Author: Jessica Spiegel

6 Ways to Make Your Italian Vacation More Interesting

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Go Ahead Tours is the sponsor of a new series called World Experiences, which will be published every other week on BootsnAll. Founded in 1990, Go Ahead Tours is part of the EF Education First family of companies and offers more than 100 tour packages to all seven continents.

Ask just about anyone what places you should see on a trip to Italy and you’re likely to get a similar reply from most of them – Venice, Florence, and Rome. This is something of a “holy trinity” when it comes to Italy, and each place is absolutely worth having on an Italy itinerary – especially if you’ve never been before. But try to show off your vacation photos to family and friends and you may just hear things like “I have that exact same picture!”

Following in the footsteps of every traveler who’s gone to Italy before you isn’t exactly what most of us want to feel like we’re doing when we see Rome or Venice for the first time. Sure, we know we’re not the first people to lay our eyes on the Colosseum – but it feels new and magical to us, so it would be gratifying if the people who are listening to your travel tales felt like it was new and magical, too.

One way to make this happen is to explore parts of Italy that most people don’t visit, or to focus on a particular element of the country. These help distinguish your trip from your neighbor’s, both in your mind and his, and can also give you a window into an element of the culture you might otherwise miss. Here are six ways to approach a vacation in Italy that aren’t your standard “holy trinity” one-week tour.

Discover Where the Italians Vacation in Puglia

The region of Puglia makes up the heel of boot-shaped Italy, and a quick glance at a map will tell you that it’s a popular vacation spot for anyone who likes the beach. Puglia is, after all, nearly surrounded by water – and it’s where not just Italians but Europeans from colder points further north have been spending their summer breaks for ages. The region is only popping up onto the radar of visitors from further afield more recently, so while you’ll benefit from a tourist infrastructure that’s been welcoming people for decades, you’re still likely to feel like you’re well off the beaten path.

If beaches aren’t your thing, the northern parts of Puglia, which extend to the “spur” at Italy’s ankle, include mountains, forests, and parks. Not only that, there are two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Puglia, including the famous “trulli” – conical buildings found in a few villages (principally Alberobello) and still built and used today as houses, hotels, and shops. Puglia boasts both Greek and Roman ruins, excellent seafood-centric cuisine, highly prized olive oil, and fabulous local wines.

>> Read more about visiting some lesser-known places in Italy, and budget-friendly wine tasting in Puglia

Food and Wine in Northern Italy

It’s easy to make Italy’s noted food and wine the focus of any trip, whether you’re a foodie or not – but it’s also easy to cling to misconceptions about Italian food based on the many years most of us have spent eating Italian food outside Italy. Taking the time to learn more about genuine Italian cuisine will help give you a more accurate – and, one could argue, interesting – picture (and flavor) of the country.

Italy’s food is intensely regional, with similar dishes made in two villages a few miles apart being thought of as completely separate entities. We think of pizza and pasta as universally Italian, but they’re not – and focusing on the regional and local specialties wherever you go in Italy can be a fun and eye-opening way to eat your way through the country. Before you know it, you’ll be dreaming specifically of white truffles from Alba, tortellini in brodo from Bologna, pesto from Genoa, and gianduja from Turin – and not just of “Italian food,” which (as you’ll be quick to point out to anyone who will listen) doesn’t really exist.

>> Read more about eating your way through Italy and what you need to know about traveling in Italy if you have a special diet

Walking the Amalfi Coast

The Amalfi Coast justifiably ranks among some of Italy’s most breathtaking scenery. The craggy cliffs, the impossibly blue water, the colorful buildings clinging to the rocks… It’s almost too much. Which is why it’s so wonderful to be able to spend more time on this sparkling bit of coastline than just a cursory few days. Even with a week, you’ll be surprised how much time you can’t account for, having been staring at the sea.

Further up Italy’s western coast, the towns of the Cinque Terre are well-known for their hiking trails – but did you know that there are ample opportunities to hike the Amalfi Coast, too? In fact, one of the hikes is known as the “path of the gods” for its fantastic views. There are countless hikes along the coast, some of which are hidden enough that you might want to have a local guide – whereas others you can enjoy as a morning excursion on your own before spending the afternoon swimming, shopping, or sea-gazing.

>> Read more about how the Amalfi Coast stacks up against Europe’s most scenic drives

Spa in Tuscany

It’s all well and good to have grand dreams of cultural exploration, language immersion, and educational experiences when you’re in Italy – which can (and does) offer all of that. But let’s be honest – sometimes, you’re on vacation to relax, and nothing more. This is when you’ll be pleased to learn about the many spa retreats in Italy, where you can rejuvenate your mind and body surrounded by some of the country’s stunning scenery.

Far from being a modern excuse to indulge on vacation, the spa retreat was a mainstay of Ancient Roman life – and Italy has plenty of natural thermal spas to choose from. Any time you see the word “Terme” attached to the end of a town name, you can be sure there’s either a spa in the area now – or there used to be. This mountainous country remains geologically active, feeding thermal baths all over Italy. And, as a bonus, no matter where you choose to settle for your spa vacation, you’re not far from historic sights and scenic beauty, thereby giving you something to talk about when you get home besides all those luxurious massages you got.

>> Read more about beautiful Italian islands you’ve probably never heard of and wineries that have transformed into spa hotels

Photography in Venice, Florence and Rome

Italy seems so picturesque that you could point a well-trained monkey with a camera in just about any direction and get some decent shots. And these days, given how ubiquitous digital cameras are and how easy photo editing is to use, taking good travel photos is no longer something only professional photographers can claim to do. Of course, there’s a giant gap between taking good photos and taking stunning photos – just as there’s a big gap between taking the same boring vacation photos everyone else takes and taking interesting photos your friends and family will be happy to look at.

In other words, rather than snap a shot with your iPhone every time you turn a corner in Italy, why not get some photography instruction in situ? There’s nothing like learning new photography skills and then being able to put them to immediate use in some of the most picturesque parts of Italy. Not only will your Italian vacation photos look better, you’ll be able to apply what you learned to every picture you take for the rest of your life.

>> Read more about quick photography tips every traveler can learn and 10 ways to take better travel photos

History and Ruins in Sicily

The vast majority of visitors to Italy never get further south than Rome, but that doesn’t mean the island of Sicily is some kind of undiscovered backwater. In fact, Sicily is another region of Italy that (like Puglia) has long been popular with vacationing Italians and other Europeans. And going back even further, Sicily’s position in the Mediterranean made it a target for repeated strategic take-overs by one nation after another, giving today’s visitors a fascinating history to experience.

Exploring Sicily may not require any more travel know-how than any other region of Italy, but it’s definitely one of the areas where you need your own wheels to see much of the island. And you’ll want to get away from the cities, because that’s where some of the best sights are – including Europe’s most active volcano and some of the best-preserved Greek ruins anywhere.

>> Read about the top 10 things to do in Palermo and Europe’s most active volcano

Experience all of these activities and more with an Italy tour package from Go Ahead Tours. Whether you want to vacation in Puglia like the locals, indulge in a food and wine tour of Italy, explore Italy’s Amalfi Coast by foot on a walking tour, capture amazing images on an Italy photography tour, relax on a Tuscany Spa Tour or travel to Sicily, Go Ahead’s team of local Tour Directors will give you an insider’s view of this amazing country. With included airfare, a Best Price Guarantee and over twenty years of experience, once you travel with Go Ahead, you’ll understand why they accept nothing less than “the journey of a lifetime, every time.”

photos by Roby Ferrari, _Oriana_, The Consortium, JarleR, AngelsWings, zoutedrop

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