Skip Rome and Florence: These Are the Best Italian Adventures to Take Right Now
Someone’s gotta take in all the ancient fortresses and temples.
There’s something about crawling into the bowels of Italy—way beyond well-trodden Florence and poor, overwhelmed Venice—that makes you feel like Indiana Jones. Whether you’re in a Holy Inquisition prison, a treasure-filled WWII bunker, pagan temples next to mud baths, or even near the oozing lava of volcanoes, the country’s more underground sightseeing will have you reaching for a flashlight, brown fedora hat, and ripped-open khaki shirt.
Despite the goosebumps and maybe just a tinge of claustrophobia, you can combine these already fascinating excursions with adrenaline-filled paragliding, jet skiing, scuba diving, and cross-country cycling. And, fine, there may be a gentle sheep or two along the way.
We love bucket list destinations like Florence as much as the next guy. But when you’re ready to go beyond the tourist hubs, you can prove that not all roads lead to Rome with these unique adventures in Italy.
Shear sheep in Tuscany
Italians go wild for agriturismi, which are farms turned into restaurants and B&Bs just screaming with rural vibe survives—and often also animals. Don’t be surprised if you see geese, rabbits, goats, and hens running freely in courtyards.
Tuscany in particular is the heaven of agriturismi, where several farmers turned hoteliers keep small herds of sheep so guest can learn how to make cheese—and also how to shear the animals. With the help of shepherd-tutors, you'll learn the secrets of cutting off fluffy, woolen fleece from a cute baa-ing animal. It's quite an idyllic, archaic throwback.
Climb the Etna volcano
Mount Etna in Sicily is Europe's biggest volcano—and the most active. There are frequent eruptions that draw even the most amateur of volcano lovers from across the world to admire the natural fireworks and the so-called 'sciare' red lava flows that scorch the mountain slopes and leave deep burn scars.
You’ll need an expert guide and at least some level of fitness for a long hike of about two to five hours. Prepare for a stunning scene of jet-black volcanic rocks dotted with bright flowers and heaps of ashes lined up along roads.
Scuba dive in the Tremiti Islands
Myth has it that Greek warrior Diomedes threw a handful of stones into the sea that turned into the pristine Tremiti archipelago. Hopefully for that reason, this scuba diving mecca has tuna fish the size of sharks.
There are a handful of diving centers to choose from. The toughest, most thrilling dive of all, the Devil's Eyes, requires good buoyancy: it'll take you through two underwater caves with holes and pointed edges that resemble a demonic face.
Paraglide over a bunker in Latium
Imagine jumping off the cliff of the mystical Mount Soratte, where medieval hermits once took refuge, to paraglide over a World War II bunker where it’s said the Nazis hid stolen treasures. Turns out flying in the sky with Avventura Soratte is one way to take in some history. From up in the air, you might also spot wild boars.
Within the Soratte Bunker lies a maze of tunnels frescoed by soldiers, while chapels, rock altars, and purple rocks dot the hills and old trails cut through a dense forest. At the top is a panoramic sanctuary of Saint Sylvester, a location cited by Dante in The Divine Comedy.
Sleep in a ghost town while biking across rural Sicily
There's no better way to explore rural Sicily than by bike, cutting through sleepy villages, rolling green hills, and wheat fields. A country route stretches from coast to coast, from Trapani to Catania.
Along the way, cyclists can sleep in farms and B&Bs located in bucolic semi-abandoned hamlets. You'll also find shops to fix wheels or buy whatever you may need along the way. Top highlights include Marsala's pink-reddish salt pans, Sambuca's Orange Lake surrounded by vineyards, and the ghost hamlet of Ghibellina.
Take a ride to the mud baths on the coast of Naples
You could easily spend an entire day roaming the old districts of Naples, the buzzing Spaccanapoli road that cuts through the city, and then on to the coast to explore the volcanic Phlegrean Fields and admire the view of Capri, Ischia, and Procida islands. In the town of Pozzuoli, you’ll find a bubbly mud bath with oozing vapors and pagan temples covered in fossils.
The best way to get around Naples is via taxi; and if you’re lucky, you may come across one of many drivers who not only knows all the hidden spots but also all the storytelling that goes with it. You might hear the mythological tales of how Odysseus descended into the Underworld right below your feet and then get one of the best ricotta-filled sfogliatella pastries you’ll ever have at Attanasio pastry shop.
Jet-ski on the Tiber River
Just outside Rome's city walls, the Tiber River flows through pristine fields and ancient Roman settlements. Locals may be out here lunching on the banks—but while the people watching may be tempting, there’s another, more unusual twist you could opt for on your Roman holiday.
The clear, calm waters are perfect for anyone trying out jet-skiing for the first time, pulled along by a tiny motorboat. You can also opt for wakeboard and fly board lessons inside two natural ponds filled with river water. Be on the lookout for otters along the way.
Go underground in Umbria
In the Umbrian town of Narni, you can descend inside a secret garden right into underground prisons where the Holy Inquisition tortured so-called heretics. Cells are covered in old writing, and there's a torture room with the skeleton of a burnt witch. Nearby, there are guided tours inside a dark ancient Roman aqueduct wide enough for just one person, where you need to walk bent over wearing a torch mounted helmet.