In addition to Naples, here I include my quick guide of top ten picks for overlooked sights in the whole of Italy:
1. The Greek Philosophers City in Velia: The 5th century Greek philosophers Parmenides and Zeno lived and lectured where these ruins lie. The vast complex has a trail that winds up to a hilltop castle built in medieval times. There’s also a Roman theater, a forum, and a Roman villa tucked behind brush. Velia is located in the Cilento National Park where you can camp, hike, and enjoy the beaches. Not far distant are the three dramatic Greek temples at Paestum, remaining from early Greek colonization of the Italian peninsula.
2. The Abbey and Cemetery of Monte Cassino: One of the few remaining territorial abbeys, this monastery is important to scholars because it holds many original codices from the medieval ages and is also where St. Thomas Aquinas lived for a time. Built over a Temple of Apollo in the 6th century A.D., the Nazis tried to take over the region in 1944, but a battalion of Polish forces routed them out. A moving tribute to their heroism can be found at the bottom of the abbey in the form of a large cemetery and memorial.
3. The Arbëreshë in Cività: The Albanians are the largest minority in Italy and have been here since the 16th century when they escaped the Ottoman takeover across the Adriatic. Today, hotels are named after Skanderbeg and monuments to Albanian heroes are everywhere in this area. The Arbëreshë have retained an ancient form of Albanian and linguists flock here to study their unique tongue. At Cività, in particular, you can visit the ethnographic museum and walk across a devil’s bridge.
4. The Etruscan Tour: These mysterious ancients left bulbous tombs in Cerveteri, vibrant fresco tombs in Tarquinia, and a 180-meter deep well on the hilltop of Orvieto. Start at the National Etruscan Museum in Rome and then drive through the countryside to each of these impressive towns.
5. The Paper Makers of Amalfi: The Valley of the Mills is a hiking trail going past the ruins of Amalfi’s famous paper mills, which began their production in the 13th century. At the end of the trail, you can picnic next to a beautiful waterfall.
6. The Villa of Tiberius at Sperlonga: Emperor Tiberius had a summer home in Sperlonga while he still ruled Rome. These ruins now contain a mammoth cave and an impressive museum of items that were found inside the villa. A public beach is right next door. Sperlonga is also near Gaeta, where you can visit Split Rock (the rock said to have split on the day that Jesus Christ died), Cicero’s Tomb (the famous Roman senator and writer), or follow signs eighty kilometers into the mountains to see the Grotte di Pastena.
7. Medieval Physicians of Salerno: The oldest medical school on the continent also had the largest number of women physicians. They wrote prescriptions for things like wandering uteruses and worms in the ears. Walking toward the medical school means stopping at the macabre Il Duomo full of anguished scenes of saints as well as their unburied bones. On the way out of the city, you can follow signs to the Castello di Arechi.
8. Sailing with Odysseus across Scylla and Charybdis: Sailing from the Italian mainland to Sicily, a ferry takes you across the Strait of Messina, considered to be the original Scylla and Charbybdis where Odysseus passed. From here, my top picks for travel in Sicily (which is filled with an abundance of gems) are the ancient ruins of Agrigento, the ancient philosopher-city of Siracusa, and a climb up Mt. Etna.
9. The Archeological Park of Baia: Three enormous terraces have baffled archeologists for centuries. Nobody knows definitively what purpose these structures served. Located in the Phlegraean Fields or “Fields of Fire,” visitors can wander through what looks like baths, steep stairwells, open gymnasium spaces, and three temples, including the Temple of Echoes.
10. Convento di San Bartolomeo: This is where an Italian town bound together to save Jews from being deported to the Nazi concentration camps in World War II.