CHIAVARI, Italy - If you have traveled in Italy, you know there is more to see than the well trodden path many tour companies follow. You know there are treasures hidden in those hills and valleys; you can feel it in your bones. Well, fasten your seat belts for today’s blog is a look at some of those towns you have whizzed by as you moved from one part of the country to another. This is a journey that zigs and zags from north to south, east to west, checking out some of the treasures found in the nooks and crannies of Italy.
The towns are not in any particular order, but they do have some things in common: they are all old, they all have stories to tell and they are small jewels of towns that are the heart and soul of this country. Let’s start in the town of Narni, which is just about in the exact geographical center of Italy.
NARNI: Narni is a small hilltown village located in the Italian province of Terni on the southern boundary of Umbria, smack dab in the center of Italy. The town has been around, at least as far as we know, since 600 B.C. In the year 299 it was a Roman colony called Narnia, and this is where C.S. Lewis got his inspiration for his classic fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia. As far as anyone knows, Lewis never went to Narni, but you can, and who knows, you may just be inspired too.
CANNOBIO: With a prime location on Lago Maggiore, on the border between Italy and Switzerland, Cannobio used to have quite a reputation as a smuggling town. Another story that is part of the town’s history involves a religious painting. It is believed that in the year 1522 a painting of Jesus and the Virgin Mary that was in a local church, started to bleed. Not long after that, a plague swept through the area devastating many lakeside towns and villages, but Cannobio was left relatively untouched. Religious minds linked these two events and Cardinal Charles Borromeo (who became Saint Charles Borromeo) ordered a Sanctuary to be built to hold the painting. Both the Sanctuary, which is called the Sanctuary of the Pieta, and the painting, are still there.
NICOLOSI: Nicolosi is a village on the slopes of Mt. Etna in the Sicilian province of Catania. It is the perfect place to go if you are interested in the largest active volcano in Europe. Etna is one of the most characteristic and active volcanoes in the world with a history of activity that has been documented for at least 2,700 years. The town is often overshadowed by the fame of the volcano, but it is a pretty little place that does its best to make everyone happy, including hiring strolling musicians to entertain visitors during the peak tourist period of mid-August.
CALCATA: Perched on a mountain of tufa rock, halfway between Rome and Viterbo, lies the medieval village of Calcata, one of the best preserved villages in Italy. There was a time when artists, writers and poets were attracted to the arched streets and flowered balconies, but that was long ago. Nonetheless the town is still called the Village of Artists and Crazies. Others, like the Italian Touring Club, call it one of those beautiful little Italian hill towns that stand out for its excellent hospitality. Did I mention that Calcata was chosen as the setting for six films?
CHERASCO: When the residents of this little town in Piedmont roll out of bed in the morning, they can almost smell the grapes growing nearby – grapes that will be transformed into Barolo and Barbarsco wine. This is the Langhe area of Piedmont, one of the best wine districts in Italy, if not the world. And there’s more. Cherasco is also a center of art and antique restoration, in other words it’s as near perfect a place as you can get.
NUMANA: Numana is a coastal town on the Adriatic in the province of Ancona, in the Marche region. The town is divided into two parts: upper Numana and lower Numana. Upper Numana is the oldest part. According to local lore, the original town was called Humana and it was founded by a mythological Queen, a giant woman with large wings, and half of her body in the shape of a snake. By throwing down giant balls of fire, the Queen burned down a wooded area near the Adriatic Sea, and on the ashes of that fire she raised up the town of Humana. I know it doesn’t make sense but to Numana’s 3,800 inhabitants, that’s their story and they are sticking to it.
LOCOROTONDO: You will find Locorotondo in the province of Bari, in southern Italy, deep in the Itria Valley, an area known for the white trulli, the typical Pugliese houses with steep conical roofs. The town started out in the year 1,000 as an unfortified hamlet run by the Benedictine monks. But now it is all grown up and very pretty, and as any one of the 14,000 people who live there will tell you, Locorotondo is listed as one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. I think that says it all.