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TRAVEL: Five lesser-known Italian summer destinations to visit this year

Italy is opening up for tourism, but travellers and residents alike may be cautious about crowds. Here are some stunning spots in Italy to visit this year, where fewer people usually go and where the health data is looking promising for safe tourism.

TRAVEL: Five lesser-known Italian summer destinations to visit this year
Fancy somewhere safe and quiet? Photo: Alberto PIZZOLI/AFP

Just a handful of cities and destinations in Italy hog the limelight for international travel, including Rome, Venice, and the Cinque Terre – and while they’re all worthy of their reputations, many visitors might decide this is the year to discover a lesser-known part of the country.

That’s not just because avoiding overcrowding is better both for tourists and for monuments, but this summer for the second year in a row there’s the added concern about public health.

While Italy’s coronavirus situation continues to improve and most restrictions have now been eased, the risk has not disappeared completely, and Italy currently only has around 20 percent of the population fully vaccinated.

READ ALSO: What will Italy’s coronavirus rules be for summer 2021?

Italy plans to welcome back more international visitors this year than last, including those from certain non-EU countries with high vaccination rates, including the US and Canada.

Italy’s biggest tourist hotspots are gearing up for the summer season, with cities scheduling events and seaside towns checking that their beaches are in top shape.

With travel still complex, the majority of Italian residents also plan to spend the country’s long summer holidays enjoying sights closer to home, with only 20 percent planning to go abroad this year – most of them to summer hotspots in Sicily or Puglia.

MAP: Which parts of Italy will be Covid-19 ‘white zones’ in June?

To give you some inspiration, here’s our pick of alternatives to the most famous destinations. Though these feature less in the guidebooks, they are no less worthy of a visit and could also be a quieter, safer bet, based on their population and health data.

Oristano, Sardinia

This coastal town in tourist favourite Sardinia is a secret wonder. It currently has some of the country’s most favourable health data, according to the latest data analysis from Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore‘s monitoring site Lab 24.

The weekly new cases per inhabitants stands at just 10 per 100,000. That’s a considerable drop on the national figure of 47, according to the latest national health data.

Just 3.3 percent of the local population is infected compared to the national figure of 6.9 percent, making this a sensible choice to avoid the hordes of tourists.

In fact, things are looking up in Sardinia as a whole with an average Rt number of 0.61 – that’s the reproduction rate used to calculate how fast the virus is spreading. It’s 0.72 nationally.

READ ALSO: What is Italy’s ‘green pass’ for travel and how do you get it?

Located in the central-western part of the island, Oristano is the “gateway to an infinite number of natural beauties”, according to Sardinia’s tourism board. It is also the “noble soul of the island”, where nature meets historical monuments.

It’s also got a modest population of just over 31,600 according to statistics body Istat, meaning it could make a great getaway place to unwind and relax after months of lockdown-induced stress.

Sardinia’s beaches and sea are jaw-dropping. Photo: Massimo Virgilio on Unsplash

Sondrio, Lombardy

You might think that the Lombardy region wouldn’t feature on this list, as the region has been the worst hit in Italy throughout the pandemic and, while improving, its health data isn’t the most encouraging. Compared to the rest of the country, this region has a higher Rt, currently at 0.78.

However, just as with rules and restrictions, the situation differs from town to town and by province too.

Sondrio is showing optimistic figures, with an incident rate of 47 per 100,000 inhabitants. Although there are neighbouring areas also with promising numbers, such as the charming Lecco on Lake Como, Sondrio has less than half its population, at just over 21,600.

READ ALSO: Indoor dining and later curfew: Italy’s new timetable for easing Covid-19 restrictions

Even though it may be lesser known, Sondrio won Alpine Town of the Year award in 2007.

It boasts mountains, lakes and is a perfect holiday for those who want to get active through hiking, climbing and canoeing for example.

There are also events on throughout the year, such as a Dante exhibition and live shows.

Ferrara, Emilia Romagna

If you’re looking for a city break off the tourist track, Ferrara is beautiful, historic city in Emilia Romagna – and again, it’s got some good-looking health figures to back it up.

With a low incidence of 11, it’s a destination faring well compared to the national statistic. On a regional level it’s performing too, with the infection rate standing at 6.6 percent compared to Emilia Romagna’s 8.6 percent overall.

It’s got a comparatively huge population to our hidden hotspots so far, at just over 132,000 inhabitants.

But compare that to the likes of Florence (around 382,200) or Rome (2,873,000), and it becomes clear this is a small city with far less chance of getting squished during your sightseeing in times of Covid.

The bicycle city of Ferrara makes for an alternative city break. Photo: Eugene Zhyvchik on Unsplash

Ferrara is known for its Renaissance buildings, its beautiful moated castle and the famous city walls, where city meets countryside. There’s also an impressive diamond-bricked building called the Diamanti Palace, home to the National Picture Gallery.

It’s a bicycle-friendly city too and is easily enjoyed on two wheels through its pedestrianised centre.

READ ALSO:

Gorizia, Friuli-Venezia-Giuli

Another alternative to the beach holiday is Gorizia in Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, one of the three regions to have been downgraded to the lowest-risk ‘white zone’ classification this week.

It has an incidence rate of 33 and a population of almost 34,500 making it a good spot for safe tourism.

It’s located at the foot of the Julian Alps, bordering Slovenia, and is known for its tourism and industry. This border town is packed full of history and nature, described as the “most beautiful open door to Italy”, according to the painter Max Klinger.

Gorizia’s Latin, Slavic and Germanic influences can be seen in its streets and squares, stretching out along the Isonzo river and is flanked by glorious vineyards.

Italy’s small islands

If being active isn’t what you’re after and you’re longing to just lie on a beach and dip your toes into rejuvenating waters, then some of Italy’s ‘Covid-free’ islands might be just the ticket.

Procida, an island in the Bay of Naples, became the first island to fully vaccinate its residents in May.

It has just under 10,500 inhabitants and after its successful vaccination rollout, is an alluring holiday destination for those hoping to escape and avoid concentrations of tourism.

Sardinia’s Maddalena archipelago. Photo: Leon Rohrwild on Unsplash

Mayors of Italy’s dozens of small islands, which altogether have a permanent population of a few hundred thousand but can host several times that in summer, pushed for blanket vaccination before Italy invited tourists back.

Their often remote location can make it difficult for residents to access the healthcare they need, so it was a move for those permanently living there, especially for their more fragile citizens.

Mass vaccinations are also underway on Procida’s neighbouring islands of Capri and Ischia, while Sicily’s vaccination rollout is also speeding up.

The Pontine islands off the coast of Lazio, the Tremiti in Puglia, Capraia and Giglio in Tuscany, and the Maddalena archipelago off Sardinia are also currently working on vaccinating all their residents in time for summer.

Find all our latest news updates on travel to, from and within Italy here.

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READER INSIGHTS

‘Painful’ – is Paris Charles de Gaulle airport really that bad?

Following a survey that said Paris Charles de Gaulle airport was the best in Europe, we asked Local readers what they thought...

'Painful' - is Paris Charles de Gaulle airport really that bad?

Recently, Paris Charles de Gaulle was voted the best airport in Europe by passengers.

The 2022 World Airport Awards, based on customer satisfaction surveys between September 2021 and May 2022, listed the best airport on the planet as Doha, while Paris’s main airport came in at number 6 – the highest entry for a European airport – one place above Munich. 

READ ALSO Paris Charles de Gaulle voted best airport in Europe by passengers

Given CDG’s long-standing reputation doesn’t quite match what the World Airport Awards survey said – in 2009 it was rated the second-worst airport in the world, while in 2011 US site CNN judged it “the most hated airport in the world” – we wondered how accurate the survey could be.

So we asked readers of The Local for their opinion on their experience of Europe’s ‘best’ airport. 

Contrary to the World Airport Awards study, users erred towards the negative about the airport. A total 30.8 percent of Local readers – who had travelled through the airport in recent months – thought it was ‘terrible’, while another 33.3 percent agreed that it was ‘not great’ and had ‘some problems’.

But in total 12.8 percent of those who responded to our survey thought the airport was ‘brilliant’, and another 23.1 percent thought it ‘fine’, with ‘no major problems’.

So what are the problems with it?

Signage 

One respondent asked a simple – and obvious – question: “Why are there so many terminal twos?”

Barney Lehrer added: “They should change the terminal number system.”

In fact, signage and directions – not to mention the sheer size of the place – were common complaints, as were onward travel options. 

Christine Charaudeau told us: “The signage is terrible. I’ve often followed signs that led to nowhere. Thankfully, I speak French and am familiar with the airport but for first time travellers … yikes!”

Edwin Walley added that it was, “impossible to get from point A to point B,”  as he described the logistics at the airport as the “worst in the world”.

And James Patterson had a piece of advice taken from another airport. “The signage could be better – they could take a cue from Heathrow in that regard.”

Anthony Schofield said: “Arriving by car/taxi is painful due to congestion and the walk from the skytrain to baggage claim seems interminable.”

Border control

Border control, too, was a cause for complaint. “The wait at the frontière is shameful,” Linda, who preferred to use just her first name, told us. “I waited one and a half hours standing, with a lot of old people.”

Sharon Dubble agreed. She wrote: “The wait time to navigate passport control and customs is abysmal!”

Deborah Mur, too, bemoaned the issue of, “the long, long wait to pass border control in Terminal E, especially at 6am after an overnight flight.”

Beth Van Hulst, meanwhile, pulled no punches with her estimation of border staff and the airport in general. “[It] takes forever to go through immigration, and staff deserve their grumpy reputation. Also, queuing is very unclear and people get blocked because the airport layout is not well designed.”

Jeff VanderWolk highlighted the, “inadequate staffing of immigration counters and security checkpoints”, while Karel Prinsloo had no time for the brusque attitudes among security and border personnel. “Officers at customs are so rude. I once confronted the commander about their terrible behaviour.  His response said it all: ‘We are not here to be nice’. Also the security personnel.”

Connections

One of the most-complained-about aspects is one that is not actually within the airport’s control – public transport connections.  

Mahesh Chaturvedula was just one of those to wonder about integrated travel systems in France, noting problems with the reliability of onward RER rail services, and access to the RER network from the terminal.

The airport is connected to the city via RER B, one of the capital’s notoriously slow and crowded suburban trains. Although there are plans to create a new high-speed service to the airport, this now won’t begin until after the 2024 Olympics.

Sekhar also called for, “more frequent trains from SNCF to different cities across France with respect to the international flight schedules.”

The good news

But it wasn’t all bad news for the airport, 35 percent of survey respondents said the airport had more positives than negatives, while a Twitter poll of local readers came out in favour of Charles de Gaulle.

Conceding that the airport is “too spread out”, Jim Lockard said it, “generally operates well; [and has] decent amenities for food and shopping”.

Declan Murphy was one of a number of respondents to praise the, “good services and hotels in terminals”, while Dean Millar – who last passed through Charles de Gaulle in October – said the, “signage is very good. [It is] easy to find my way around”.

He added: “Considering the size (very large) [of the airport] it is very well done.  So no complaints at all.”

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