Ten of the Best Italian Gems to visit in 2016

I don’t believe in beauty contests, but I do like to point out places that have left an impression on me. So in alphabetical order, here are ten places I highly recommend visiting in 2016. Titles and photos link to posts for more detail.

1 Ascoli Piceno: The Definition of a Hidden Jewel

This town in Italy’s eastern Marche region, dating as far back as the ninth century BC, is characterised by several tall medieval towers. It also has one of the most beautiful central squares in Italy, and there are many interesting inscriptions to read above doorways. Don’t forget to try the Ascoli olives while you are there! This is a really special trip.

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2. Cumae: an ancient Greek jewel in Italy, seat of the Sibyl priestess

Cumae near Naples is the oldest Greek colony on the Italian mainland and was known as the seat of the Sibyl prophetess, who presided over the oracle of the god Apollo.  A 131-metre long underground corridor that still exists on the site is believed to be the cave in which she once lived. It’s not always accessible, and only few ruins of temples remain here, but the atmosphere is incredible, the story of the sibyl is fascinating, and the views of the sea are stunning. It’s a day out you won’t forget.

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3. Exploring the Depths of Procida’s Abbey of Saint Michael

Discover this amazing abbey on Procida in the Bay of Naples, and its stories about how Saint Michael protected the island against pirates. See the trapdoors that lead down into the catacombs below, and descend several levels to see the chapels where the island congregations meet. This is one of the most captivating places I have ever visited.

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 4. Gaeta’s Cracked Diamond: the Split Mountain

When you are in Gaeta, you should walk across to the Split Mountain Sanctuary, where you can see the rocks that split at the moment Jesus died on the cross, according to local legends. The views of the sea and grottoes here are spectacular. But be warned, it’s closed between 12 and 3 pm!

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 5. Modica and its chocolate: a Sweet and Unusual Delight

This pretty town in southern Sicily is home to several factories that produce chocolate based on an ancient Aztec tradition brought over by the Conquistador Spanish explorers in the 16th century. You can have an interesting day out trying the different flavours of this crunchy, grainy chocolate produced without cocoa butter or other fats. There are also some churches to discover and great places to eat here.

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 6. A mystical emerald in Naples: Virgil’s Park at Piedigrotta

This park, dedicated to the Roman poet Virgil, is my favourite spot in Naples. Here you can explore a mausoleum said to be his tomb, as well as a Neapolitan crypt dating back to the first century BC. In the gardens you can find all the different plants that Virgil mentioned in his writings, next to extracts from his poetry. You also have spectacular views of Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples.

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7. Spotting surprise jewels in the gardens of Villa Lante

This is a mysterious garden full of “surprises” such as unusual sculptures, fountains and flowing water chains and scary or funny faces in walls and ornaments. I’ll never forget the day I visited this place.

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 8. Stromboli volcano: a lesson in respect, nature and life.

This Aeolian island was the subject of the first guest feature on Italian Gems in 2015. Here you can have the awesome experience of climbing up the volcano, and you can learn several lessons from the local fishermen about how to lead the simple life. Part 1 of the guest feature is here and Part 2 is here.

A smoking crater of the active Stromboli volcano. In the backdrop we see the islands Panarea, Lipari, Vulcano and further behind Sicily.

9. Uncovering Gems in Gubbio and its surroundings

Gubbio is the place to come in Umbria if you need to escape the city and surround yourself with nature. It is also where St. Francis tamed a she-wolf. You can visit a pretty chapel in the spot where he is said to have done this. You can also take a funicular up to the top of the hill above Gubbio, where you can see the basilica of its patron St. Ubald.

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10. The Villa of Livia: A forgotten Roman treasure

This site was the summer residence of Emperor Augustus and his wife Livia. It is where one of the most famous statues of Augustus and one of the most beautiful sets of frescoes were discovered. A visit here can help you discover the forgotten story of Livia and her influence over the Roman emperors. This was one of the best day trips I had in 2015. Watch out though as it’s only open on some weekends.

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For a list of the Top Ten most popular Italian Gems on this site in 2015, see here

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