Four magical destinations in Italy that few tourists know about

These hidden gem locations won’t remain off the radar for long 

RECORD crowds storm Italy each summer — and really, can you blame them? Apart from gelato and prosecco, there are chic islands strewn like bocce balls across the indigo seas, blazing hot weather made for boats and beaches, and magnificent pools fringed with palm and pine trees. 

Tourist stampedes and astronomical prices can quickly sour those charms. The truth is that you can still get all of Italy’s charms without the crowds or surge pricing as long as you stay off the beaten path. This summer, try these four lesser-known corners of Italy. They won’t remain off the radar for long. 

The Amalfi Alternative 

Ogle nature, not other tourists, in the Costiera Cilentana. The swath of wild hills and turquoise water unspools an hour south of the Amalfi Coast; spiritually, it’s even further away. 

The land, encompassing trail-laced Vallo di Diano National Park and the Greek ruins of Paestum, is protected. So is much of the sea, with two marine biospheres guarded by cliff-hugging villages like Agropoli and Castellabate. Even the languid pace of life feels safeguarded from the over-tour- ism that’s wracked Cilento’s northern neighbours — though it’ll be easier to get here once the Salerno Costa d’Amalfi airport, which has been closed since 2016, reopens this summer. 

The pool at Il Cannito at Costiera Cilentana

Nights here are best spent lingering at unpretentious osterias — no first-class concierges or weeks of planning required to sample the region’s lemons, figs and tomatoes. Shagg y buffalo herds provide the milk for tangy mozzarella di bufala, yogurt and gelato at Tenuta Vannulo, a pastoral farm and dairy. Also try the buffalo salumi and mixed grill at Agritur- ismo Porta Sirena, an events venue where stumbling upon a garden party is one of the charms. Both are in Capaccio, close to the archaeo- logical temples of Poseidon, Hera and Ceres in Paestum. 

Stay at Il Cannito (from €300 [RM1,530] per night) a four-suite forest redoubt with garden-driven cooking — traditional ravioli with just-picked tomatoes and basil, stuffed and fried squash blossoms — and a pool cut into the hills. Sustainable clothing designer Antonella Gorga runs it with her mother, sister and brother Nicola, who zips guests up and down the coast in his speedboat. He’ll get you right up close to Isola Licosa, a little green apostrophe of an island where, according to myth, the siren Leucosia threw herself off a cliff after being resisted by Odys- seus. Today it’s marked by an abandoned sun-bleached lighthouse; linger a moment and you might even hear singing. 

The Reborn Tuscan Escape

Only 90 minutes from Rome’s Fiumicino airport, the peninsula of Monte Argentario has long hosted jet-setters: Jackie Kennedy and Sophia Loren in the 1960s and ’70s, Harry Styles and Charlize Theron today. The pool at Il Pellicano was captured in Slim Aarons’ photography. But despite the VIPs, “it was never open to mass tourism or big construction,” says Stefano Cuoco, head of Erqole, the Swed-ish-held hospitality group behind the hottest new hotel in the area, La Roqqa (from €300 per night). 

The hotel soft-opened last summer overlooking the marina in Porto Ercole, one of the island’s two main villages, now it’s in full swing. Sunbathe at Isolotto, the only sandy beach club in town, then have a glass from the 120-label all-Tuscan wine cellar. By request, the hotel’s 40ft yacht can take you to offshore islands such as Giglio and 

Giannutri, where you can swim in empty coves and scale the ruins of Villa Domizia. 

Being on the ultramarine sea, it’s easy to forget this is Tuscany, with its undulating, cypress-pinned countryside and legendary vineyards an hour away, but that’s what makes the Argentario special. “It’s the proximity and the feel of Tuscany that everybody knows,” says Cuoco, “infused with all the Mediterranean DNA”. 

The Holy Hideout 

It takes 30 minutes to drive the entire Tyrrhenian coastline of Basilicata, but what a half-hour it is. Midway, you’ll find the town of Maratea, a hypnotic cocktail of rugged mountains honeycombed with stalactite-spiked caves and cerulean coves. That’s where Santavenere was built as a textile factory and hotel by the Piedmontese wool magnate Conte Stefano Rivetti in the 1950s. 

A sea-facing room at Santavenere, in Maratea

Maratea still falls under the radar, says Aldo Melpignano, who renovated Santavenere (from €219 per night) and reopened it this spring as a follow-up to his successful Borgo Egnazia resort in Puglia. “It represents an authenticity that you can no longer find in many of these more developed destinations,” he says. The alabaster villa, nestled in a garden of ancient olive trees and cascading bougainvillaea, has 34 rooms, many with sea-view terraces and textured tiled floors as pink and green as watermelons. There’s a gracious pool, three restaurants and a pomegranate-coloured spa, whose sea-salt-and-olive-oil body scrubs will leave you feeling like focaccia. 

Taking the road 10 minutes uphill leads to Maratea’s historic village, put together like an Escher drawing. The 5,000-person town counts 44 churches, including the main cathedral, said to be built over a temple to Minerva. As the Roman goddess of wisdom, she’d tell you to visit Maratea before everyone else finds out about it. 

The Natural Wine Oasis 

Como, Garda, Maggiore — you know the Italian lakes that glint and glitter under the spotlight of tourism. Just over the Tuscan border in Umbria, though, Lake Trasimeno waits in relative obscurity. Maybe it’s because the vibe of Italy’s third-largest logo is less spritzed at the villa than a juice glass of red on a rickety pier. Perhaps it’s how the hills shelter the water, their spindly pines ensnaring foggy clouds like cotton and lending the area an almost mystical feel. 

Trasimeno keeps its charms and secrets close — namely a natural wine scene fizzing like the bubbles in Colbacco, an unfiltered amber Trebbiano that exemplifies this area’s blend of modern experimentation and ancestral tradition. “We don’t have the tradition of Toscano or Piedmonte, so we can do what we want,” says Giulio Rinaldi, who together with Luca Biggichia started the winery Lumiluna by tending vineyards his elderly neighbours could no longer manage. 

The aerial view of Conestabile della Staffa winery in Umbria

Today, his wines include a delightfully heretical Sangiovese blended and aged in the solera style, like sherry. 

Tastings around Trasimeno tend to be by appointment only, making for intimate access. Besides Lumiluna, try Tiberi Vini Artigianali, where fourth-gener- ation vigneron Federico Tiberi makes microregional curiosities (Ciliegiolo, Gamay di Trasimeno), or Vini Conestabile della Staffa, where the profound Rossissimo (the reddest of reds) is made by Danilo Marcucci, the natural wine movement’s dapper godfather. — Bloomberg