James was raised in Rome and chooses to live there despite its many little frustrations.
6 Romantic Ideas for Your Italian Vacation
From the peaks of the Alps to the depths of dark, ominous grottos, Italy is brimming with romantic potential and life-changing experiences. Here are my top six.
- Swimming through Roman ruins on Ventotene
- Leaving a love lock at the alley of lovers
- Breathing in Bari's Seafront promenade
- Hiking and skiing in Cervinia
- Taking a look around Lake Iseo
- Exploring the peninsula of Gaeta
This little guide is a list of travel suggestions that I have personally tried and loved. All of these destinations hold a special place in my heart, and if I can convey just a fraction of their magic to you, then this article will have served its purpose well.
1. Swim Through Roman Ruins at Ventotene
The island of Ventotene is built on the foundations of an ancient Roman port, making it an open-air museum you can touch, feel, and even swim through. One of my earliest summer memories is of diving into Ventotene's crystalline waters and marveling at the eroded underwater remains of a Roman villa.
This small island also happens to be where I learned my first soul-crushing lesson about unrequited love, but that's a story for another time.
I mention this nugget of bitterness because my feverish childhood trauma is made all the more poignant by Ventotene's palpable romantic backdrop. But what worked against me can absolutely work for you.
Why and When to Visit Ventotene
Most romantic island pilgrimages focus on the ever-popular destinations of Capri, Ischia, or Ponza. These are all fantastic choices in their own right, don't get me wrong, but Ventotene is a far more intimate experience that is generally overlooked by the throngs of marauding thrill-seekers.
However, despite being overshadowed in popularity by its larger siblings, Ventotene can get still crowded during the summer months, which is why I'd advise visiting in the off-season when everyone except a few dozen locals is back to their everyday grind on the mainland.
Things to Do on Ventotene
Ventotene is a small island and can be explored in just a few hours. But there are some interesting things to do while you are there, beyond laying on the beaches and exploring the picturesque town.
- Visit the nearby island of Santo Stefano.
- Swim through the underwater ruins of a Roman port.
- Take a look at the ancient Roman fishponds.
- Dive into Ventotene's protected marine area.
- Savor local dishes (I love the lentils).
The easiest way to get to the island of Ventotene is by landing at Naples or Rome and then heading to either the port of Terracina or Formia where you'll take a short ferry trip the rest of the way.
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2. Leave a Love Lock at the Alley of Lovers
Vialetto degli Innamorati, or the alley of lovers, is situated atop Monte Mario, Rome's highest vantage point.
If your vacation includes a trip to Rome, make sure you leave a love lock on the rusting pile and take in the unparalleled panoramic view of the capital.
Take a Moonlit Hike
The real reason for your visit has nothing to do with a lock. Instead, it's about accessing a partially hidden hiking trail that meanders all the way down to the heart of the city, offering some incredibly romantic and suggestive moments.
How to Find the Trail
Once you reach the base of the hill that leads to the "Zodiaco di Roma" (it starts by going through a small arch), keep an eye out for a break in the wall on your right. There's a small gate in front of a panoramic view of Rome. That's where your romantic getaway begins.
A Word of Warning
Taking a moonlit stroll is a great way to maximize that romantic feeling, but remember that this is nighttime in Rome, which means:
- The pavement is uneven and crumbling in places.
- Not all the lights are going to be working.
- It can get surprisingly steep.
Once you're on the trail, it's a brisk 30-minute walk down to the city center. So bring some comfortable and sturdy walking shoes.
3. Breathe in Bari's Underrated Seafront
The coastal city of Bari isn't generally mentioned as a contender for a dashing romantic vacation. Even Italians laugh when I tell them I took a regional train down to Bari for the weekend.
Why Bari? Why wouldn't you go to the Amalfi Coast instead?
I feel like it's time to set the record straight about this beautiful city. Here are a handful of reasons I would recommend visiting, particularly as a couple.
3 Romantic Things to Do and See in Bari
There are hundreds of attractions and locales worth visiting, enough to warrant a rich encyclopedic article by an art historian (which I am clearly not). So I advise doing some pre-flight Googling.
In any case, here are three things I feel you need to experience if you do go.
- Piazza del Ferrarese: If we end up going to Bari at the same time, this is where you'd likely find me. Sprawled in this spacious sunlit Piazza with its billowing sea breeze, sipping on a cheap ($1 at most) espresso. This piazza is my personal heaven and a great starting point for our Bari adventures.
- San Nicola Quarter: More commonly known as Bari Vecchia (Bari old town), San Nicola is the heart and soul of Bari and features an astonishing array of architecture and sights worth visiting. Once considered a little dangerous due to the presence of Puglia's own resident mafia (Sacra Corona Unita), I've wandered all over the old town without a guide and never felt anything but comfortable.
- The seafront promenade: Called the lungomare by locals, the promenade is a great way to relax and get a feel for the city. It also happens to be quite a romantic experience, particularly at night. This is another place you're likely to find me (that shadowy figure sleeping on a bench in front of the sea).
Bari Is a Cheap Travel Destination
A hugely underrated reason to visit is that Bari's prices are for locals rather than tourists, which means things are quite cheap.
One of my favorite things to do is go to my favorite Pizzeria and order their table-sized Capricciosa pizza which costs about $5. I then head back to my favorite hotel and sleep off the food coma ($30 a night is what I pay for a large double bedroom in a 4-star hotel).
For around $200, you can expect to enjoy a satisfyingly action-packed weekend. It's an absolute steal.
4. Ski or Hike in Cervinia
Nestled in the alps under the protective shadow of the Matterhorn, Cervinia is by far the most magical skiing resort I've had the pleasure of experiencing.
To be clear, I'm not going to be ranking Cervinia in terms of the quality of its slopes but in terms of the town's romantic potential.
A Mountain Town That Never Sleeps
Due to its altitude (the town is 2000 m or 6581 ft above sea level), Cervinia is one of the only places in Italy that offers year-round skiing. And while I don't want to comment on the skiing per se, I will say that the town is "alive" all year round. What you do is entirely up to you, of course, and thankfully there's a lot to choose from.
If skiing isn't your thing, you can crown your bonding vacation with the following activities:
- Hiking and camping (lakes and waterfalls galore)
- Mountain climbing
- Paragliding (for the fearless)
- Horse riding
- Visiting the adventure park
- Visiting its museums
- Enjoying the breathtaking view from your warm hotel room
- Or, if you're like me, just by walking around town and eating, drinking, and talking my way to contentedness
Cervinia Is Not a Budget-Friendly Destination
There's no tip-toeing around it, so I'll say this as directly as I can: Cervinia is expensive. For many, including myself, a trip to this mountain paradise is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
I went to check the pricing on the hotel that I previously stayed in (Hotel Hermitage), and the cheapest option (room for two with one bathroom) is around $250 a night. If that sounds like a financially palatable price range, then Cervinia may well be the romantic vacation you've always dreamed of.
5. Take a Look Around Lake Iseo
The Lake Iseo experience is rich and multi-faceted. From exploring its art and culinary traditions to hiking inside its many nature reserves, there's always something immersive and invigorating to pursue.
Here are a couple of suggestions to get you started.
Celebrate Your Love at Lovere
English aristocratic and writer Lady Mary Wortley Montagu called Lovere, one of the many lake district's small towns, the most romantic place she'd ever been in her life. A brief glance at a stunning photo of Lovere and the surrounding hills (see below) makes it pretty obvious why she felt the way she did.
Visit the Lake Islands
You can take the frequently running ferries and visit one or all of the small islands that sit in the lake. These small islands house a number of attractions that are definitely worth your time.
An example is Monte Isola's Sanctuary of Madonna Della Ceriola, which is situated at the top of a hill on the island and offers a great panoramic view of the lake as well as an impressive collection of frescos.
In addition to Monte Isola, you'll also want to visit:
- Loreto Island (pictured above)
- San Paolo Island
Booking Your Stay: The Towns of Iseo
|Comune of Brescia||Comune of Bergamo|
Riva di Solto
- Visit Lake Iseo; Official Website
The official English website of Lake Iseo by the province of Bergamo. Chock full of valuable information for those itching to visit.
6. Explore the Peninsula of Gaeta
Gaeta is a stunning medieval town that is a stone's throw away from both Naples and Rome (around 90 and 130 kilometers respectively), making it an easy place to host a romantic weekend adventure.
What I love about visiting Gaeta is that it has a kind of "night and day" duality to it. Long summer days are spent sprawling and running along its vast, open beaches, and at night you pace up and down the romantic port on the other side of the peninsula.
Gaeta is the full package and comes with its own array of attractions, art, and features.
Here are a couple of oddities worth visiting.
La Montagna Spaccata
La Montagna Spaccata, which quite literally means the "split mountain", is exactly that. A crack in the base of the mountain.
You can take a winding path deep down into the mountain, leading to the ominous cave of the Turkish (pictured below). What you can't tell from the picture is that the wind coming in from the sea is channeled down the narrow passageways creating an echoing howl that sounds like a haunting lament. It's easy to see how the legends of a Turkish ghost came about.
During Gaeta's endless summer months, you can take a pedalo (paddle boat) and enter the cave from the sea, rather than taking the winding path down.
The old town is the romantic soul of the Gaeta, and they weren't kidding when they called it the town of a hundred churches. Here are three to get you started, all are within walking distance of one another.
- The Cathedral Basilica of Gaeta
- The Church of Saint Francis of Assisi
- The Church of Saint John Evangelist 'a Mare'
- The Angevin-Aragonese Castle
If you ask me, a single weekend is the perfect amount of time to taste just enough of Gaeta's romantic charm to leave you wanting more.
While Gaeta isn't terribly popular with foreign tourists, its vast beaches ensure a steady influx of Neapolitans and Romans looking to bake off some workday stress.
There are many reasons you'd choose Gaeta instead of the many timeless nearby attractions (like the Amalfi coast):
- The beaches are more spacious.
- Gaeta is relatively cheap (compared to other nearby hotspots).
- The town, especially during the summer, is very much alive and the nightlife is vibrant.
Gaeta is the summer town of choice for many beachgoing Italians, and that should tell you something.
10 More Romantic Destinations in Italy
Italy's romantic potential is vast and diverse. Here are some more personal suggestions you might want to add to your research list.
- Umbrian hills (Orvieto, Assisi, and Spello)
- Lake Como (relatively upscale resort at the foot of the alps)
- Orta San Giulio (lake town)
- Taormina (Sicilian beach town and archeological treasure)
- Grotta Giusti (features Europe's biggest thermal cave)
- Carloforte, San Pietro Island (a fishing resort off the southwest coast of Sardinia)
- Gran Paradiso National Park (your camping and hiking dream come true)
- Verona (far more than just the city of Romeo and Juliet)
- Alberobello (known for its white huts called Trulli)
- Palazzuolo sul Senio (that dreamy Tuscan village you've been daydreaming about)
© 2021 James Nelmondo