13 Detour-Worthy Hidden Gems in Southern Italy

Between non-touristy islands, lesser-known historical sites, and underrated towns, you can find a whole lot of hidden gems in southern Italy, also nicknamed “Mezzogiorno.”

It goes without saying that you shouldn’t try to see all of it in one trip, but here are some off-the-beaten-path suggestions by myself and other fellow bloggers (in hopes that this list will gradually grow as I gather more recommendations).

*This post may contain affiliate links from which I earn a commission (for more info, read my disclosure). As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

*I try to keep the information on this blog as updated as possible, but I still recommend consulting the latest prices, opening hours, and other details on the official website of each site, hotel, and tour, as well as checking the updated public transport routes and timetables.

Detour-Worthy Hidden Gems in Southern Italy
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Which Regions Are a Part of Southern Italy

This area includes the regions of Puglia, Basilicata, Campania, Calabria, Sicily, and even the island of Sardinia and the more central Molise and Abruzzo.

Hidden Gems in Southern Italy

Segesta, Sicily

By Maggie from The World Was Here First

Though the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento usually tops traveler’s lists, if you want to see a similar site with a fraction of the crowds when visiting Sicily, then consider heading to the ruins of Segesta.

Located about 75 kilometers southeast of Palermo, the Segesta Archaeological Site is astonishing.

The eponymous temple is the main attraction here. Constructed in the 5th century BCE, this incredibly well-preserved temple is a joy to explore. 

Additionally, there is a gorgeous Greek amphitheater in the archaeological park that is accessible via a short shuttle bus or a hike up into the surrounding hills.

If it’s a warm day, it can be worth taking the shuttle bus up, however, it’s very much worth at least hiking back down as the aerial views over the valley and the temple from above are absolutely breathtaking.

All in all, if you’re looking for a fascinating historic site to visit in Sicily without the high visitor numbers, you’re sure to love the Segesta Archaeological Park.

Temple of Segesta in Sicily
Segesta by The World Was Here First

Castelmezzano, Basilicata

By Chris from Around the World with Me

One of the best-kept secrets in southern Italy is the mountainside village of Castelmezzano.

Castelmezzano is truly off the beaten path, which is hard to come by in Italy. It takes some effort to reach, but those who make it are rewarded with possibly the most picturesque little village in all of Italy. 

It gets its name from the medieval wall that was built around the city between the 11th and 13th centuries.

The wall is partly intact today, but the most incredible thing about Castelmezzano is the natural rock spires in the mountains behind the village. The view of the colorful village with the mountains in the background is simply to die for.

It’s easy to visit Castelmezzano in just a few hours, and most visitors arrive as day trippers. Once there, walk the ancient streets, take in the view from the Panoramic Terrace (map location here), and climb the stairs to the Norman Steps (map location here).

If you have time, stop for a meal at Trattoria da Spadino before heading off elsewhere in southern Italy. No one who makes the effort to visit Castelmezzano leaves disappointed! 

Views over Castelmezzano in southern Italy
Castelmezzano by Around the World with Me

Scilla, Calabria

By Andrew & Emily from Along Dusty Roads

Along the west coast of Calabria, and nestled between the mountains and the sea, lies the pretty town of Scilla. An idyllic place that, despite the passage of time, has maintained a slow, traditional way of life dominated by the tides, the catch, and the season.

Split in two by the imposing Castello Ruffo, it is actually composed of three parts: Marina Grande, where you’ll find the large sweeping beach Spiaggia di Scilla (a wonderful place to spend a sunny summer afternoon)the modern neighborhood of San Giorgio up above; and to the east is Chianalea, the original fishing village and Scilla’s major tourist draw. 

It’s amongst the aged, narrow cobble streets of Chianalea, where many of the homes have steps directly down to the sea, that you’ll find several restaurants and literal holes in the wall selling Scilla’s iconic swordfish sandwich – the most famous of which can be devoured at Civico5.

Views over the town of Scilla in southern Italy
Scilla by Along Dusty Roads

Trani, Puglia

Trani, a medieval seaside town with roots dating back to Roman times, remains an undiscovered treasure in the Puglia region and a great place to visit if you want to explore southern Italy off the beaten path.

What sets Trani apart is its rich history, including its once-thriving Jewish community, so be sure to tour the Synagogue Museum of Sant’Anna and the Scolanova Synagogue (check opening hours in advance as they may be limited).

Another one of Trani’s most prominent landmarks is a medieval cathedral that overlooks a stunning harbor and the Adriatic Sea.

Adjacent to Trani Cathedral, you can also explore the Swabian Castle and stroll through the charming historic center. A must-visit locale is the breathtaking Villa Comunale public park situated on the opposite side of the port.

The surrounding area is also renowned for its production of Moscato di Trani wine, so make sure to sample it at one of the local wine bars.

If you’re planning to visit Puglia without a car, Trani is a wonderful offbeat day trip from Bari by train.

Town and harbor of Trani in Puglia

Agropoli, Campania

By Emily from Pets Around the World

Before Agropoli came onto our radar, we hadn’t heard much about the area. However, spending a month in southern Italy with our dogs was a great idea!

Agropoli has an ideal mix of culture, history, and stunning seaside views. One of our favorite things to do is wander around Agropoli’s medieval village, with its cobblestone paths and surprising vistas overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea.

All roads eventually lead to a castle originally built in the Byzantine period. Paestum, a well-preserved Greek ruin, is also well worth a visit and only a 15-minute bus ride away.

The area’s appeal is year-round, thanks to the mild weather. Agropoli really comes to life in summer, when it becomes a vibrant seaside destination, with translucent turquoise waters and umbrella-covered beaches.

Its accessibility by train from major cities like Rome and Naples makes it easy to get there without a car, and the city is compact enough to get to the highlights on foot. Definitely consider putting this charming gem on your itinerary.

Coast and cliff views of the town of Agropoli in Italy
Agropoli by Pets Around the World

Tempio DI Antas, Sardinia

By Claudia from Strictly Sardinia

The incredible Tempio di Antas is one of South Sardinia’s best-kept secrets.

Completely immersed in the forest, you will find Tempio di Antas, about a 30-minute drive from the small town of Iglesias, the capital of the Sulcis Iglesiente region, and a 1.5-hour drive from the capital Cagliari. This unique site is the perfect place to visit on a day trip during the spring.

The main sight here is the Roman temple that dates from 38 BC. You will be able to see the columns and the main temple area.

There’s also an older Punic temple, which was dedicated to a Sardinian deity, Sardus Pater Babai (the Punic God Sid Addir), thought to be the father and protector of all Sardinian people.

Found in the area, there are also the ruins of a Nuragic village (nuraghe are constructions that are only found in Sardinia and that date from the iron and bronze age) and the ruins of a Roman quarry.

All these sites are connected by easy-to-follow trails, which make it the perfect place for a family day out complete with a picnic. 

The Tempio di Antas is open every day for visits. To get there you will need to have a car, as there are no public bus stops nearby.

Templo di Antas, a landmarks in Sardinia
Templi di Antas by Strictly Sardinia

Grottaglie, Puglia

By Samantha from Continuous Roamer

Grottaglie is a small town known for being the ceramics capital of Puglia. 

Large caves were dug into soft stone and created the ceramics workshops. The territory is rich in clay, which means the pottery is locally extracted. Grottaglie’s economy relies on the ceramics trade, and it is a critical part of their culture.

Grottaglie is a secret spot that should be included in your itinerary. It is a unique, artistic town away from the throngs of tourists in other nearby towns, and it offers excellent Apulian cuisine.

Make your way to the Ceramics Quarter and see the craft at work in the workshops. Be sure to buy your favorite ceramics for souvenirs.

If you have time, visit the Ceramics Museum (Museo della Ceramica di Grottaglie), which is located in a 14th-century castle. Here, you can learn Grottaglie’s whole history. Then, ensure you stroll through winding streets to explore the Centro Storico.

A ceramic shop in Grottaglie in Puglia
A ceramic shop in Grottaglie by Continuous Roamer

Erice, Sicily

By Zoe from Together In Switzerland

For a beautiful and lesser-known town in Southern Italy on the island of Sicily, consider your next visit to Erice.

This little historical town in the Trapani region of Sicily is located at the top of Monte San Giuliano. At 751 meters above sea level, Erice offers breathtaking vistas of surrounding Trapani, the island, and the Mediterranean Sea.

You can drive up to the top or take a bus, but we suggest you take and enjoy the Erice funicular from the city below. It doesn’t take too long, and you don’t need to worry about finding any parking at the top.

The town itself is home to the Venus Castle, dating back to the 12th century, which we feel is a must-see when it’s open again (currently still closed to renovations as of February 2024). The same goes for the Gardens of Balio, which are free to visit.

On a late summer evening, it’s perfect to watch the sunset down below from Erice.

For a bite to eat, make sure to stop by Pasticceria Maria Grammatico for some local sweets and pastries, perfect to snack on while enjoying a wander around the town.

Views over Erice in Sicily
Erice by Together In Switzerland

Procida Island, Campania

By Helen from Helen on her Holidays

The tiny island of Procida is one of the most beautiful places in Italy, yet it receives a fraction of the visitors of its more famous neighbors, Capri and Ischia.

It’s less than an hour by ferry from Naples, but its streets have a peaceful air, and even in summer you could find yourself almost alone looking out over its gorgeous viewpoints.

There are two must-dos when you visit Procida. The first is seeing the view over Marina di Corricella. The view over the gently curving fishing harbor, with cheerful boats bobbing in the water and pastel-colored fishermens’ houses tumbling down the hillside is breathtaking.

The other must-do in Procida is seeing the fortified medieval village, Terra Murata. It’s a surprise to find these historic streets with gorgeous views over the bay of Naples almost empty of tourists, with washing hanging off balconies.

Views over Procida Island in Italy
Procida by Helen on her Holidays

Vieste, Puglia

By Cris from LooknWalk

In north Puglia (En: Apulia), you’ll find Vieste, a small resort town, mostly known for its sea and coastline. The beaches are long and sandy, and in between them, the coast is dotted with gorgeous caves.

Having a tumultuous history, with pirates, Saracens, and others constantly attacking it during the Medieval times, Vieste is now a very well-known beach destination on the Adriatic Coast.

But that’s not all. The Old Town is gorgeous, the coastal towers imposing, the trabucchi have an interesting history, and nearby, you can explore the gorgeous Foresta Umbra (Umbra Forest).

And if you want to dive deeper into the culture and cuisine, make sure to plan a day out at one of the many trattorias tucked away among olive and citrus groves.

If you travel in summer, don’t miss joining a tour of the marine caves, while if you arrive here around Christmas, you may witness a unique event: Presepe Vivente (a live nativity scene) that takes place in the entire Old Town.

Views over the town of Vieste in Puglia
Vieste by LooknWalk

Maiella National Park, Abruzzo

By Lisa from Rome Travelogues

Travelers to Italy should certainly set aside time to explore its wilderness areas, which abound. With 25 National Parks, the country knows how to satisfy those who love hiking through forests and mountains.

One of the most underrated national parks is Maiella National Park, located in Abruzzo. Its location makes it ideal as a getaway from Rome, being 180 km east of the city.

The best time to visit is in the middle seasons, spring and fall, so you can take advantage of the full day to be outdoors and walk; in summer it is too hot.

If you are not an experienced walker, I suggest you take walks of about two hours, such as the one that reaches the Hermitage of San Bartolomeo or the Hermitage of Santo Spirito, surrounded by mountain landscapes.

Two towns where you can stay are Roccamorice and Caramanico Terme.

From the latter, there is also privileged access to the lush Orfento River Valley, where you can try your hand at hiking from 2 to 14 km through a stunning gorge.

For the more trained, there is also the climb to the summit of Mount Amaro, which is done starting from the town of Fara San Martino.

In all towns in or near the park, there are information points where they will give you detailed info on routes and maps.

If you visit Abruzzo you can also enjoy the delicious, plentiful, and inexpensive local cuisine, whose highlights include homemade pasta, sheep arrosticini, and biscotti. In short, a paradise for those who love nature and good food.

Views at the hike of Hermitage San Bartolomeo in Maiela National Park in Italy
Maiella National Park by Rome Travelogues

Vulcano Island, Sicily

By Merryl from Merryl’s Travel & Tricks

The Aeolian island of Vulcano in the Tyrrhenian Sea is a real hidden gem in Sicily known for its raw beauty and unique geological features.

The island has an active volcano, Gran Cratere, and makes the perfect spot for nature lovers who love hiking and other outdoor activities. 

There are so many fun things to do in Vulcano, like taking a dip in the therapeutic mud baths that are famous for their healing powers.

And if you just want to unwind, you can soak in the naturally heated thermal waters or plan a beach day at one of the beaches on the island.

I also recommend hiking up to the crater’s rim for some breathtaking views of the Aeolian archipelago.

And don’t forget to visit the island’s black sand beach – the stunning Spiaggia delle Sabbie Nere, where you can take in the contrast between the dark sand and the sparkling blue sea and see the water bubbling up from an underwater geyser! 

Also, be sure to try some of the local cuisine while on this island! You’ll find some delicious seafood dishes that are as fresh as they come.

You can pair it with some delicious wine from the Aeolian island and even plan a day trip to Salina to visit some of the local vineyards on the island.  

Views from the boat towards Vulcano Island near Sicily
Vulcano by Merryl’s Travel & Tricks

Altamura, Puglia

By Steve from Destination Someplace

Located just a 20-minute drive away from the tourist hotspot of Matera, you’ll find the ancient and beautiful town of Altamura, one of the best hidden treasures of southern Italy.

Perched atop one of the hills of the Murge Plateau and nestled in the surrounding Alta Murgia National Park, Altamura makes an ideal base from which to explore the southern Italian region of Puglia.

Altamura is world-renowned as ‘the city of bread’ for its light and delicious bread, traditionally baked in wood-burning ovens – try it, because nothing else tastes like it.

Then, why not lose yourself in the intricate labyrinth of narrow streets of the Old Town, known as the claustri (meaning cloisters), one of the most famous of which is the Claustro Inferno.

Exploring the old town, you are bound to come across one of the many great eateries serving local delicacies such as orecchiette (meaning ‘little ears’) with turnip tops.

Just outside of the town, in the surrounding countryside, there are more reminders of the ancient history of this area, such as the perfectly preserved dinosaur footprints (in the area known as Pontrelli) or a reproduction of the fossilized skeleton of a Neanderthal man found in the nearby Lamalunga cave (in the National Archaeological Museum).

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About Or Amir

Hey, I'm Or! I'm a passionate traveler with a severe coffee, chocolate, and pastry addiction (or any other carb for that matter). I'm always planning my next trip to Spain, Italy, or any other country in Europe, and my goal is to help you make the most of each destination.

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