Introduction

With all the many great destinations to visit in Italy such as Rome, Venice, Tuscany, and Cinque Terra, southern Italy rarely gets any mention.  However, there are still many exciting places to visit such as Alberobello, Matera, and Tropea.  These places have the added benefit of much fewer tourists and lower prices.  Surprisingly, Alberobello and Matera have a separate distinct architecture and history compared to the rest of Italy, making it all the more interesting.

The unique streets of Alberobello

Background

My trip to southern Italy simply started by finding cheap Ryan Air flights (30 Euro) from Frankfurt Hahn.  Ryan Air is a low cost airline with hundreds of direct flights between common and uncommon destinations within Europe.  Whenever I have a three day weekend coming up, I plug in my dates on ryanair.com and search what destinations are available.

Ryan Air search map showing all available flights in February

Since the tickets were so cheap, I just booked them not knowing if there was even anything interesting in Bari, Italy, a place I never heard of before.  Luckily, there were many things to see and do with plenty attractions I did not even have time to tour.

Be sure to understand all the rules with Ryan Air.  If you do not print your boarding pass or understand the baggage restrictions, you will incur hefty fees that likely will total more than the cost of the ticket.

Matera, Italy

Transportation

While there are train options, it is best to rent a vehicle since rentals rates are cheap at around 20 Euro per day.  My flight arrival was in Bari and my departure was in Lamezia, that way I didn’t have to back track to Bari.

Road trip route

If I had more time I would have visited Stromboli, Amalfi Coast, Castel Del Monte, and the Greek Temple of Hera II.

Alberobello

Located in the heel of Italy, Alberobello is an ancient town famous for its enchanting Trulli buildings.  The Trulli buildings in Alberobello have been designated a UNESCO world heritage site.  The Trulli were historically built using stones without mortar in a circular shape with domed self supporting roofs.  There are over 1,500 of these structures in Alberobello, some of them dating back to the mid 1400s.

Alberobello is very hilly

The best part is the lack of crowds since this place seems to not get much attention and isn’t even mentioned in Rick Steves Italy guide book.  When I woke up at sunrise, I was the only one strolling around these beautiful streets!

Trulli Entrance

Each doorway is an individual residence

Trulli styled church

Overlooking Alberobello at sunrise

You can actually stay overnight in a Trulli which is a really fun experience!  I was able to book a trulli on airbnb.com

Trulli found on airbnb.com

Trulli Interior

Matera

Matera is the third oldest continuously inhabited settlement in the world, having been inhabited since the 10th millennium BC.  Early inhabitants found this location ideal due to the limestone cliffs that were easily carved into caves along with the river and fertile lands nearby.

The cliffs have thousands of caves, some of which were first occupied during the Paleolithic era and expended during the classical and medieval eras.  The “Sassi” historical center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

When the caves were excavated, the limestone removed was later used to build structures above ground.  Many structures start off as a limestone building, but as you enter the interior the rooms expand into the mountain and below ground.  There are a few interesting churches that have a cave interior with many subterranean paths that you can explore.

Many of the hotels and restaurants in Matera have cave interiors which provides a unique experience.  You may be eating and sleeping in a cave created thousands of years ago!

Be  prepared to get a work out while touring Matera, I don’t think i’ve ever visited a place with so many steps.

Limestone and steps in every direction

UNESCO World Heritage Site

While Matera is still off the tourist Radar and not yet in Rick Steves Italy Guide Book, it recently was showcased on “Parts Unknown” on CNN and was declared Host of the European Capitol of Culture for 2019.  It appears there is much construction currently occurring in Matera in preparation to host this event.

I suggest visiting before this becomes a well known tourist attraction as to avoid the crowds and increased prices.

Matera Cathedral completed in 1270

Matera Cathedral Interior

Food was excellent and well priced. Beef was delicious.

Tropea

Hanging over sea cliffs with gorgeous views of the sea and Stromboli Volcano, Tropea is a medieval city located on the Calabrian Coast. Tropea is a popular beach destination for Italians but not well known to international travelers.  The area has low levels of ocean pollution since there are not many industrial areas nearby.

About 90 minutes from Lamezia airport, its a great destination for enjoying great weather, beautiful beaches, and tasty Italian food.  If you can get a cheap flight here, its well worth taking the time to visit.

Cliffs and town of Tropea

Santa Maria dell’Isola Monastery

View from Hotel

Excellent food options in Tropea

Tropea tour operators conduct tours to Stromboli Volcano which is an island off the coast of Tropea.  The volcano has been in almost continuous eruption for the past 2,000 years.  Explosions occur at the summit craters every few minutes to hours apart.  I did not have time to visit Stromboli during this trip, but i’ll be back to visit the volcano along with Sicily, which is not too far away.

Stromboli Volcano

Conclusion

In conclusion, south Italy is full of amazing historical destinations that are off the beaten track.  Prices are cheap and crowds are minimal compared to Rome and Venice.  If you are considering a trip to Italy I would not substitute Rome, Tuscany, or Cinque Terre with south Italy.  However, real consideration should be made for touring south Italy over Milan or Venice where the costs and crowds can be overwhelming.