Lovebirds in search of a memorable holiday with your innamorata, look no further. Here’s a trip to help you fall deeper in love with southern Italy and, hopefully, each other.
With an awkward flick of the wrist, I whip the soft sheet of moist dough to one side, convinced I’d perfectly reenacted the motion shown to me earlier by my pizza teacher. “Non bene - not good,” he says. “Your dough is appiccicosa – is sticky, need flour.” Pizza-making, after all, is no easy task. In 2017, UNESCO accepted Neapolitan pizzaiuoli – or pizza makers – to its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Who was I then, to cavort into the Associazone Verace Pizza Napoletana school in Naples in the Campania region, hoping to perfect the centuries-old craft in two hours? For couples embarking on a journey together in this month of love, southern Italy has much to offer and Neapolitan pizza-making is not only a fitting introduction to the region, but the perfect litmus test for your better half’s cooking skills. Are you with a keeper or non-keeper? Embark on this Italian road trip together and you’ll surely have your answer.
Become a pizzaiuoli or pizza maker for a few hours at the Associazione Ferace Pizza Napoletana School.
Wine-tasting in Naples
There’s no arguing that conversation improves with wine. For couples who agree, you’ll be glad to know that wine runs through the veins of most Italians, so the best way to enjoy the vast selection on offer is to sign up for a tasting session. Bosco de Medici winery in Naples is home to experimental vineyards that boast innovative refining processes in terra cotta amphorae used by the ancient Greeks for storing wine. Italian grape varieties such as the Piedirosso and Caprettone all thrive in the fertile mineral-rich soil of Mount Vesuvius. A major highlight for oenophiles is the century-old vines that were originally found and preserved by the property owners when they arrived. Amazingly enough, the vines still bear fruit to this day. Imagine drinking wine from these historical grapes!
Caprettone grapes at Bosco de Medici winery.
Naples to Caserta
Italian hand gestures are such a huge part of Italian culture they should be listed as a UNESCO Heritage of Humanity. For this reason, it’s advisable to arm yourselves with a few moves just to get by and you’re guaranteed a smooth arrival in Caserta in no time. Once there, a visit to the Caserta Royal Palace, the largest palace in the world designed by one of the 18th century’s greatest architects, is a must. Similarities to Versailles, Rome and Tuscany are striking and once you spend a few hours to admire the triumphant Italian Baroque architecture, you’ll know why it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997. On a clear and sunny day, be sure to walk hand in hand with your better half to admire the magnificent manicured gardens and natural woodland spread across the vast property. Not much of a sweet talker? Now’s the time to step away from your comfort zone and profess your undying love.
Caserta Royal Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Caserta.
Caserta to Alberobello
How far would you go to avoid paying property taxes? If you’ve plans to start a family and need tips on saving, visit the Smurf homes or the “trulli” of Alberobello in the Puglia region and you might learn a thing or two. These prehistoric homes (a UNESCO World Heritage site) were built with limestone boulders during the 1500s and are fine examples of drywall (mortar-less) construction that can be easily dismantled. “Why dismantle them?” you might ask. Well, in case a royal inspection for property taxation is ordered by the King. If there’s no home for them to tax, then there’s no need to pay. Capisce? By the 1700s, however, Alberobello was declared a royal town at the request of citizens which spelled the end of trulli construction. Today, a handful of locals still call these conical structures “home”, while others have turned theirs into boutique hotels, souvenir shops or restaurants.
Conical homes or trulli - Alberobello's trademark architectural style.
The Greeks gave this charming old island town in the southwest corner of Puglia the name Gallipoli which means “Beautiful City”. Take a stroll through the alleyways of this island-like fortress surrounded on all sides by water and you’ll feel like you’ve entered a time warp. Grab a seat in one of the seafront cafes or restaurants for some people-spotting or eye-gazing, or you can sit back and let the colourful fishing boats bobbing around the fortress hypnotise you into a deep lull of contentment.
A splendid walk along the harbour in Gallipoli.
Living la vida Lecce
As soon as you arrive in this fascinating town called Lecce – also known as “Florence of the South” for its wealth of Baroque monuments – order an Espresso Leccese as a welcome drink and you’ll blend right in with the locals. It’s just a shot of espresso with ice and a dash of almond milk produced in Lecce – hands down an invigorating way to refuel. You’ll definitely need the caffeine boost to explore the 2,000-year-old city’s vast architectural gems on foot. The town centre is especially rich in Baroque architectural beauty and most structures are made of the local stone called “pietra Leccese”.
All white now in Ostuni
“La Citta Bianca”, or the “White City” as Ostuni is also known, is built atop a hill for good reason – to protect it from invaders. Navigate your way through the maze of streets of the medieval village and you can easily lose yourself in the whitewashed beauty of the homes and buildings while taking in the picturesque views. Ostuni sits pretty on three hills, which makes it a highly photogenic place. Looking for a memorable couples sunset post for Instagram? This is your town.
Ostuni is also known by locals as "La Citta Bianca" or the "White City".
The vibrant colours of Ostuni.
Not only will Matera take your breath away, it has an intriguing history to match its beauty. One of the two Capitals of Culture in 2019 (alongside Plovdiv in Bulgaria), this troglodyte city’s Sassi (“cave dwelling”) districts of Sasso Caveoso and Sasso Barisano in the Basilicata region suffered from such extreme poverty and disease during the 1950s that all residents were forced to abandon their homes and relocate. Some 30 years later, the descendants of these residents slowly returned to open hotels and restaurants, and its eventual listing as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993 helped boost tourism arrivals. It’s easy to spend an entire day wandering and getting lost in the warren of monasteries, palaces and caves, but one thing couples are encouraged to do is admire the sassi from the Belvedere side at sunset – so magical it will bring tears to your eyes.
Matera - Pietrapertosa
Overlooking the vast Lucanian Dolomites, Pietrapertosa is a picturesque hilltop town frequented by tourists, but also a magnet for thrill-seekers. If you and your loved one believe that flying on a zipline from one village to the next will strengthen your trust in one another, then take that leap. The Flight of the Angel ride lasts just over a minute and is a magnificent way to take in the view of the clusters of homes perched on a narrow ledge (although they won’t appear high from where you’re flying). Land in Castelmezzano, another village that offers evocative panoramic scenery for lunch, and explore the village’s rich culture before ziplining back to Pietrapertosa. If you don’t get high on love after this ride, we don’t know what will.
A local welder flashes a smile in Castelmezzano.
Tivoli – Rome
Before wrapping up your Italian escapade, be sure to schedule stops at Villa Adriana and Villa d’Este. The latter is located in Tivoli in the region of Lazio, just a few minutes from Rome. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the gardens and palaces here are a remarkable tribute to Renaissance culture and exemplary of 16th century Italian gardens at its best. A walk here will take you past elaborate fountains, ornamental basins and refined architectural gems – the perfect setting for an affectionate kiss. The Tivoli garden is usually considered within the larger context of Tivoli itself, which also includes historic landmarks such as the Villa Adriana as well as a zone rich in caves and waterfalls with dramatic sculptures.
One of many artesian fountains at Villa d'Este.
Villa Adriana, a Roman archaeological complex in Tivoli
From romantic sunsets, wine-fuelled afternoons and walks through sun-kissed cobbled alleys, it’s unimaginable why anyone would want to experience this adventure alone. Whether single, married, or just dating, South Italy should be on everyone’s bucket list for memories that will last a lifetime. I may have come alone this time, but with my newly-acquired pizza-making “skills”, I doubt I’d be single for long.
This breathtaking masseria or “fortified farmhouse” sits atop an ancient cave settlement, ensconced in the heart of centuries of olive plains. It’s the perfect base for exploring Puglia as well as the Salento beaches, located about 50 km from Bari.
If you love the idea of sleeping in a former castle, this is your place. Set in a working farm in the Puglian “heel” of Southern Italy, the Masseria also produces olive oil, balsamic vinegar, primitive wine and jams.
Santa Rosa Relais
The beautiful gem of a hotel is located in the old town of Noci in the heart of Puglia. The rooms boast stone ceilings and some come with original frescoes.
Aquatio Cave Luxury Hotel & Spa
This 5-star hotel in Matera will not disappoint. With a unique position set into a tufa ridge in the city’s Sasso Caveoso district, it also has a luxury spa with a swimming pool carved into the rocks!