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Discover The Delights Of Southern Italy: 10 Beautiful Hidden Gems

Discover The Delights Of Southern Italy: 10 Beautiful Hidden Gems

Southern Italy has some exceptionally beautiful historic towns and quirky villages in secret spots off the beaten path.

Away from the hustle and bustle of well-known destinations like Naples, Sorrento or the Amalfi coastline, Southern Italy’s hidden Italian gems are waiting to be discovered.

Be it Castelmezzano, with its stunning views and hiking trails, Ostuni, the whitewashed hillside village or Ginosa, the underrated historic location full of cave dwellings.

Whatever secrets these destinations hide, visiting one or more of Southern Italy’s non-touristy destinations will leave you with incredible memories.

In this post, you will find ten hidden gems that will make you want to book a flight and visit Southern Italy immediately!

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Explore Hidden Gems in Southern Italy off the Beaten Path

  • Castelmezzano – secret hiking trails and spiritual landmarks
  • Otranto – crystalline waters and hidden swimming holes
  • Trani – a charming seaside town away from mass tourism
  • Monopoli – full of historical gems and golden beaches
  • Ostuni – the secret whitewashed town in Puglia
  • Ginosa – Puglian cave houses and Primitivo wine
  • Vietri Sul Mare – the lesser-known town on the Amalfi coastline
  • Sant’Agata sui due Golfi – a food lovers destination on the Sorrento peninsula
  • Scilla – a Calabrian treasure for culture and beaches
  • Paestum – the UNESCO site for lovers of ancient history

Map of secret places and hidden spots in Southern Italy

Castelmezzano – secret hiking trails and spiritual landmarks

photo credit – Genem Travels

One of the most picturesque places in Southern Italy, Castelmezzano is also one of Italy’s hidden gems.

This lesser-known mountain village has a chilled atmosphere. It offers an ideal opportunity to experience a genuine Italian lifestyle without being overwhelmed by crowds.

I found Castelmezzano backpacking from the Amalfi Coast to Matera.

I got many recommendations from locals to visit Castelmezzano, as they said it was one of the most beautiful spots in the country.

After hearing this, and as it was on my route, I decided to stop by and see it myself.

Despite its modest size, Castelmezzano has many things to do and see! 

Best things to see and do in Castelmezzano

Exploring the traditional medieval town alone is a must-do. I enjoyed its narrow streets, colourful stone buildings, and lovely shops and restaurants.

The most prominent building in the town centre is Mother Church of Santa Maria dell’Olmo – a spiritual landmark and a magnificent viewpoint of the whole Castelmezzano silhouette surrounded by the Dolomite hills.

For hikers, the Castelmezzano region offers numerous trails and adventures. One of its most beloved is Gradinata Normanna, a path leading from the village to one of the Dolomite hills. 

If you want something more challenging and longer, consider exploring Seven Stones Path. This trail will lead you to another picturesque town nearby called Pietrapertosa!

Also, there is something for adrenaline lovers! Volo dell’Angelo is the high-speed zip line connecting Castelmezzano and Pietrapertosa – reaching top speeds of up to 120 km/h. A unique experience in one of the hidden spots in Italy

Where to stay in Castelmezzano

Castelmezzano offers many places to stay, but for the best view over the town, consider booking Casa delle Stelle.

Otranto – crystalline waters and hidden swimming holes

photo credit – Our Escape Clause

The moment I stepped foot into the tiny town of Otranto, Italy, I knew Monopoli, my former favourite beach town in Puglia, had some stiff competition.

Walkable, beautiful, and positively packed with views of the Adriatic Sea, Otranto is the perfect place to enjoy refreshing beach days, exactly what we were there for.

And on that front and many more, Otranto delivered.

Otranto is best known for its castle, charming historic centre, and beaches in Puglia’s Salento region.

Otranto’s lungomare, which hugs the edge of the sea and encircles a decent portion of the town, is the perfect sunset spot. We spent every evening there (many of them with gelato cones in hand).

Best things to see and do in Otranto

When we needed to cool off for a minute, we turned inland in search of historic churches.

Particularly memorable were the Duomo, with its skull-filled Chapel of Martyrs, and the Church of St. Peter, with its beautiful frescoes dating back to the 9th and 10th centuries.

The beaches surrounding the historic centre, located within walking distance, were our afternoon haunts and had plenty of public access and lidos for those who wanted a bit more luxury. 

Our most memorable swim of the trip came from driving about 15 minutes to the Cave of Poetry, an open-air sea cave turned swimming hole that reminded us forcibly of Mexican cenotes.

Next time, we’ll also make time for a day at the Baia dei Turchi, which is said to have some of the best beaches in Puglia.

And, there definitely will be a next time: Otranto’s beautiful views, excellent location, great swimming, and great food make it one of Southern Italy’s best hidden gems.

Where to stay in Otranto

For our stay in Otranto, we based ourselves at the Marimar Apartments, which offered ample space and room to cook with a walkable location to the historic centre.

Trani – a charming seaside town away from mass tourism

photo credit – It’s All Trip to Me

During our 2-week road trip across Puglia, we visited many small towns and villages in Southern Italy and realised that lesser-known Trani is one of Puglia’s most charming seaside towns. 

Our original plan was to follow a loop itinerary from Bari, but we decided to make nearby Trani our last stop instead of Bari before taking the ferry back to Greece. We couldn’t have planned it better!

Nicknamed the Pearl of Puglia, Trani got us under its spell from our first walk along its quaint promenade under a glorious sunset, definitely the highlight of our short stay in Trani. 

Best things to see and do in Trani

Right next to the port, we were impressed by the Cathedral, which stands at a fantastic location at the beachfront. We also walked along the piers to see the iconic green and red lighthouses. 

Alongside the scenic seaside walks, another of our favourite pastimes in Trani was getting lost in the maze of alleys in its picturesque historic centre.

Besides the town’s charms, Trani is also the best base from which to explore the numerous beaches along the Adriatic Sea coast and some impressive monuments.

Situated a 45-minute drive from Trani, Castel del Monte was one of the most exciting castles we visited in Puglia.

The octagonal 13th-century castle also has an octagonal tower, eight rooms on each floor and an eight-shaped courtyard!

Where to stay in Trani

As usual, we picked a hotel in the Old Town for our stay in Trani. SoTrani is a small and utterly cosy B&B where we felt very welcomed by its wonderful owners and their cute, beyond-words puppies.

Monopoli – full of historical gems and golden beaches

photo credit – Undiscovered Path Home

On my first visit to Bari in Southern Italy, I stumbled upon Monopoli by chance.

My partner and I took a spontaneous trip to Puglia with no clear plan, except for one recommendation from a local back in Prague to visit lesser-known Monopoli. 

We took a train to Monopoli and rented bikes by the station the next day. We peddled down to the coast, in awe of this forgotten-by-time hidden gem. 

Best things to do in Monopoli

Tucked away from mass tourism, the city is beautiful and worth visiting.

You shouldn’t overlook the baroque Monopoli Cathedral, the archaeological museum (complete with ancient tombs), the 16th-century Castle of Carlo V, and the frescoed Palmieri Palace.

Even walking through town feels like a step back in time, with its pastel-coloured buildings and old Fiat 500s parked along the narrow roads. 

Monopoli has some of the best beaches in Puglia, and there’s no better way to explore them than to rent a bike and follow the coastal bike path.

Porto Verde Beach was one of my favourite places to soak up the glittering sunshine. (Space is limited, so you’ll probably spend most of the time in the water!). 

Where to eat and stay in Monopoli

We stopped at Ristorante Pizzeria Bar Porto Rosso for lunch, where you can enjoy a beautiful pizza right by the crystalline water.

Likewise, if you plan to stay a few nights, why not splurge for the gorgeous and historical Masseria Il Melograno?

Ostuni – the secret whitewashed town in Puglia

Lovely Ostuni is a Citta Bianca or a White Town in Puglia.

It is a gorgeous walled hilltop town with ancient whitewashed city walls and whitewashed buildings and one that I added to my Puglia road trip itinerary.

The picturesque Ostuni is one of Southern Italy’s hidden gems, and its simple white elegance blew me away. 

The Gothic-style Cathedral of Ostuni, with an elegant frontal rose window, is the most dominant building in the historic centre.

Besides the stunning cathedral, the town has several beautiful palaces owned by historical local aristocratic families.

Where to eat and stay in Ostuni

On my travels, I like to sample authentic local food.

Traditional food in Puglia is famous for being some of the most delicious food in Italy, so I tried some popular Pugliese dishes in Antica Salumeria Centro Storico.

I enjoyed mouthwatering classics: Puglia puccia (filled focaccia flat bread) and the popular Puglise fave e ciccoria dish (fava bean puree).  

The city also has several boutique shops, bars, restaurants, and charming accommodations

If you like small, non-touristy towns and delicious food, it’s worth visiting one of Italy’s most magical small towns, the White Town of Ostuni in Puglia.

Ginosa – Puglian cave houses and Primitivo wine

photo credit – Passion For Hospitality

One will never tire of exploring Italy. A country with so many undiscovered riches – it most certainly makes its way to everyone’s bucket list.

A few years back, I was invited to discover the region of Puglia. We had decided to rent a car in Puglia, and once our plane touched down at the airport of Bari, we drove the short one-hour drive to Ginosa. 

I had never been to this part of Italy before, but the moment we arrived in this quaint town, the warm hospitality and the charming character of Ginosa instantly won me over. 

Best things to do in Ginosa

Ginosa has a fascinating history which dates back several centuries.

The historic centre of Ginosa is dotted with cave houses or the casa grotta, which sprawl across the sides of the ravine in the area of Rione di Rivolta. 

These cave houses were inhabited until the 1950s and are famous for using distinct techniques and urban planning.

Today, some of these historical cave houses have been turned into hotels – like the Albergo Diffuso Il Casale, which overlooks the impressive ravine.

It offers stunning views of the historical caves which dot its majestic landscape.

Where to eat in Ginosa

Despite its relatively small size, Ginosa is home to some of the most wonderful artisans you will get to meet. 

At the XIX-century bakery Forno Ottocento, we enjoyed a hands-on experience making the famous orecchiette – ear-shaped pasta- where Grandmother Orsola closely monitored our technique.

At Domenico Russo Winery in Ginosa, we tried the remarkable distinct grape variety famous in Puglia, Primitivo. It is one of my favourite wines to this day. 

We stopped at Panificio Piccolo, a small bakery, and tasted the most delicious focaccia in the morning. 

Ginosa is also home to a world-famous artisan shirtmaker, Angelo Inglese. He custom-tailored the shirt that Prince William wore on his wedding day. 

If you want a unique and memorable experience in Southern Italy, off the well-beaten path, put Ginosa on your bucket list.  

Vietri Sul Mare – the lesser-known town on the Amalfi coastline

Vietri sul Mare is a charming seaside town on the Amalfi Coast, known for its stunning coastline, vibrant ceramics industry, and traditional Italian atmosphere. 

I first discovered Vietri sul Mare after visiting the Amalfi Coast for the second time.

I love to discover off-the-radar places, so I asked my host where to find such a place.

The recommendation was for Vietri sul Mare, an unexplored town perfect for adding to an Amalfi Coast itinerary.

Whether you want a relaxing beach vacation or a cultural getaway, Vietri sul Mare has something to offer everyone. As soon as I arrived, I fell in love with the charming town’s creativity. 

It is known for ceramic arts but is tucked away from all the tourists who flock to busy Positano and Capri instead.

Best things to do and see in Vietri sul Mare

When I visited Vietri sul Mare, I explored the town’s ceramics workshops, seeing skilled artisans handcraft traditional ceramics using techniques passed down through generations.

One of the most popular attractions in Vietri sul Mare is the Church of San Giovanni Battista, which features a beautiful majolica tiled dome and intricate frescoes.

I especially enjoyed a beach day there, which was super quiet and relaxing.

If you want to do the same, head to the Marina di Vietri beach, just a short walk from the town centre. Here, you can relax on the sandy beach or swim in the crystal-clear waters of the Mediterranean.

Where to eat and stay in Vietri sul Mare

For a taste of local cuisine, I highly recommend Pane & Panorama. It serves delicious Italian sandwiches with outdoor seating overlooking the water.

As for accommodations, I suggest checking out the Lloyd’s Baia Hotel, which offers stunning coastal views and comfortable rooms with traditional Italian decor.

Vietri sul Mare is a must-see destination for anyone looking to experience the Amalfi Coast’s beauty and the region’s rich cultural heritage away from the usual tourist trail. You will likely fall in love with this hidden gem in Southern Italy, just as I did! 

Sant’Agata sui Due Golfi – a food lovers destination on the Sorrento peninsula

photo credit – Chef Denise

Just a half-hour drive from Positano, the tiny village of Sant’Agata sui due Golfi is one of the best hidden gems in Southern Italy.

The name translates to Saint Agatha upon the two gulfs, referring to the Gulf of Naples and the Gulf of Salerno. At 400 meters above sea level, you can indeed see them both. 

Best things to see and do in Sant’Agata sui Due Golfi

Really off the beaten path, Sant’Agata sui due Golfi is not the kind of place you stumble upon.

The town itself is pretty quaint and lacks significant attractions, which added to its charm for me.

The closest thing to a tourist site is the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, which dates back to 1600, in the centre of the main square.

Because of its unique location on the Sorrento Peninsula, it offers panoramic vistas of the Lattari Mountains and the islands of Capri, Ischia, and Procida. The views alone are worth the visit. 

There are a few paths leading from the village through picturesque olive groves, but the most beautiful will take you to the beach of Marina di Crapolla, yes, an unfortunate name. 

I’m not a fan of stairs, but it was worth walking down the few hundred steps that led to this secluded beach. The return trip back up was another story.

Best places to eat and stay in Sant’Agata sui Due Golfi

My instructor at culinary school recommended this village to me for the fantastic food.

Granted, one of the draws was the Restaurante Don Alfonso 1890, which is currently under renovation until April 2024. However, I would still visit regardless. 

We ate at other wonderful restaurants with delicious traditional Italian cuisine, like Ristorante da Cardillo.

We enjoyed fresh fish, mussels, homemade pasta, and beautiful sea views from the patio. And, as is customary in this region of Italy, we ended with a glass of limoncello.

For an overnight stay in Sant’Agata sui due Golfi, book the four-star Grand Hotel Due Golfi or the three-star Villa Romita.

Scilla – a Calabrian treasure for culture and beach lovers

photo credit – Urban Abroad

The Calabria region is an off-the-beaten-path destination in Southern Italy to find sun, sea and sand. I found Scilla while looking for new places during my Calabria road trip.

It is a traditional fishing town tucked away in the mountains, and although small, it offers much more than meets the eye.

I can’t help but mention the fearsome sea monster that guarded the Strait of Medina.

The ancient Greek myth of Scylla and Charybdis is a passionate love story connected to the town’s history.

Best things to do and see in Scilla

Things to do here include snorkelling and visiting cultural artefacts.

I’ve seen some of southern Italy’s best crystal clear waters at beaches such as Marina Grande.

The great thing about this beach is that there are not hoards of international tourists but rather a healthy mix of locals and tourists.

Visit San Giorgio at the centre of this town, where you can find Ruffo Castle and learn all about its rare beauty.

Also, the fishing village of Chianalea is my favourite part of town and is worth visiting. Although different, they are both technically the same place but completely unique.

Where to eat and stay in Scilla

While in Chianalea, check out Civico 5 for the famous Swordfish sandwich.

It is a local delicacy, prepared with a fresh and crispy Panini, freshly caught swordfish, a drizzle of olive oil, and then topped with Tropea onions.

Want to stay overnight in Scilla? Book Signora Tita B&B Chianalea, which overlooks the harbour or Il Bocciolo Casa Vacanze, an apartment with great reviews.

Paestum – the UNESCO site for lovers of ancient history

photo credit – USA Road Trip Now

Paestum is one of Southern Italy’s hidden gems that is a must-see if you are close to Naples.

This unique historic Unesco World Heritage site pops up in the middle of nowhere in an agricultural area that is the breadbasket for most of the rest of the country but is also historically significant and underrated.

An easy and fast train ride from Naples central in less than 45 minutes gets you to the outskirts of the Unesco site. You walk through the city’s gates to pass through the ruins and the historic streets of Paestum.

This ancient site is a fascinating gem because three of the largest Greek monuments found in Italy are immaculately preserved here at Paestum.

Discover a world-class museum of artefacts, treasures and artwork collected from the immediate site and a fantastic collection of work that brings the entire ancient city to life with imagery, art and dioramas.

The museum highlights what this magnificent place looked like in its heyday and how it survived centuries of natural disasters to remain intact.

Paestum is for lovers of ancient history, Unesco sites, and fantastic architecture.

It is worth the effort to visit this hidden gem along with other attractive places around Naples, the Amalfi coast and treasures to see around the Campania region of Italy.

Guided Tours of Paestum

Please Pin for Future Travel to Italy

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How to Get To Burano on a Day Trip from Venice

3 Sensational Nights in Venice: A Complete City Break Itinerary

How to Visit Pisa from Florence in a Day and See the Leaning Tower

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