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Cinque Terre

If you blink, you'll miss the five magnificent villages of the Cinque Terre, but you'll never forgive yourself if you do. The villages are wedged into the impossibly mountainous countryside that borders coastal Liguria in the northwest of the country, and as yet the ravages of uncontrolled tourism have been kept in check. The towns are connected by a scenic pathway that winds along the terraced hillside through olive groves and vineyards. The towns are car-free too. Riomaggiore overlooks a tiny cove, and fishing boats rule the roost, lying along the shore and even in the small square. Lovers' Lane links the village with Manarola, the most picturesque of the five villages. Corniglia is not for the faint-hearted, as it sits high above the water and is reached by tortuous steps. Vernazza makes the most of its sea views, with a promenade and a piazza overlooking the water. Finally, Monterosso overlooks the only real beach in the vicinity, and features huge statues carved into the rocks that overlook it.

 
Paestum

Just south of Salerno, Paestum is home to the country's best-preserved relics of the Magna Graecia colonies. It is an enigmatic site, with three Doric temples dominating a flower-strewn, grassy plain. It includes the temples of Ceres and Neptune, a forum, a basilica and city walls. The museum houses a collection of friezes, rounding off one of the best collections of ancient architecture in the world.The 12km (7mi) inland is one of the few protected natural environments in Italy's south, known as the Woods of Diana.

 
San Gimignano

Only 14 of the original 72 towers remain, but this wonderfully preserved medieval city in Tuscany is still known as San Gimignano of the Fine Towers. The towers reflect a period in Italian history when neighbours were particularly quarrelsome and a person's house really was their castle, with points scored for the highest tower. Crenellated palazzos and soaring towers circle the town's major piazzas, with Torre Grossa the tallest tower at 54m. A Romanesque cathedral, ruined fortress, frescoed church and a fabulous museum featuring art from the Sienese and Florentine schools round off this special city's charms.

 
Sardinia

The island of Sardinia has been colonised and invaded by the Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, Pisans, Genoese and Spaniards. Through these ravages, the locals (known as the Sardi) have retained their identity and singularity, remaining strangely insular people. The landscape is rugged and the remaining wildlife distinctive, from albino donkeys to griffon vultures.Cagliari, the capital, is surprisingly attractive, with an interesting medieval section and a beautiful beach. Other attractions include the magnificent and relatively unspoiled Costa Verde coastline, the beaches and grottoes around the tourist enclave of Alghero, and the trekking and traditional culture offered in Nuoro Province.

 
Sicily

The island of Sicily is a place of contrasts, from the crumbling grandeur of its capital, Palermo, to the Greek ruins at Syracuse, volatile Mt Etna and the Aeolian Islands. It's home to touristy Lipari, jet-set Panarea, rugged Vulcano and spectacularly spouting Stromboli. Squatting strategically in the Mediterranean, and its largest island, Sicily has attracted waves of invaders and colonisers, whose detritus includes Greek temples, Roman ruins, Norman churches and castles, and Arab and Byzantine domes. Sicilians remain strongly tied to the land, despite the summer heat, which can be utterly scorching. Luckily, the beaches are superb.Other sights include the magnificent 12th-century cathedral at Monreale and the touristy but unmissable Taormina, with its Greek theatre, panoramic public gardens, palazzo, cathedral and beaches.

 
Tremiti Islands

Lying 40km (25mi) off the Gargano Peninsula in Apulia sit the three main islands of the Tremiti group: San Domino, San Nicola and Capraia. The islands remain relatively undeveloped and unspoiled, and offer a great escape from mainland concerns. San Nicola's Church of Santa Maria, founded in the 11th century by Benedictine monks, features a black Madonna, an 11th-century floor mosaic and a Byzantine crucifix. San Domino boasts sandy beaches, with secluded coves, rocky pools and grottoes.


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