locals doing their everyday shopping and dining rather than for tourists. The market has everything: bakeries, vegetable stands, butcheries, fishmongers, and more. But since today is your final day in Rome, you’ll probably want to forgo the food shopping and instead stop at one of the delicious stalls preparing fresh Italian food at budget prices.

Piadinas are a staple of Italian ‘street food’ – and you can get one at the simply-named Piadina, where a delicious sandwich will set you back about 4 euros. Le Mani in Pasta serves up delicious versions of Rome’s staple pastas for a cheap, to-go price. And finally, Mordi e Vai comes highly recommended but I was too stuffed to try their sandwiches the last time I visited Testaccio Market. I recommend doing a lap around the market before committing your precious stomach real estate!

Wander around Testaccio and check out the street art

Testaccio has some excellent examples of street art, so if you’re a fan of urban art you’ve got to save a little time to walk around this neighborhood and try to find its many murals.

The most famous is the “Jumping Wolf”, created by Belgian artist ROA, which is more than 30 meters high stretching all the way up the side of an apartment complex on Via Galvani. As wolves are the symbol of Rome, it’s a fitting piece for the city.

However, most of the pieces of street art I found in Testaccio were purely by accident, walking around – which is my personal favorite way of discovering street art, rather than trying to track down each individual piece with a map.

Find a 2,000-year-old pyramid in Central Rome

One other cool thing to spot in Testaccio is a giant Egyptian-style pyramid. Yes, Rome has a 2,000-year-old pyramid of its own!

Photo credit: Joris van Rooden, Wikimedia Commons, (CC BY-SA 3.0)

According to Atlas Obscura, its origin supposedly dates back to a period of ‘Egyptomania’ following the Roman conquest of Egypt. This is when the Piazza del Popolo got its famous obelisk as well!

The Pyramid of Caius Cestius in the middle of a busy street with traffic whirling around it, because #Rome. You can go inside two days a month, but it’s pretty cool to just check it out from the outside as well. Who said you needed to travel to Egypt to see the pyramids?

Choose your own adventure

There are several things you could do to continue your time in Rome.

If you’re into history but want to get a bit off the beaten path, check out the quiet Baths of Caracalla, the vast ruins of a Roman public bathhouse that was used for 300 years. It’s not a far walk from the Pyramid. Afterwards, you could check out the Appia Antica, which has 16 kilometers of the old ancient road to Rome preserved in Rome’s biggest park.

If you want to get a bit hipster, you could check out the trendy neighborhoods of Ostiense and San Lorenzo to see more street art, quirky bars and cafés, and cool boutiques.

Or alternately, you could head back into Central Rome and check out anything you missed, climb one of Rome’s 7 hills for panoramic viewpoints, or just while away time in one of the piazzas watching one of the world’s coolest cities pass you by.

End your Rome trip with a food tour

Food tours are one of my favorite things to do, and in no country would a food tour be more appropriate than Italy! I did several food tours when I was in Bologna, and now I’m a huge fan. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to do one myself when in Rome, but in researching the city’s best food tours, I found this excellent one that includes 20 tastings spread over 4 hours. With 4.9/5 average review rate with over 200 reviews, it’s safe to say it’s been tried and tested.

Read reviews and description of the food tour here. Prepare for your mouth to water.

This tour will take you through several different neighborhoods of Rome, trying traditional products like buffalo mozzarella, prosciutto, salami, truffles, 25-year-aged balsamic, and more. If that wasn’t enough, you’ll have a sit-down pasta meal complete with wine, followed by tiramisu and of course, a gelato nightcap.

So bring your appetite and end your trip to Rome so stuffed you can’t even imagine another day of sightseeing.

I can’t think of a more Roman way to end your trip.

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Only 3 days in Rome? This Rome itinerary will make the most of a weekend trip to Rome, from highlights like the Vatican to offbeat gems like hidden street art & local markets, this guide is full of Rome travel tips to help you skip the lines, avoid the crowds, & tick everything off your Rome bucket list for the perfect Roman holiday. Click to get started!

9 Reasons to Visit Val Di Non, Trentino’s Beautiful Valley

With the stunning backdrop of the Dolomites and the endless green of apple trees, which turn snow white with blossoms for a brief spell in spring, it’s hard not to fall for Val di Non. This beautiful part of the Trentino region is less Insta-famous than its neighbor South Tyrol (also called Südtirol or Alto Adige). It’s certainly humbler, set up more for agriculture than hoards of tourists. But those who do dedicate a bit of time to exploring Trentino will find themselves richly rewarded.

I visited Val di Non in partnership with Visit Trentino and was blown away – this region is full of surprises. Whether it’s stunning narrow canyons that a kayak can barely squeeze through, castles from a bygone era, or the riot of blossoming wildflowers that greet you each spring, you’ll find yourself wowed over and over again by this humble region.

In case I haven’t yet convinced you to give Trentino a visit, here are 9 reasons why I think Val di Non is an essential stop on any visit to Northern Italy.

Val di Non’s got gorgeous lakes and valleys

Val di Non is incredibly photogenic, with its combination of valleys and mountains, lakes and canyons, and blues and greens. Better yet, the Instagrammers of the world have yet to descend upon it, meaning that it’s not hard to take original, beautiful photos pretty much anywhere you go in Val di Non — a must-visit stop on any Northern Italy road trip.

The valley is centered around the massive Lago di Santa Giustina, a manmade lake created by a dam which helps to keep this agricultural valley watered and running. On the hillside shores of the lake, you’ll find tiny villages interspersed amongst the fields of apple trees.

Having been to Italy four times now, this was the first time I had truly gotten off the beaten track of city after city and seen a more natural, rural side to Italian life. My grandmother grew up in a tiny village – Castagnole delle Lanze – in Piemonte before fleeing Italy in World War II. I visited her village when I was 12, after she had passed away, but beyond that brief afternoon visit I had never really gotten to see village life in Italy, nor how beautiful the countryside is.

Too often I think we associate Italy with its most famous cities – Rome, Florence, Milan, Bologna, Naples – without recognizing that the country stretches from South Tyrol to Lampedusa and covers terrain from the snowy peaks of the Dolomites to the rolling vineyards of Tuscany to the arid islands that lay just a stone’s throw from Northern Africa. This visit reminded me just how much of Italy I have left to see.

It’s heaven for castle lovers

The Val di Non region is home to the largest number of castles in Italy, a staggering 28 in such a small geographic area. While some of them are privately owned and therefore closed to tourists, others are able to be visited by the public. And all are easily admired from the roadside, such as this little gem I stumbled across while driving:

The two most important castles in the Val di Non are Castel Cles and Castel Thun. Castel Cles is particularly stunning, perched lakeside on a hill with lovely views of the valley and lake. The inside of the castle is closed to the public except during a few special events in the summer.

However, you can enjoy views of the castle from around the valley and especially from vantage points on Santa Giustina lake, best enjoyed by kayak.

If just looking from afar isn’t enough, you can also visit Castel Thun, which was built in the 12th century and is open to the public. You can also take the “Il Trenino dei Castelli” (the Castle Route Train) which allows you to see four different castles, culminating in Castel Thun, in one day. It departs almost every Saturday from Trento during the peak season (mid-April to mid-September) – check here for dates and more information – and costs 62 euros for an adult, full-day ticket.

Slow food is king in Val di Non

In Val di Non (and Trentino in general), slow food isn’t just a trend: it’s a way of life. With centuries of agriculture in its past ongoing into the present day, food is an essential part of the day-to-day. From the many apples that the region produces to its traditional cheese and meats, real home-cooked food comes naturally to this part of Italy.

You can’t miss traditional sausages, such as mortandela – not to be confused with Bologna’s mortadella, this pork sausage is more akin to a salami, smoked and aged to perfection. Other traditional meats include speck (a lightly smoked, prosciutto-like cold cut), carne salada (salted, cured meat), and lardo (thinly sliced, buttery pork fat).

The most interesting meat I tried was ciuìga, a pork and beef salami made with a healthy portion of radish. This traditional Slow Food-certified sausage goes back to the time when meat was expensive and scarce, and farmers tried to stretch out the meat they could use by using diced, boiled radish to fill out the sausage.

Traditional handmade pasta is also an important part of Trentino cuisine. I had delicious homemade ravioli with fresh cheese and wild herbs one day and a perfect gnocchi with gorgonzola, walnuts, and radicchio the next (for research, obviously).

And don’t even get me started on the pizza I had in Cles. I could rhapsodize about the perfect Italian pizza all day. Sorry, New York, you don’t even come close.

If you’re interested in slow food, you shouldn’t miss Maso Plaz, a small agritourism farm and restaurant not far from the small village of Brez. The ravioli pictured above are from here, as well as this gorgeous asparagus salad made with asparagus picked from his garden that morning.

The Novella Canyon can’t be missed

One of the most amazing features of the Val di Non area is the Novella Canyon, a stunning series of slot canyons that are best accessed via kayak. I went with Trentino Wild and loved the experience (even if my shoulders the next day most definitely did not — guys, kayaking is work).

We kayaked about 8 kilometers from our starting spot at Lago di San Giustina into the Novella Canyon, where we were lucky enough to access all 3 slot canyons (the water level varies during different times of the year and different weather conditions, so you can’t always access the latter two canyons).

It was an incredible experience to kayak through the canyon, in between sheer rock reaching skywards hundreds of feet so that you could barely peep the sun through the crack. At times, the canyon was so narrow that the sunlight would barely be able to penetrate through the crack, and we’d be kayaking through near-black crevices in the rock. I kept thinking we’d have to turn back, that our kayaks wouldn’t fit, but with the guidance of our instructor, we kept pushing through.

At times, water would trickle from the sky, not rain but rather tiny waterfalls falling from the canyon edges. Through the light, the streaks of rain looked like little shooting stars. It was beautiful — a truly can’t-miss experience when in Val di Non.

If you’d rather experience the canyon from up high, you can also walk above the canyons on a series of suspended boardwalks – contact the Parco Fluviale Novella if that’s more your speed than kayaking.

It’s home to beautiful churches like the Sanctuary of San Remedio

Visiting the Sanctuary of San Remedio was one of the highlights of my stay in Val di Non and the perfect way to end my trip to Trentino. While I’m not a religious person, I make for up for my heathen ways with outsized admiration for religious structures of all faiths. The Sanctuary of San Remedio is a truly special place.

It’s dedicated to the hermit Remedio, who was on his way to Trento when, as the story goes, his horse was torn to pieces by a bear. Supposedly, he then tamed the bear and rode it the rest of the way to Trento. You’ll excuse me if I have a healthy dose of skepticism for this story, but what’s indubitable is that the church is stunning.

Built atop a 70-meter high rock cropping, the Sanctuary is composed of several churches and chapels on the rock connected by a steep staircase with over 100 steps. The Sanctuary blends in with the stunning landscape around it, and if you’re quiet, you can hear the rushing water of the river and waterfalls below you, alongside the singing of birds.

Today, the Sanctuary is also home to a rehabilitated brown bear who was rescued from a private owner, nicknamed Bruno. He was sleeping or wandering about when I was there, so I wasn’t able to snap a photo of him.

But in my opinion, the walk to and from the Sanctuary of San Remedio from the nearby village of Sanzeno is just as beautiful. Winding through the canyon underneath rock headings so low you have to bow to pass through, I at times felt transported to Zion National Park in Utah with the sheer limestone cliffs rising up through the valley.

The walk isn’t difficult, about 45 minutes on relatively flat terrain, so it’s suitable for people of all ages, but you’ll have to duck or bow down in portions of the walk, where the path is literally carved into the rock heading.

I highly recommend this way of getting to the Sanctuary – it makes getting there all the more special. Along the way, I saw a few handwritten prayers left alongside the path, as the Sanctuary is a place where local people and people making pilgrimages go to pray for miracles. Plus, you’ll get to spot a waterfall!

The Dolomites are never far from eye’s view

While South Tyrol is home to many of the more famous stretches of the Dolomites, Trentino has the Brenta portion of the Dolomites, which are lovely and dusted with snow in the start of spring.

I’m a huge lover of being around the mountains. For me, it never lost its magic every time I caught a glimpse of the snow-capped peaks. I only had two days in the Val di Non, so I didn’t have enough time to do some proper hiking in the Brenta Dolomites, but I loved the peep of them I got every time the clouds and fog cleared.

I’ll definitely have to come back in summer or fall and hike the Dolomites sometime – those mountains are calling to me!

It’s full of cute traditional towns and villages

You definitely won’t find any big cities in Val di Non. In fact, the Non Valley’s largest town is Cles, with a population of around 7,000 people. Despite its small size, after visiting smaller villages in Val di Non like Romallo and Cagnò, Cles feels positively bustling.

When in Cles, don’t miss a meal at the delicious pizzeria Giardino, which was a staggering number of options for delicious, perfectly cooked Italian pizzas.

I chose one with local wild mushrooms called finferli, sausage, and a locally produced soft cheese called Casolet. Predictably, it was mindblowingly good.

Spring in Val di Non is absolutely magical

If you can go to Val di Non at any time of year, I’d highly recommend spring. If possible, try to time your visit in order to see the elusive apple blossoms, which cover the valley in a “white snow” of another type for a few short weeks in spring.

Unfortunately, I missed most of the blossom season by just a week, due to an unusually warm winter, but when I went to a higher altitude there were still a few apple trees in blossom!

But apple trees aside, you’ll also find tulips scattered at random – much unlike the neatly manicured rows of tulips you’ll find in the Netherlands – and wildflowers in blues, whites, purples, yellows, and so much more.

I lost count of the different kinds of flowers, wild and otherwise, that I saw during my time in Trentino.

It’s not that discovered… yet

Val di Non feels like the Goldilocks of off the beaten path travel in Italy. It’s built up enough that there’s no shortage of tourist infrastructure, such as hotels, restaurants, and tours to keep you busy, rested, and well fed during your stay. However, it’s also quietly under the radar, so you won’t be encountering too many other tourists, even if you visit during high season.

Trentino is popular with Italians and Germans, but the word of its beauty has yet to spread to the majority of travelers who visit Italy and make it the 5th most touristed destination in the world. If you’re looking for some nature and beauty on your next trip to Italy, Trentino is only a short drive away from other popular tourist destinations like Bologna, Verona, and Venice. It’s certainly worth your time to make a small detour to see the beauty for yourself — especially when you have so few people you’ll have to share it with.

Have you heard of Trentino? Is it on your list for a future Italy trip?

Note: Thanks so much to Visit Trentino, who sponsored my trip to the Trentino region, and to Val di Non for showing me the beauty of this part of Italy. All opinions expressed and food babies conceived are strictly my own.

Must-Try Wine and Food in Bologna, Italy’s Offbeat Foodie City

Oh, Bologna… what a happy accident you were.

You see, I was never planning on going to Bologna. I was just trying to make my way from Switzerland to Bulgaria, only that flights leaving Switzerland were outrageously priced. So, travel hacker that I am, I used Kiwi’s radius search function and found a 20 euro flight leaving Bologna. Just like that, I was booking train tickets to Italy for 72 hours, determined to try as much food in Bologna as I could fit in my stomach in that time frame.

The canal of Bologna - orange houses and water
Preparing to eat all the food in Bologna in 3, 2, 1…

My Italian grandmother was from Piemonte, but she always had a special love in her heart for the cuisine of Emilia-Romagna. Her homemade gnocchi con ragú alla bolognese is and forever will be my favorite dish of all time (but only when she makes it, naturally, although my American-born dad does a close second).

Rich in dairy and egg pastas, the food of Emilia-Romagna is humble, filling, and proud. And there’s no better place to start exploring the variety of Northern Italian cooking than by sampling the Bologna cuisine.

Bologna porticos and buildings and bicyclist
The famous porticos of Bologna – there are 40 kilometers+ of them!

I went on two food tours while in Bologna; one with Italian Days Food Experience, which runs a small group food tour that’ll check off all the boxes on your Emilia Romagna foodie bucket list, and other with Yummy Italy, which organizes bespoke custom tours centered on your particular interests.

Both are excellent but appeal to different audiences. Italian Days is great if you want to be a part of a small group tour and learn about all the major foods of the region and leave with a solid overview of what food in Bologna is like. This is the exact tour that I did if you want to replicate what I did and ate!

You’ll go to a Parmesan factory, a prosciutto factory, a small balsamic operation, and a delicious vineyard restaurant for lunch where you’ll try a variety of traditional Bolognese food and wine. Everything is organized for you, which is perfect if you don’t know what you want to see but want an overview of the region and to eat some amazing food.

Traditional food in Bologna - a pizza focaccia
A traditional snack Bolognese cuisine – focaccia!

Yummy Italy is more specialized, as Helena custom organizes each tour to appeal to what her clients want to experience. Having done the Italian Days food tour first and having seen all the major D.O.P. products that make food in Bologna so famous, I asked Helena to organize a custom wine tour for me.

I’m a huge fan of Lambrusco and Italian wine in general, and wanted to see some wineries in the region. She set up an amazing tasting for me where I got to sample some lesser-known varietals in the house of one of the region’s best small winemakers, followed by a Lambrusco pairing with lunch.

It was an amazing day and I learned so much about winemaking in the region – she’s a sommelier, so if you’re at all into wine, I highly recommend contacting her to arrange a Bologna wine tasting by e-mailing Helena at [email protected].

Wanna step up the fancy factor on your trip? Try a food and Ferrari tour in Bologna!

A bottle of Erioli at the winemaker's house
Trying wine from one of Emilia Romagna’s best winemakers

The Foodie Bucket List: Must-Eat Food in Bologna

Parmigiano Reggiano (D.O.P) 

A trip to Parma, one of Bologna’s best day trips, is a must-do for cheese lovers, as it’s where Parmigiano Reggiano is from: Italy’s most famous cheese. A small sprinkling of this delicious, flavorful cheese will brighten up any dish it garnishes. There’s a reason Parmigiano Reggiano is essential in so many traditional Italian dishes.

Nutty, complex, and delicious, true parmigiano is a world away from what we call parmesan back in the U.S. – that powdered cheese sold in a green container just won’t fly in Bologna.

Aged a minimum of twelve months, Grade 1 parmigiano reggiano can be aged indefinitely. As it ages, it develops crystals with a sharper, more concentrated cheese flavor. On my Italian Days tour, we got to sample three separate ages of cheese: one year, two year, and five year cheese.

My personal favorite was the five-year cheese, which had tons of concentrated cheesy crystals with a nice salty crunch between your teeth. That was my personal favorite snacking cheese, although I’d say that the one- or two-year varieties are better suited for being grated over a pasta, where the flavors won’t compete quite as much.

5 year aged Parmigiano Reggiano, the king of cheese
5 years of perfection

We also got to tour the organic farm where the cheese was made, which was a fascinating insight into just how much love goes into these cheeses. The farm places a premium on animal welfare, milking the cows only once per day to increase their quality of life and lifespan (a normal dairy cow only lives 6-8 years; their cows live to be up to 15).

While obviously people’s opinions on the ethics of the dairy industry vary, I was happy to see the cows were treated well. As someone who chooses to eat meat and cheese, I feel like it’s a good thing to know where our food comes from.

The matter of scale is really important when you’re talking animal welfare: the smaller the dairy factory, the more likely it is that care will be given to its animals. The dairy farm we visited with Italian Days is a small operation, with a maximum production capacity of 24 wheels of cheese in one day – though that all depends on how much milk the cows have to give.

A cow in a pen
A baby cow showing off her best side

Kittens lapping up spilled milk
No crying over spilled milk here

We watched pretty much the whole process of heating, straining, and stirring the cheese, and it was pretty magical to see the enormous pile of curds — Parmigiano-to-be — get lifted out of the vat with incredible coordination.

We also got to see a hall of over 7,000 wheels of cheese, aka where I want to get married one day.

wearing protective shoes in a Bologna cheese factory
Me, the fashion blogger

Cheese in a vat
Come to mama

The wax mold for cheese
The mold for parmigiano reggiano

close up on a wheel of cheese
The hall of cheese – aka heaven

Prosciutto di Parma (D.O.P.) and other cured meats

Food in Bologna is very pork-centric. I’m obsessed with pork products, so I was super thrilled to see a real live prosciutto factory in Parma! You’ll see proscuitto on the menu of virtually every Bologna restaurant, so it’s cool to see its source.

Prosciutto di Parma refers only to one specific cut of pork (the leg), so this factory also produces meats from the other parts of the pork as well, including some of my personal favorites: culatello (which is actually rarer and more expensive than prosciutto di parma, go figure!), guanciale (the fatty pork cheek), and pancetta (pork belly).

One of my favorite foods in Bologna - prosciutto - hanging up to cure
Aging meats

man in prosciutto factory
Meats on meats on meats

prosciutto factory
Packaging the finished product

We got to try pretty much every kind of pork product they make at the factory at a little makeshift picnic in the parking lot.

The charcuteries paired perfectly with some Lambrusco and Pignoletto — a sparkling red and white, respectively. I’m a huge fan of lambrusco, especially with charcuterie, but I was surprised by how nicely a white sparkling wine paired with the meat as well. I shouldn’t be surprised – Bolognese food is all about the pairings of food and wine, so they definitely know what they are talking about!

picnic of meat
Makeshift picnic in the parking lot

white meat fat and breadsticks
Traditional lardo with breadsticks

Prosciutto and pignoletto
In my happy place

Mortadella

What we think of as bologna, Bolognans think of as mortadella. A far cry from what passes for mortadella or bologna in the United States, true Italian mortadella is rich and smooth, dotted with circles of creamy, melty lard. I wish I could make it sound better than that, but it tastes outrageously good, especially with some white wine. I never thought I liked mortadella until getting trying the cuisine of Bologna, in fact!

On my tour with Helena of Yummy Italy, we paired some funky wine varietals few people ever get to try, let alone hear of – an Alionza, which is a cousin of the more famous Pignoletto grape, and a Negretto, a temperamental and obscure grape that dedicated winemakers like Erioli are nurturing out of near-obsolescence.

Helena told me how mortadella is made: the loin, shoulder, and cheek are boiled together for 24 hours, then ground and mixed together with spices. Fat from the neck is added at the end before being put in their cases, then sliced thin to order. That’s how the sausage gets made (in Bologna, at least!).

trio of meats and cheese
Mortadella, prosciutto, and a fresh farmer cheese

mortadella and bread
Flatbread and mortadella

Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena (D.O.P.)

Again, what we think of as balsamic vinegar is a far cry from the real deal. Food in Bologna is often this way; there’s a real version, and then the bastardized American version (see: Kraft parmesan). The truth is in the numbers: balsamic vinegar of Modena (IGP) that you buy at the grocery store is aged two months; traditional balsamic (DOP), 12 years (or more!). 98 million liters of balsamic vinegar are produced annually versus a mere 10,000 liters of traditional balsamic vinegar. So you can see why the real traditional 12+ year product is worth quite a bit of money.

The real deal is dense, sweet, and syrupy; a condiment rather than an ingredient. It’s delicious drizzled over fresh ricotta or on tortelloni with cream.

balsamic vinegar in my hand
A far cry from the giant jugs of balsamic you’ll see at Costco

balsamic vinegar aging in barrels
Inside a balsamic factory in Bologna

tortelloni with balsamic
How you should eat balsamic – in moderation yet in total decadence

Gramigna alla salsiccia 

Lest you think I forwent the pasta… HAHAHA never. One of my favorite things about food in Bologna is that true Italian pasta has a dizzying number of shapes and sizes. Each pasta shape is specifically suited for the sauce it goes with. Purists of Italian food will scoff at certain sauce and pasta combinations, knowing how important the combination of pasta sauce and noodle texture are.

For example, the curlicue gramigna, with its nooks and crannies, is perfect for a creamy sausage-based sauce, as little bites of the sausage get swept up with every bite.

It’s not the most famous pasta in Bologna (that would be the namesake bolognese) but it was definitely one of my favorites.

pork sausage with pasta and wine
Gramigna plus sausage, a match made in heaven

Maccheroncini con pesto

Pesto is a Genovese creation, but it’s made its way throughout all of Italy with good reason. Served with maccheroncini (little macaroni, essentially), basil pesto, fresh tomatoes, and lightly toasted pine nuts, it’s a delicious summer dish.

I tasted some when eating with Helena of Yummy Italy and I must say, it went absolutely perfectly with a cold glass of Lambrusco!

a plate of pesto pasta
Pesto is one of Italy’s most famous sauces, even in Bologna!

Tortellini en brodo

This dish is so simple, it’s genius. A capon (a castrated rooster) is made into a rich, simple broth, in which perfectly shaped meat-filled tortellini float delicately.

It is traditional to offer parmesan on the side, but my waiter requested that I not add the parmesan – that the dish is more pure and delicious without it. Even this cheese-lover had nothing to complain about: each bite of the tortellini burst with meat flavor, enhanced by the subtle capon broth. No cheese necessary (and that’s saying something from a cheese-lover like me)

Helena told me that according to tradition, the tortellini should fit seven to one spoon: I’m happy to report that this place hit the mark exactly!

bowl of tortellini and soup
7 in one spoon, just like magic

Tortelloni (with sage or cream sauce)

Tortellini with an i are small; tortelloni with an o are big. The filling varies, but in general, tortelloni are typically stuffed with fresh ricotta and served with a simple sauce, such as a butter and sage sauce or a light cream sauce with balsamic drizzle.

The richness of the egg pasta mixed with the softness of the ricotta and the simple sauces…. Italian food, why are you just consistently the best?

Tortelloni with sage and butter
The perfect tortelloni should be yellow from the yolky fresh pasta

tortelloni and balsamic vinegar
A drizzle of balsamic atop pillowy tortelloni is heaven

Tagliatelle al ragu bolognese

When you think of food in Bologna, you’d be forgiven (though not by Italians) for thinking of spaghetti bolognese. But seriously, forget spaghetti bolognese — if you spend your time eating that in Bologna, you may well get deported.

Kidding, but maybe you should.

The real deal bolognese is served with tagliatelle, not spaghetti: a hand-made ribbon cut egg pasta that catches little bites of minced (not ground!) meat on each forkful. It is every bit as delicious as it sounds, and trust me, the tagliatelle is so much better suited to catching the bolognese sauce than spaghetti (hence the Italian obsession with matching noodle to sauce).

tagliatelle a la ragu bolognese
The real deal

Grigliata mista di carne

Oh yes, a mixed grill – because only Italians are crazy enough to think that pasta is a starter.

When you’ve eaten enough food in Bologna to make your stomach whimper, be prepared, because in all likelihood another course is coming right at you. A mixed meat grill (mercifully served with some grilled vegetables as well) is delicious and common at large events or gatherings. Not heavily spiced or sauced like American barbecue, Italian grilled meats are done simply so that the char of the meats and the meat flavor can shine through.

They are often, mercifully, served alongside grilled vegetables.

grilled meat and vegetables
Just when you thought the meal was over….

Salsiccia con friggione

This was one of my favorite dishes — a freeform, caseless sausage served with a side of a simple Bolognese classic made of tomatoes and onions cooked until melty soft and sweet, almost like a tomato jam.

I’ll readily admit that the presentation isn’t the most elegant, but when it tastes so good, who freaking cares? Food in Bologna is about simple ingredients put together with love.

A classic food in Bologna, sausage and tomato jam
One of my favorites

Gelato

DUH. You don’t go to Italy without eating gelato, unless you’re vegan, allergic to dairy, or have some other horrible affliction that prevents you from indulging in gelato. And even then, you better double up on the sorbet to make up for all the creamy goodness you’re missing.

My favorite gelateria was recommended to me by Helena of Yummy Italy: Gelateria Galliera 49. All the flavors are incredible, trust me: I tried six different ones in my time in Bologna… for research, obviously. I know, my job is the worst.

Standouts were the salted caramel, pistachio, and mascarpone. Especially good when mixed. You’re welcome.

gelato in Bologna
If you went to Italy and didn’t take a photo of you holding a gelato, did you even go?

Espresso

Fact: Italians don’t drink cappuccinos after breakfast, and doing so will get you some serious side-eye.

Instead, finish your meal with an espresso – it settles the stomach, encourages digestion, and will lift you out the serious food coma you just got yourself into.

Espresso cups stacked
There’s nothing I love more than an espresso after a heavy meal!

Must-Try Wine in Bologna

Of course, talking about food in Bologna would be incomplete if I didn’t discuss all the delicious wine there is to drink alongside it. Italy is famous for its countless varietals its maintained throughout centuries of vinification. Whereas the tendency in much of the world is to streamline towards fewer, more internationally recognized varietals, Italy is doing something different (thank god). It’s focusing in on its unique indigenous grapes and trying to get them to shine and show the characteristics of the terroir rather than conforming to international standards.

As a result, you’ll find less varietals you recognize in Bologna (though of course plenty of winemakers will grow grapes you’ve heard of) – my advice is to ask for a something from a local Bologna winery and try something you’ve never tasted before.

Lambrusco

Part of the reason I was so excited to come to Emilia-Romagna was to try all the different wines, particularly as I’m a huge fan of Lambrusco. Lambrusco is an Italian red grape served cold and frizzante, which is not quite as bubbly as champagne but definitely fizzy. There are four different grapes which make up the general “Lambrusco” category: Sorbara, Reggiano, Grasparosso, and Salomino. To be honest, I coudn’t tell you the differences between them, but I do know that most I’ve tried are the Reggiano variety, and they’ve all been delicious.

Lambrusco goes perfectly with Italian meats and is lovely with lunch outside on a hot summer day. The flavors vary, but typically it’s very fruity and rich, sometimes earthy, with all the red fruit flavors undercut by the nice punch of bubbles.

Pignoletto

Pignoletto is the yin to Lambrusco’s yang: a tangy, fruity sparkling white that also goes perfectly with cold cuts and cured meats. When done properly, Pignoletto has great tartness and acidity to balance out all the aromatics and fruit.

Pignoletto is a bit thicker-skinned than a lot of grapes, which lends it more tannic structure – making it hold up to hearty Bolognese food as well as an interesting wine to enjoy on its own.

Alionza

Alionza is a cousin of Pignoletto that’s fallen a bit out of fashion, as winemakers everywhere rush to produce more Chardonnays and Cabernets. The good news is that those who do grow Alionza do so not because it’s a gold mine, but because it’s a passion project for them.

Erioli is one such winemaker. He’s famous for his Pignolettos, but when given the choice I opted to try Alionza, as it was such a rare opportunity. It was absolutely delightful: smelling of tropical fruit and honey with some pleasant oxidative notes, great acidity, and some minerality for good measure.

Negretto

Another rare varietal slowly coming back into fashion, negretto is considered one of Italy’s secret wines as only a handful of winemakers, all in the Emilia Romagna region, make it. It’s quite tannic, fickle when it comes to the heat, and it’s fussy — sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. You gamble a bit when you vinify Negretto.

But oh, do I wish more people did. Erioli’s Negretto was a masterpiece: chocolate, blackberry, coffee, olives, all swirling together on the nose and changing as the wine opened up. It was silky smooth, the tannins tamed by the hand of a master winemaker. One of my favorite wines I’ve ever tasted, no lie.

Top Restaurants in Bologna

I was too stuffed after my food tours in Bologna to eat dinner two nights in a row, so here are some more thoroughly researched resources:

Where to Stay in Bologna

If you’re planning a trip to Bologna, Hotel Novecento is one of the best four star hotels in town. My single room was clean and comfortable, with thoughtful amenities like cookies, coffees, and teas refreshed daily (not that I ever needed to eat any with all the food I gorged on). I appreciated the artful details like the funky pillows, floor-length curtains and stylish lamps.

Plus, the fact that it had a proper workspace was a huge bonus for me! More and more as I blog, I find myself needing a place where I can sit down with my laptop and bang out some work. The great workspace plus excellent wifi (hard to find at times in Italy, oddly) made it a perfect mini home office for the time.

The rooms are small (most rooms in the historic centers in Italy are), but my single was comfortable and plenty of space for one. They also have double rooms if you’re traveling with a partner or just want extra space to stretch out in.

Check out rates and availability now.

Note: Thank you to Yummy Italy and Italian Days Food Experience for providing me with complimentary tours during my stay, and to Hotel Novecento for hosting me for two nights. As always, all opinions are my own.

The Ultimate Bologna Food Guide