Smart Guide Italy: Southern Cities by Alexei Cohen - Read Online
Smart Guide Italy
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Smart Guide Italy features details about: sights, entertainment, festivals and events, sports and recreation, food, accommodations, information and services, getting there, getting around and more. All information is accurate, up-to-date and written and researched by a dedicated team of full-time residents.

Smart Guide is an independent digital travel publisher with 25 guides to all of Italy's cities and regions. Each title in the series provides insights to the most important monuments and useful information for eating, drinking, and having a good time in Italy. Smart Guide also offers an online accommodation service that allows travelers to enjoy local hospitality, lower their CO2 impact and save.

Other Guides in the Smart Guide series include:
Cities & Regions:
Rome & Lazio / Florence & Tuscany / Genova & Liguria / Turin, Piedmont & Aosta / Milan & Lombardy / Trentino-Alto Adige / Venice & Veneto / Bologna & Emilia Romagna / Le Marche / Umbria / Naples & Campania / Abruzzo & Molise / Puglia / Basilicata & Clabria / Sardinia

Multiple Regions:
Northern Italy / Central Italy / Southern Italy / Italian Islands

Northern Italian Cities / Central Italian Cities / Grand Tour: Rome, Florence, Venice & Naples

Published: Alexei Cohen on
ISBN: 9781301548200
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Southern Italy is dramatically different from the rest of Italy and nowhere is that difference more evident than in its cities. Southern Italian cities have their own rhythm which is less about efficiency and productivity and more about people and the art of living. You won’t find modern architecture or great transportation but you will find unique traditions and customs that have resisted globalization.

Each of the cities in this guide has been shaped by particular historical circumstances that have rendered them one of a kind and very much worth exploring. Whether it’s the Bourbons in Naples, Arabs in Palermo or Normans in Bari travelers will find traces of the past and discover its effect on everything from accents and local recipes to religious ceremonies and street culture. That’s the fun part of discovering Southern Italian cities and what we have highlighted in this guide.

Accommodation of course is always a big issue for travelers and that’s why we recently launched Smart Guide Italy B&B ( Travelers can now stay in the comfort of an Italian home, residence or small family hotel, gain a unique local perspective and save.

Enjoy the journey!

Alexei Cohen

Series Editor


Naples has a reputation and a lot of it isn’t good. Even Italians have come to associate the city with trash, crime and counterfeiting but to assume Naples is all bad would be selling it short and overlooking a lot worth seeing and experiencing. First of all there are the Neapolitans themselves who are a breed apart and seem to live life differently than everyone else. Sure they don’t always stop at traffic lights or wait their turn in line but they do tend to smile a lot and if GDP were measured in laughter the city would be a financial superpower. Then there is pizza. Any city that can claim to have invented pizza can’t be all bad. Add to that a magnificent position overlooking a bay and backed by a volcano and it soon becomes evident how damaging stereotypes can be.

Palermo, with its multiple Euro-Afro-Asian personality, is the pinnacle of cultural exchange. A walk in the city’s markets or a careful gaze at church domes are vivid reminders that globalization is older than we think. The wrinkled women selling cucumbers, teenagers hawking pirated CDs, and butchers displaying cuts of beef would be more at home in a Middle Eastern souk than in any suburban shopping mall. Cultural differences from the rest of Italy are also evident on Palermo plates. The city is home to more calories than any other region. Couscous competes with pasta on menus and dishes are spicier than in the North. Fruits and vegetables have tropical dimensions and if you don’t taste at least one orange (season permitting), lemon granita, and dessert your taste buds will regret it.

Lecce is one continuous Baroque masterpiece. This Puglian town was blessed with a soft, local limestone that has given sculptors and architects artistic possibilities you won’t find anywhere else. It is a beautiful city and should be circled on your map. Although it’s not centrally located it can make a good base from which to explore nearby cities such as Bari. Bari may lack the refinement of Lecce but it has the rough and tumble feel that comes with a port city. Here fishing is still a major part of the economy and sailors come back every morning with a varied catch sold in the local markets. The beaches outside of town are a nice break from the narrow medieval streets of the historic center.

Inland and west lies Potenza in the region of Basilicata. Few Italians and even fewer tourists make it to the city which is way off the beaten path. That’s not so bad and can be downright enjoyable if you consider the lack of lines outside museums and the general calm that reigns in the center. Further on overlooking the sea is Reggio Calabria perfectly positioned on the tip of the Italian boot. Here you can reminisce about the days when Italy was a Greek colony and stroll along the boardwalk facing the narrow Straight that divides mainland Italy from Sicily.


Naples/Museo Archeologico

The Museo Archeologico in Naples is one of the world’s best archeological museums featuring one of the most comprehensive collections of Greco-Roman artifacts in the world. Spend an afternoon exploring the vast collection of gems, mosaics, frescoes, and ancient Egyptian artifacts.

Naples/Mount Vesuvius

Vesuvius, a mountain within a mountain, has generated fear and awe since Naples was settled. The volcano’s most famous eruption in a.d. 79 covered Pompeii and nearby towns with ash and debris. Creator and destroyer, its fertile slopes are ideal for grapes and other crops. This ominous, ever present phenomenon has left an imprint on the inhabitants below who sometimes live as if there’s no tomorrow.


Pompeii, the site of the remains of a port city in ancient Rome, is one of Italy’s most visited attractions. The site is vast, but make sure to save some time to view the beautiful frescoes in the Villa dei Misteri.

Palermo/Street Markets

Don’t miss the vibrant Ballarò and La Vucciria street markets. Anthropologists would have a field day analyzing these animated markets in the center of Palermo. It’s not so much the variety of articles on display as the colorful buyers and sellers that is endearing.


Seven kilometers south of Palermo in the town of Monreale is the most impressive cathedral ever built by the Normans. There are more mosaics inside the Duomo than anywhere else on the island, and attached to the church is a cloister with 228 columns that was once a royal palace.


There is no one church or palazzo more beautiful than in Lecce. Anyone with a passion for Baroque architecture must make a pilgrimage to the city. At night, all the facades are illuminated and become the backdrop for dolce vita southern style.

Reggio Calabria/Museo Archeologico Nazionale

The most-visited sight in Reggio Calabria houses the world-famous Bronzi di Riace (Riace Bronzes), life-size bronze statues of Greek athletes. The museum is currently under restoration but the Bronzes have been moved to a new site nearby.


Visiting all Southern Italian cities isn’t easy and the biggest reason is geography. Getting to Naples, Palermo or Bari individually isn’t particularly difficult as there are plenty of low cost flights to those cities. The hard part is getting from city to city. Renting a car may be the quickest and most flexible option but parking in Naples or navigating the streets of Palermo is less like a holiday and more like Dante’s inferno. There are extra-urban bus connections between most of the cities that takes the driving out of your hands and provide minimum comfort at a minimum price. Trains are a good option for reaching Naples from Rome but become slower the farther south you go. Tickets are cheap however and there is something romantic about watching Southern Italian countryside from a train.

Perhaps the wisest and most exhilarating way of reaching Southern Italian cities is to use a variety of transportation options. If you fly into Rome you can take a high speed train to Naples and spend a couple of days visiting the city on foot or using a multi-day transport pass. Next you could take a night ferry to Palermo and spend a few days exploring that city. When you’re ready you could rent a car and drive or take a bus to Reggio Calabria. Getting from the toe to the heel of Italy is the trickiest part of the journey and requires some patience and a good navigator. You’ll find specific information for getting to and around all the southern cities at the end of each destination.

Remember you don’t have to see it all. It’s better to combine two or three cities than blitz your way through them all and return home dazed and confused. Just decide in advance what activities and areas you would like to emphasize—whether art, nature, architecture, shopping, sports, or people-watching—but allow enough time to savor the experience once you’re there.


The energy of Naples is palpable, more like that of New York than any other Italian city. Its streets may be crisscrossed with clotheslines strung with laundry, but Naples it is still a major metropolis and the largest city in Southern Italy. Summer heightens the theater of life here, when three million Neapolitans seem to simultaneously live outdoors.

No city in Italy, or perhaps the world, is considered more musical than Naples, where song bursts forth now and again in the streets. San Carlo reigns supreme for opera. Naples’ sunny disposition blends easily with its fatalistic, dark humor as revealed in its plays, dialect, and street scenarios. Shoppers will find streets that have plenty of pizzazz in window displays. Gourmets prize its cuisine, among Italy’s best, down to its bargain street food. Wines come from vineyards in the nearby hills, mountains, and volcanic slopes that result in flavors that range from subtle and light to elegant and spicy. A world-class transportation system moves about complex terrain with great efficiency. You can go from palace to volcano, from archeological museum to steaming fumaroles in minutes.

Even Italians sometimes give warnings about getting around in Naples. Generally, apply precautions that are relevant to any big city in the world. Be attentive of your purse and personal belongings. This is not the city to wear a Rolex, it’s a city to dress casually, elegantly, or even eccentrically without wearing