Do you know the 20 regions of Italy? If you're just starting to plan your Italian vacation, you'll soon come to the conclusion that you need to know the regions, their locations, and the unique charateristics that define them. As most are derived from ancient city states, the typical food, culture and dialects of language are all different.
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Below is a map of the 20 Italian regions. Click or tap each region name to find out more about that region, and get a map of the top cities to visit to open in a new tab. Alternatively, you can use the drop-down menu on the upper right of the menu bar above.
Italy is composed of 20 regions, which are outlined in gray on the map. Each region has a different cuisine, and many regions and and provinces have their own dialect of Italian. This makes a trip to Italy like a trip to many different countries.
Perhaps the most popular region of Italy is Tuscany. It's large, it's always been a bit "richer" than other regions, and it has quite a variety of things to do. On the other hand, unless you head for the northern historic territories of Tuscany, the Lunigiana and Garfagnana, you might feel hemmed in my throngs of tourists during the season. There is a price to pay for popularity. Like Renaissance art? Go to Tuscany. Are there surprises in Tuscany? How about Etruscan mining in southern Tuscany near Populonia? (Ancient Etruscans were fine metalworkers, masters at casting and adept at hammered bronze and iron products.)
If you favor your hill towns without the crowds, you might consider Umbria, Italy's green heart.
Second only to Tuscany in popularity comes the region of Puglia. Yes, it's "down there". But if you want a break from the Renaissance, you can do it on the heel, where southern baroque rules the roost. You'll enjoy flat land for biking and hiking, lots of coast land for beach excursions, excellent seafood and a laid-back atmosphere that contrasts with the bustle of Tuscany. Stay a while in a masseria, a farm fortified against the coast-roaming pirates. Dance the Pizzica Salentina, see the Salento's Greek towns.
Spring is a great time to visit Italy. With the warming weather folks have returned to animate the streets and piazze, the wildflowers are in bloom in the south, especially in a wet year following a dry one, and in the rural areas the fields are alive with freshly planted vegetables.
Spring in Sardinia, especially in the time around Easter, is a special time for some of Italy's finest carnevale festivals. We like Sa Sartiglia, an equestrian carnival and re-enactment of a unique medieval jousting tournament in the west coast city of Oristano. Here's a video of it. Another place to visit on the island in spring is the verdant Valle dei Nuraghi or Valley of the Nuraghi just outside of little Bonorva, which has recently uncovered a roman city just out of town.
Heading south will also assure you of warmer temperatures, especially if you are going early in the spring season. Sicily, the Abruzzo (a rugged beauty) and Puglia should be bursting with wildflowers by April. This is the Salento of Puglia in springtime:
Fall is harvest season. The grapes will be made into wine in all of the Italian regions. It is also truffle season, best celebrated with a breakfast of champions in Piemonte, where the Alba festival reigns supreme. Truffles are also big in Tuscany, but the first truffle fairs are often held in October in Le Marche.
If "hand-made" is your trigger phrase, you will definitely want to visit the island region of Sardinia during Autumn. Autunno in Barbagia is a very special festival that runs throughout the fall and offers a glimpse into the artisan workshops of the island while getting an earful of traditional song and dance as unique as the island's archeology. Never visited Sardinia? Check out our Sardinia Introduction Video with links to the attractions of the island.
Just a few tips on where to stay. If you like cities and you've chosen to take the train, I usually choose to take a hotel close to the train station and then set out to explore the city on foot without having to lug my bags very far. In a big city like Rome, you might wish to grab a taxi to a hotel (or vacation apartment) in your desired Rome Neighborhood.
In rural regions like Le Marche or the island of Sardinia, I like to rent a vacation house or apartment in the countryside where I can park the car and not worry about it, then take off and explore the smaller villages.
Below are a couple of search boxes so that you can explore the market for lodging of all forms in Italy.
Now that UNESCO has added the art of the Neapolitan pizza maker, or “pizzaiuolo”, to its list of “intangible cultural heritage of humanity” it is no secret that Naples' region, Campania, is one of the best regions in which to eat well in Italy. In southern Campania there's a territory called the Cilento where you'll find people who live to a grand old age, the Mediterranean diet was studied here, just in case you think good food relates to bad health. The archaeolgical site of Paestum is there as well.
Piemonte is not only home to 45 different D.O.C. wines but the region produces over 160 types of cheese. Piemonte is tops in the world for its herb products as well. Classic foods include Bollito Misto, especialy around the province and city of Cuneo. You're likely to find Giardiniera alla Piemontese on a mixed antipasti plate.
Sardinia is noted for its Maialino Sardo, a roast sucking pig like you've never tasted. For a primo piatto, Culurgionis is a dumpling unique to Sardinia. The wines of the island are legendary. Cannonau Di Sardegna is a DOC red that is the most famous of Sardinian wines, based on the Grenache grape. Sardinia is also noted for the longevity of its people.
If you want to get closer to the origins of Italy's vaunted cucina povera you might check out the southern region of Basilicata. If you think Basilicata is a place that's just dripping with poverty, you may be surprised by the likes of Bernalda and the coastal resort town of Maratea. Everybody likes Matera, you can cover lots of the region if you follow our Matera Itinerary.
For food markets that seem to wind forever through medieval streets and for lovers of street foods, there's no better place to go than Sicily. The markets of Palermo are amazing. If you have the stomach for it, try the Pani ca' Meusa, a spleen sandwich. And you can still eat with the locals at places like Il Bersagliere Trattoria, and have the classic Pasta con le Sarde, pasta with sardines.
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