By Hayley Lewis for Metro.co.uk, Traveller. Adventurer. Foodie. Blogging at www.alovelyplanet.com. Follow on Instagram @alovelyplanet
Sunday 23 Dec 2018 8:00 am
As a travel writer, I often get asked, Whats the best place youve been to?
Always a difficult question to answer, I used to say something like, Oh everywhere is different and each has its highlights.
But more recently, the answer has been Italy.
I just cant get enough of this country. Maybe its because Im dating an Italian, or maybe its the food, but my love of Italy has started to become a little bit of an obsession.
So I embarked on an Italian road trip, encompassing all the things that make Italy great: gastronomy, architecture, art, beaches and of course Italians (I was travelling with one after all).
Choosing a route wasnt easy.
There is a lot to see, and deciding which parts to include and which to leave out took a great deal of planning and negotiating. But at the end of it, I have what I believe is an ultimate Italian road trip itinerary.
We skipped most of the big cities – which may cause concern for lovers of Florence and Rome, but the realities of driving through busy Italian cities wasnt exactly conducive to a relaxing holiday.
So its the smaller towns and villages, along with the beautiful countryside and beaches, that made the cut.
Our journey began in Italys toe – Calabria. Its a lesser-known and frequented region for British tourists but a firm favourite among Italian holidaymakers.
Right at the bottom – the toenail, if you will – is Scilla and the quaint fishing village of Chianalea.
We spent a few days exploring the narrow lanes of the fishing village, watching the fishermen search for swordfish in their impressively tall ships and enjoying plenty of seafood dinners at the waterside restaurants.
This turned out to be a great place to unwind and relax before the journey ahead.
A short drive along the coast and we arrived in Tropea, a popular Italian holiday destination famous for the Santa Maria dellIsola Monastery, a medieval church perched on top of a rocky cliff surrounded by turquoise water.
The beach here is stunning, and there are many restaurants to enjoy in this bustling town.
The area is famous for red onion and Nduja sausage, so make sure you try some while youre here.
From Tropea, we also took a day trip to Stromboli with CST Tropea.
Stromboli is a volcanic island fringed with black sand. The volcano is still active, and is a popular destination for hikers who can ascend the trail to the summit.
Moving north, we arrived in the region of Basilicata and the commune of Maratea.
Maratea has two main hubs – the town up in the hills and a beautiful harbour.
Spend some time exploring both, as well as visiting the hilltop Christ statue (think Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janiero), and dont miss the picturesque, rocky and uncrowded beaches.
Although we decided to avoid cities, we made one exception with Napoli. After all, this was the birthplace of pizza!
After learning how to make pizza the Napoli way at Toffini Academy, we strolled through the citys lanes and streets and along the Lungomare – a 3km long seafront promenade.
A 3-hour drive north and we arrived in Umbria.
We spent our time here exploring the Valle Umbra and the hilltop towns surrounding it. Spoleto is a must visit with its impressive castle and Roman aqueduct.
This wine is delicious and is only made in this small town and the surrounding vineyards. There are some pretty impressive views from up here too.
A great way to sample Sagrantino is to take a food and wine class at Moretti Omero, who produce the tasty wine and delicious local cuisine to accompany it.
Our last stop in Umbria was Spello. Here you will find narrow lanes full of flowers and small shops selling truffles, which are collected in the Umbrian countryside.
Spend a few hours here relaxing in the hot pools. Heaven!
From San Filippo, its a 20-minute drive to Val DOrcia, a region of stunning natural beauty.
If it seems familiar, thats because a number of movies have been filmed here, notably, Gladiator – these beautiful rolling hills were the location of Maximus house!
A further 20-minute drive and we arrive in Montepulciano, famous for the wine of the same name.
While here, make sure you visit a winery to sample a glass or two. DeRicci has a beautiful underground cellar and some excellent wines.
Growing up, I spent many summers in Lucca and I couldnt miss the opportunity to return to this lovely city.
Its not nearly as popular as nearby Florence and Pisa, but for me that all adds to its charm.
A walled city, you can hire bikes and cycle the full perimeter of the city walls, ascend Guinigi tower and admire the tree at the top and lose a few hours wandering the lanes and shopping in the small boutiques.
Liguria was the final stop on our dreamy Italian road trip.
Cinque Terre National Park is a popular destination in this region, famed for its picture-perfect villages full of colourful houses.
Equally beautiful is the nearby town of Porto Venere in the Bay of Poets.
From here, take a boat trip around the island of Palmaria before having dinner at Locanda Lorena Restaurant on the island, which offers a stunning view of Porto Venere and some delicious seafood.
Make sure you try the regions speciality – mussels!
Where to stay in Italy and how to get there:
A double room at B&B Chianalea in Scilla starts from £72 (€80) per night including breakfast.
Rezidenza RoMa in Tropea has double rooms from £72 (€80) per night including breakfast.
A double room at Hotel Ristorante Borgo La Tana costs from £116 (€130) per night including breakfast.
Albornoz Palace has double rooms from £69 (€77) per night including breakfast.
Locanda San Francesco in Montepulciano offers double rooms from £179 (€200) per night including breakfast and parking space.
Palazzo Rocchi in Lucca offers double rooms from £112 (€125) per night with breakfast included.
A double room at Al Tuscany in Lucca starts from £45 (€50) per night with breakfast included
Le Ville Relais offers double rooms from £85 (€95) per night including breakfast.
(Top picture: Hayley Lewis)