Many people ask the Trip Advisor forums for advice as to avoiding the beaten path. They are after the quintessential (some would say cliché) Italian experience - quaint villages, cobblestone streets, local food and wine, stunning landscapes and maybe even the Dolce Vita lunch on the long table under the grapevine trellis. Ahhh...who doesn't want that? The thing is - it actually does exist and it is easy to find - if you do a bit of homework.
Places like Pozzuoli, Baia, Procida, Atrani - are they familiar? Probably not but it may surprise you to know that they are located right alongside the well beaten path. These places are in Southern Italy in Campania - in and around the Bay of Naples - but in every part of Italy if you just move off 'that' path - you'll find these. The island of Torcello is half an hour from Venice but you'll find just a couple of tourists visiting the 9th century church. Oh - and you'll have that lunch under the vine covered trellis with just the birds and a cool breeze for company.
Piscina Mirabilis (marvellous pool)
Tucked away in a Bacoli back street, this is a 12,600 cubic metre water reservoir constructed 2000 years ago to supply Augustus' naval fleet with fresh water. You will be the only people here as you have to phone ahead and the custodian of the site will let you in through a locked door at street level and surrounded by suburbia, then you descend about 50 stairs underneath the houses above - to this.... 'Surreal' is an over-used word but appropriate to describe this place.
The Tomb of Agrippina (the elder), Bacoli. Agrippina was the granddaughter of Augustus, wife of Germanicus (whose brother was Emperor Claudius), mother of Emperor Caligula and Agrippina the younger (who was the mother of Emperor Nero). Yes - that's some imperial lineage. Archaeologists debate whether this is the resting place of her ashes but I'd like to think it is. Many members of the Julio-Claudian dynasty spent time in Campania - it was a holiday destination for wealthy Romans.
The Flavian Amphitheatre at Pozzuoli (near Naples). Where are the tourists?
The third largest amphitheatre in the Roman empire and no one is here!
The photos above and below show the underground area where you are free to walk without constraint - or until the darkness and eerie tunnels spook you back up to daylight.
The Temple of Serapis at Pozzuoli. Not a temple but a macellum (marketplace) where ancient Romans bought their groceries - meat, fish, vegetables. These days it's a victim of the unstable earth surrounding it -see how there is water at the bottom. In 1976 this temple had water halfway up - due to 'bradeyism' which is the undulating of the earth's crust due to flowing molten magma just below the surface.
Nisida - you can't visit this little island as its a prison - but its fame is everlasting. It was here that Brutus and Cassius plotted to kill Julius Caesar in 44BC.
Procida - everyone's heard of Capri but who's heard of this little jewel?
One hour on the ferry from Naples.
Come here to get away from Capri's tourists - you'll have it all to yourself.
Further down the coast from Naples and Pozzuoli lies the Amalfi Coast. Buzzing with tourists night and day and so over-supplied with an abundance of beauty you don't know where to look - but with that brings lots of crowds. Positano is one of my favourite places on earth and Amalfi is a close second, however on my last trip I was determined to visit Atrani. It's right next door to Amalfi and to get there, you take this winding ancient pathway (see below). Again - no one is there. You'll have the path, and Atrani, all to yourself.
Atrani is less than 1 kilometre from Amalfi but look at the beach - no one there. It takes about 25 minutes of slow walking and stopping for photos. Sam and I saw two other people on the day we walked this path and around the corner Amalfi was packed with tourists.
The path between Amalfi and Atrani - where is everyone?
FINALLY....not in Campania - this time we're in Venice for a last look at taking a side step off the beaten path. Every time I go to Venice I am entranced. How could they built THIS on a marshy island?
To get a little look at the rural - and marshy - aspect of this, head to Torcello. Way off the beaten path it's a sleepy little place but surprisingly, was once a Byzantine metropolis of 20,000. The church below is Santa Maria Assunta which dates back to the 7th century and is full of shimmering gold mosaics (no photography allowed inside unfortunately).
One of Torcello's quiet canals - no vaporettos...no gondolas...just peace
And here is the vine covered trellis. Yes, we had lunch here and enjoyed the peace of Torcello before taking the vaporetto back to Venice - a half hour trip but a whole world away from the the beaten path.
These examples of the 'path beside' show that you just have to detour a little way and you'll find a Procida or a Pozzuoli or a Baia - and even Venice. They say Italy is overrun with visitors but all you need do is turn left or right off that beaten path - and you'll find your own little slice of unspoilt Bella Italia.