Italy boasts a huge range of different scenery, much of it exactly matching the traveller’s expectations: vineyards and villas, picturesque fishing harbours, sandy beaches. The country’s varied geology and history, however, have also led to some truly strange landscapes. While some might be expected – visitors will have read about the curious houses of Puglia, and the canals of Venice – they are still breathtaking in their strangeness when you first set eyes on them. On this page you’ll find a selection of the most weird destinations in Italy; places where you can enjoy a wonderful holiday in really unique surroundings.
Matera is a town built on a high plateau on the edge of a ravine. On the slopes below the town centre are hundreds of cave-dwellings. At first sight they blend in to a yellow-gray mass of walls and houses, but when you realise what you are looking at, the scene becomes overpoweringly strange and surreal. Everything about the town, from its history to its hotels, is fascinating and Matera is one of Italy’s best holiday destinations. Many of the caves now house elegant boutique cave hotels and B&Bs – an unmissable accommodation experience
The Valle d’Itria, in Italy’s southern region of Puglia, is dotted with strange little cone-roofed buildings called trulli. The best place to see them is the town of Alberobello, which has two entire districts of trulli. Visiting them is like stepping into a land of pixies, or perhaps a fantasy film. As part of the experience you can stay in an authentic trullo.
> Trulli Holiday rentals (review)
Favignana is one of the Egadi Islands, off Sicily and it has has a very unique landscape. Large areas of the island were used, with a rather short-term outlook, as a quarry. Walking or cycling around the lanes and visiting beaches, you’ll see houses and roads standing on narrow towers of stone, with all the surrounding terrain hacked away and removed. Some of the quarries contain pinnacles of rock and hewn staircases, some have been embellished with gardens and some – including one cathedral-like cave system – you can explore. If you’re into risky explorations, you may be interested in the island’s abandoned hilltop fortress, too.
> Hotel Il Portico, Favignana (review)
> Cave Bianche Hotel – in a quarry
Actually, all the Aeolian Islands are weird and striking in their own ways, but Stromboli is the most dramatic. An active volcano, Stromboli spits fiery lava into the air at roughly twenty-minute intervals. You can climb the volcano with a guide, or watch its night-time eruptions from the relative safety of a boat cruising off the Sciara del Fuoco, the lava-scarred side of the volcano. There are two settlements on the island, and a few places to stay – a surreal tourist experience.
Venice is one of Italy’s most famous destinations, but it cannot be left off a list of weird and wonderful places. However many times you’ve seen pictures or films of Venice, nothing quite prepares you for arriving in the city and cruising down the Grand Canal, a waterway lined with elegant palaces rising straight from the murky lagoon waters. However much time you spend in the city – even if you live here – it is still an endlessly remarkable sight.
The weirdest walk
One of the strangest walks I’ve done was on a tourist-free day out from Venice. Walking along the sea wall between the lagoon and the Adriatic sea, with just water on either side and a setting sun … fishing huts offshore and behind me an island dotted with old military ruins. A really atmospheric and unusual excursion from the city: Chioggia, Ca’ Roman and an eerie walk
Some more unusual sights
Italy has plenty of other unusual and bizarre sights which merit an excursion if you are in the area. Some of the oddest I’ve seen are Frederick II’s mysterious and isolated Castel del Monte; the ‘fairy chimneys’ near Lake Iseo, the brightly painted houses of Burano, in the Venetian lagoon; the little settlement of reed fishermen’s huts outside Caorle. Walking around the rim of Vesuvius was a memorably reckless activity, and seeing travellers whizzing between two remote mountain villages on a zipwire was pretty remarkable, too.
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