Harrison, New York Travel Agent
Off the Beaten Track in Italy and Beyond
I love Italy, so I understand the reason that out of nearly 200 countries in the world, everyone flocks to this one country that is double the size of Florida. It is the source of many of our favorite foods and invites us to visit ancient Roman ruins that bring to life the history we learned in school. Plus, there are stunning seaside towns, medieval villages and dreamy bucolic hillsides covered with olive groves and farms.
As you were reading my description, you were probably visualizing Rome, Florence, Tuscany, and the Amalfi Coast. That, plus Venice, is the normal tourist circuit, and they are all wonderful. But they do get crowded. In particular, along the Amalfi Coast, which is amazingly small for the number of people who go there every summer, it can be difficult to find hotel space. Every year, I call the general managers at my favorite hotels and reserve some rooms so my clients won’t be disappointed. But you don’t have to fight the crowds.
Lately, for people who want to connect more deeply with Italy and get off the beaten track, I’ve been proposing an alternative, Puglia. It is like the Italy of 50 years ago. The region forms the heel of Italy’s boot. In its gorgeous seaside towns and fascinating historic towns, you’ll be visitors, not tourists.
You can fly into Bari. Its medieval old town is a maze of streets that lead to the 11th-century Basilica di San Nicola, where remains of St. Nicolas make this a pilgrimage site. There’s also the Romanesque Bari Cathedral and Svevo Castle, built by a Norman king. A beautiful promenade overlooks the sea in the Murat quarter, where the 19th-century architecture dates back to the days when Napoleon’s brother-in-law ruled here. A university and port town, Bari also is a cultural center with art galleries and museums, great dining and lively nightlife.
The countryside is also amazing. Rolling hills are cloaked in olive groves and vineyards offering visitors tours and tastings reminiscent of Tuscany, but with fewer visitors. Scholars believe the hill town of Matera may be the site of one of the first human settlements in Italy. Many of Matera’s buildings are carved into limestone cliffs so you may find yourself dining and sipping aperitifs in a cave that dates back 9,000 years. Since being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, some of these caves have also been converted into boutique hotels. It’s unique, and I am amazed that more people haven’t discovered it!
Italy isn’t the only place I can get you off-the-beaten-track. In Kenya, the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy combines immersive activities with responsible tourism. Here, visitor dollars contribute to conservation and community development. Not surprisingly, it has one of the highest concentrations of wildlife in Kenya. In addition to traditional game drives and walks, you can see a demonstration of how scent-tracking dogs are being used to deter poachers and visit a local school.
Whether you’re going to Australia, Costa Rica or Orlando, I can show you hidden treasures even many locals don’t know.