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Hidden gems and authentic experiences

I consider Italians very lucky when it comes to choosing holidays - they don't really need to travel too far, they have everything for a perfect holiday on their doorstep! A choice of seaside, mountains, lakes, historical cities, islands - a variety of accommodation, as well as a perfect climate. And of course, the food - when Italians travel abroad, one thing they always miss is their food which they consider is the best in the world! And they are right, of course!

According to surveys, Italians tend to holiday in all the regions from north to south, including the islands. The majority tend to enjoy the beach and opt for at least 2 weeks on the coast each summer. Until a few years ago, when the economical situation in Italy was more stable, it was common for people to stay away for a month. The most popular month Italians are away is August, especially during the national holiday of "ferragosto" on the 15th; even those not on holiday at that time, will do something special on that day. The first weekend in August is always the busiest on the motorways, railway and at airports.

 

Holiday homes

Quite a few Italians (especially the older generation) own holiday homes and this is usually in fairly close proximity to where they live. For the Milanese it could be on Lake Como or the Ligurian Coast, and their families tend to use the house during the summer months. In the south, Neapolitans flock to the Amalfi Coast, the Cilento region or Calabria. I remember as a child growing up on the Amalfi Coast, my village of Minori would become extremely busy during the summer with families from Naples and inland towns. My parents would often rent out our family home whilst we would go and stay with my grandparents for the summer months. It was exciting for my sister and I to stay at my grandparents' big old house as well as providing extra income for our family. We weren't the only family who did this - space is tight on the Amalfi Coast so every room, apartment and house was put to good use. Over the years, hotels, agriturismi, B&B's and holiday lets have been built and so locals no longer rent out their homes.

 

My summer holidays

As a child I didn't go on holiday and wasn't really too sure what a holiday was! I grew up by the sea and tourists from Italy and abroad would flock to our village and the rest of the coast, so I suppose we didn't feel the need - the summer months had such a holiday feel to them that I just joined in the fun! It was not until I settled in England that holidays mattered and then it would be my turn to go to Italy as a holidaymaker.

Wherever I go to Italy during the summer, I always find Italians from other parts holidaying. The majority enjoy the sea and beach, especially those with children - it has always been popular to take children "al mare" (to the seaside.). Popular sayings include "l'aria del mare fa bene" (sea air is good for you) or "l'aria del mare fa venire l'appetito" (sea air promotes a healthy appetite). In fact, this was taken so seriously that in the 1950's & 1960's, the Italian Government arranged for children of poorer backgrounds to go, free of charge, to coastal resorts throughout Italy and this was known as "colonie." These still exist today, however parents now pay - it's still a fantastic idea especially for working parents or families who are unable to pay for a family holiday in the safe knowledge that at least their children are able to enjoy the seaside. In fact, I do remember groups of children accompanied by nuns running about on the beach in Minori.

 

Coastal resorts

With the sea surrounding the majority of Italy and with such a variety from north to south, fine, sandy beaches or rocky coastlines, there is something for everyone so it is no wonder the Italians enjoy the sea so much.

Unknown to outsiders, coastal resorts such as Sperlonga, Fregene, Ostia and Anzio outside of Rome are popular choices for locals who wish to escape the stifling city heat. For anyone staying in Rome during the summer who fancies a refreshing dip in the sea, a day trip to the coast is simple by local public transport.

Further south from the Amalfi Coast, is the quieter, lesser known stretch of coastline known as Il Cilento, frequented mostly by southern Italian families who want to enjoy the same sea and beach at much better value. Resorts such as Palinuro, Santa Maria di Castellabate, Agropoli, Acciaroli, Marina di Ascea and Pisciotta are popular holiday destinations with Italians returning year after year. We have been there a couple of times as a family when the girls were younger and enjoyed the safe bathing and lovely beaches, as well as the pretty medieval villages inland. Further south is Calabria, Italy's toe, which is still an off-the-beaten-track area for most tourists but popular with Italians.

Heading north, resorts on the beautiful Ligurian coast, such as Alassio, Santa Margherita, Rapallo and the pretty fishing village of Camogli are popular with a lot of northern Italians for the year-round balmy climate and spectacular coastline, reminiscent of the Amalfi Coast. Moving a little further south to Tuscany is the large, old-fashioned resort of Viareggio where Italian families have been going for decades - in fact, this was Liz's first holiday when she was only a year old - her mother's family used to rent a house for the whole summer. Other resorts along this coast are Forte dei Marmi, Grosetto and from Porto Santo Stefano you can catch the ferry to the pretty islands of Elba, Giglio, Pianosa and Giannutri.

Across to the Le Marche on the Adriatic side, there are many coastal resorts - Gabbice Mare, Pesaro, Senigallia, Numana and Grottamare - to name a few. Again, these resorts are filled during July and August with families escaping the inland cities or from other parts of Italy, looking to enjoy some relaxation on the beach. Staying on the Adriatic coast a little further north are the beaches of Emilia Romagna. This is home to Rimini, probably Italy's most famous resort and a trendy destination in the '60's and '70's with the first package tours from abroad. There are lots of other smaller resorts along the coast which offer affordable holidays for northern Italian families often staying in traditional family-run "pensioni" offering good value full board deals.

 

Mountain resorts

Italy is covered with mountains - from the Alps running from west to east across northern Italy and the Appenines stretching from Liguria in the north, right down to the very south forming the backbone of Italy. It is no wonder Italy is so beautiful! So for those who wish to escape the busy coastal resorts in summer and enjoy the fresh mountain air where they can enjoy the peace and tranquillity and the natural surroundings, a holiday "in montagna" is a popular alternative. The northern regions of Alto Adige, Trentino, Lombardia, Piemonte and the Valle d'Aosta come to mind, where, during the winter, the snow covered mountains provide perfect skiing conditions and where Italians flock to for "la settimana bianca" (literally translated as the white week where they enjoy winter sports). Further south, the mountains in Calabria's Sila are spectacular, as well as the Piccole Dolomiti Lucane in Basilicata where you will find Italians on holiday.