Seceda, Val Gardena, Dolomites | Moon & Honey Travel

Italy

Italy Travel Guide

Italy is a country that needs no introduction. The whole country could be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, this southern European country isn’t just a collection of historical sites; it’s a series of sounds and movements. It’s no coincidence that opera was birthed into this world in Italy. Life in Italy is opera. It’s a voluminous moving masterpiece of generations intermingling, life spilling onto the streets, people gesticulating, laundry hanging and mopeds flying. We love Italy. We love the Adriatic coast, the whitewashed coastal villages of Puglia, the caves of Matera, the energy of Naples, and the Dolomiti. We invite you to read some of our most memorable experiences and recommendations below.

 

This Guide Includes:

  • Italy Basics
  • Where to Go (Interactive Map)
  • What to Experience in Italy
  • What to Eat & Drink in Italy
Naples, Italy | Moon & Honey Travel

Italy Basics

Official Name: Repubblica italiana (Italian Republic) 

Capital: Rome

Government: Unitary Parliamentary Republic 

Regions: Italy is divided into 20 regions. Each region, apart from Aosta Valley, is divided into provinces.

Population: 60.6 Million 

Language: Italian is the official language of Italy. In the autonomous province of South Tyrol (Alto Adige) in Northern Italy, German has equal status. 

Currency: Euro 

Payment Culture: Cash

Tipping Etiquette:  A service charge (servizio) and a coperto (cover charge) is automatically added to the bill in restaurants. The coperto is charge for the tablecloth, silverware, etc… For outstanding service, you can round up the bill.

Water Quality: This is somewhat controversial. Many sources say that it’s safe to drink the tap. But, Italians are amongst the greatest water bottle consumers globally. We say, do as the Italians do (especially in old, dense cities.

Something Interesting: Stray cats are protected as “biological heritage” in Rome. It’s estimated that there are 300,000 cats in the Eternal City. The cats are regularly fed by Le Gattare, or Cat Ladies.

Italy Travel Guide | Moon & Honey Travel

Where to Go in Italy

Click the dots to explore specific destinations
Cities
  • Bari
  • Polignano a Mare
  • Alberobello
  • Martina Franca
  • Matera
  • Naples
Regions & Islands
background

In vino veritas.

 

 

 

 

 

Italian Saying

In wine there is truth. 

What to Experience in Italy

Our favorite things to see and do
Fermeda Peaks, Dolomites, Italy | Moon & Honey Travel
Fermeda Peaks

Hiking in the Dolomites 

It’s hard not to gush when describing the uniquely sculpted peaks and pale coloration of the Dolomites, a mountain range in northeastern Italy. When you hike in the Dolomites, you feel like you’re at the meeting place between heaven and earth.

Beyond the scenery, one of the best reasons to hike here is for the comfort, or as the Austrians would say, “Gemütlichkeit.” Much of the Dolomites lies within a province that was formerly part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Austrian love of coziness still permeates the regional culture of northeastern Italy today. And luckily for visitors, that means cozy mountainside huts to sleep and eat in.

There’s a large network of mountain huts (Hütte in German, Rifugio in Italian) across the Dolomites that makes hiking here more accessible. One of our most memorable experiences in Italy was sleeping in Tierser Alpl, a mountain hut in Naturpark Schlern – Rosengarten.

Read our Dolomites Travel Guide for info on where to stay, where to hike and what to experience.

Wonder Woman (2017) Movie Set, Matera, Italy | Moon & Honey Travel
Wonder Woman (2017) Movie Set, Matera

The Cave City of Matera

Matera is an ancient city in Southern Italy famed for its cave dwellings that are carved into the mountain, known as the Sassi. Though it’s a tourist destination today, it was actually a very poor region in the 1950s. The people of Matera were evacuated by the government, because the living conditions were so bad.

The Sassi are so unique to Italy. As you explore the caves, you might even think you’re in the Middle East. For that reason, Matera is a favorite destination for filmmakers, especially those filming Biblical tales. Some of the films shot in Matera are: The Passion of the Christ (2004), The Nativity Story (2006), King David (1985), The Young Messiah (2006). When we visited in 2016, we nonchalantly walked onto the set of Wonder Woman (2017) and saw drop-dead-gorgeous actors clad in market and warrior costumes.

When you visit, you’ll want at least three days here (at least). We highly recommend sleeping in a cave and walking down the deep ravine (Gravina of Matera) to see ancient dwellings and a great vantage point of the Sassi. There are excellent food options throughout the city. Here are two spots we can wholeheartedly recommend.

  • Ristorante Francesca (Vico Bruno Buozzi, 9, 75100 Matera) – This cave restaurant is a dream. The cuisine was quite literally out of this world. We will never forget the epic cheese plate we ate here. 
  • Panecotto (Vico B. Buozzi, 10 Matera) – This casual restaurant specializes in bruschetta and soups. The atmosphere is lovely and the food is simple, but delicious.
Monopoli, Adriatic Coast, Italy | Moon & Honey Travel
Monopoli

Driving the Adriatic Coast

The Adriatic coastline is one of our favorite destinations in Italy. This region doesn’t perform a caricature of itself like other popular Italian destinations. It’s more subdued in its charm. More authentic. Puglia’s coastal villages are disarmingly good-looking. Town streets are narrow and rimmed with cactus plants. The whitewashed buildings contrast ever so gracefully against the turquoise sea waters. And, blue fishing boats line the shores and fisherman sell their daily catch.

We recommend visiting the following towns (North to South):

  • Bari (Coast)
  • Polignano a Mare (Coast)
  • Monopoli (Coast)
  • Alberobello (Inland)
  • Martina Franca (Inland)
  • Ostuni (Inland)
  • Otranto (Coast)
Alberobello, Italy | Moon & Honey Travel
Alberobello

Dining in a Trullo in Alberobello

Alberobello is a small town in Puglia in southern Italy. The most striking feature of the town is the dense collection of trulli houses. A trullo is a dry stone hut with a conical roof. There are lots of theories regarding the origin of the trulli. One theory is tax evasion. In the 17th century, nobles could impose heavy taxes on permanent structures. Peasant families, who were unable to pay the tax, built their dwellings in such a way (without any mortar or cement) so that they could demolish the hut easily. The conical roof needs the topmost stone to prevent the roof from collapsing. So, someone could pull the stone out, collapse the hut and avoid paying the tax, at any given moment. 

In Alberobello, trulli are actively being restored and used. Most of the huts are habitable and function as stores, restaurants, hotels, and AirBnBs.

Now that you’re mildly intrigued, let’s talk about the swoon-worthy and tear-worthy food of Alberobello. Actually, let’s just talk about a place called Trattoria Terra Madre. Located in a trullo, this gift-to-humanity restaurant serves beautifully prepared vegetables, pastas, and meats. Terra Madre sources its ingredients locally and from its organic garden. If a meal can shape destinies, then this meal may have done that. We didn’t become chefs the next day. But, we decided to ditch our respectable lives in our respective cities (Vienna and San Francisco) for something more exciting (living together in one city. Hint: Alaaf!).

Capri, Italy | Moon & Honey Travel
Capri

Capri

Capri is an island in the Bay of Naples in Southern Italy. Given its easy proximity to Sorrento and Naples, Capri is a popular day-trip. However, if you stay the night, you’ll discover the unspoiled charm of the island.

We visited Capri in early Spring. For anyone thinking it’s too touristy, you’re right. But, if you venture beyond Capri Town and Anacapri, you’ll be rewarded with untraversed footpaths and remote coastal access.

For a non-ostentatious, yet delicious fish dinner, we recommend Ristorante Buca Di Bacco (Via Longano, 35, Capri) in Capri Town.

Neopolitan Pizza at Antonio e Gigi Sorbillo (Via dei Tribunali, 38), Naples, Italy | Moon & Honey Travel
Neopolitan Pizza, Naples

Eating Pizza in Naples

Naples is the capital city of the region Campani in Southern Italy. This lively city animated with swift motorbikes is the birthplace of pizza as we know it. Making a pilgrimage to Naples to taste Neapolitan pizza is something every food lover must do. We recommend eating at Antonio e Gigi Sorbillo (Via dei Tribunali, 38).

There’s so much to experience in this dynamic Southern Italian city beyond its pizza. Here are some ideas for unraveling Naples’ layered history and culture:

  • Tour the Opera House, Teatro di San Carlo
  • Walk the Spaccanapoli in the centro storico
  • Check out the extravagant handmade puppets (Pulcinella) and Crèche work of Naples craftsman along Via San Gregorio Armeno 
  • Eat gelato at Gay-Odin 
  • Have a glass (or bottle) of wine in Piazza Bellini, a lively gathering spot that feels like the heartbeat of the Napoli youth culture.
  • Tour Chiesa del Gesù Nuovo, built in 1470. Don’t miss the 17th century reliquary busts of 70 martyred saints.
Pragser Wildsee, Lago di Braies, Dolomites, Italy | Moon & Honey Travel

What to Eat & Drink in Italy

Italian Custom: Coperto

Coperto means cover charge. It’s the fee you pay to sit at a table in a restaurant. Generally, the fee is somewhere between 1 EUR and 5 EUR. This may, or may not be advertised on the menu.

 

Italian Gastronomy

Italian cuisine is probably the most loved food globally. For that reason, we’re not going to tell you what to eat. Istead, we want to share with you some of the highlights of our food adventures.

 

Orecchiette in Puglia – In Otranto and Alberobello, we saw pasta shapes we had never seen before. And, my goddesses and gods, were they good. We packed at least 6 bags of orecchiette pasta in our already stuffed backpacks and carried them joyfully back home.

 

Knödel in South Tyrol spinach dumplings, cheese dumplings, ham dumplings. We can sing about dumplings. Our most memorable Knödel experience was in a mountain hut in the Schlern – Rosengarten Dolomites.

 

Espresso in Taranto – it’s really easy to find quality espresso in Italy. However, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a comfortable place to drink your espresso. Italians drink their coffee like most people drink a shot: at a bar, standing up. The best espresso we had was at a gas station in Taranto. Seated in white plastic chairs on a sea of asphalt, we laughed in disbelief about how good our 80 cent gas station espresso was.

Naples Mail Box, Italy | Moon & Honey Travel
@moonhoneytravelers
  • We’ve spent the last few days in Pokhara and have done absolutely nothing, apart from slowly hop around from smoothie joint to restaurant to coffee shop. Pokhara is a city located on Phewa Lake and a favored destination among trekkers pre- and post-trek. After a long multi-day trek, Pokhara satisfies all your cravings and indulges you with its stress-free atmosphere, clean air, cafés, and spas. We’ve really loved our time here. However, we do acknowledge, that Pokhara is probably not best destination for travelers (if you didn’t do a long trek). It caters unabashedly to tourists, with happy hour offers, hippie clothing, German bakeries, Pizzerias, and tattoo shops. So while we’ve been enjoying the comforts of this inauthentic tourist hub, we can’t help but ask “is this a good thing?”
  • We received a question about AMS and insurance as it pertains to the Annapurna Circuit. AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) is caused by reduced air pressure and lower oxygen levels at higher altitudes. Your body can adjust and adapt to higher altitude, but it needs time. Doctors recommend that you sleep three nights around 3,500 meters before ascending further. They also recommend that above 3,500 meters, you only sleep 500 meters above where you slept the previous night. If you don’t feel well (nausea, dizziness, headaches, etc...), you’re supposed to descend to the last place you felt well. Slide right to see AMS Symptoms.  Apart from slow ascension, it’s important to avoid alcohol. In Manang, during the trekking seasons, there’s a medical facility staffed with western doctors. They conduct a free daily talk about acclimatization and how to recognize and respond to various symptoms of AMS. Definitely attend this session. In terms of our personal experience, most people we met experienced some degree of AMS - some at 2,500 meters, while others only at the pass. It’s common to take diamox (Acetazolamide) to help your body adjust to the altitude gain. Unlike ibuprofen, it doesn’t mask the symptoms of AMS, it actually prevents and reduces the symptoms. Consult your doctor about diamox usage, before you go on your trek. Re: insurance, you absolutely need it!!!!
  • Let’s talk about food on the Annapurna Circuit. The main staple food is Dal Baht, a traditional meal consisting of steamed rice, lentil soup (dal), curried vegetables, and pickles. We ate dal baht daily, sometimes twice. With free refills, it’s the best thing to eat when you’re hungry. Most menus also offer curries, momos (dumplings), fried noodles and rice, thukpa (Tibetan noodle soup) as well as pizza, pasta and various soups. There are also bakeries that serve excellent cakes, crumbles and pastries. We’re going to wrap up our Annapurna Circuit posts, so let us know if you have any questions about the trek. #dalbahtpower #dalbahtpower24hour #hikeforfood
  • Annapurna Circuit Days 22 & 23: Tatopani - Ghorepani - Hile - Nayapul. Our final days of the trek were marked by stairs, leeches, mule caravans, water buffalo and good food. Though mountain views were seldom, we saw beautiful terraced fields and hiked through verdant rainforest. The final stretch was a never-ending staircase descent that was physically and mentally taxing. When the trail intersected with the dusty road just after Hile, we opted for a Jeep to Nayapul. At Nayapul, we grabbed a local bus to Pokhara. Shortly after getting on the bus, it stopped. Our fellow bus riders explained that we’d be here for 1.5 hours, because of road construction. We chatted with a few locals, who shared their views on their government, its rampant corruption, and their personal struggles. We arrived in Pokhara at 8 pm, after an enlightening and bumpy journey.
  • Annapurna Circuit Day 21: Kalopani to Tatopani. We started hiking at 6:15 am, because we were determined to end our day in the natural hot springs of Tatopani. When we reached the town in the late afternoon, people were still recovering from a landslide. Unfortunately, a few homes and lodgings were demolished. Some trekkers even lost their belongings in the landslide. When we soaked in the warm springs, a friendly Nepali family (who were touring the region) asked us where we were from, if we could swim and whether we liked Nepal. Their 12 year old daughter was really excited to speak English and shared her career (science) and travel aspirations (visit a developed country).
  • Annapurna Circuit Days 19 & 20: Kagbeni - Marpha - Kalopani. Most of the trail followed the riverbed Of Kali Gandaki. The wind picked up with a vengeance and funneled down the valley, making this part of the trek dusty and miserable. We understood why most people opted for a jeep or bus to their next destination. After lunch in Jomsom, we walked another 1.5 hours to the beautiful town Marpha, where we spent the night. Each stone building is painted white and all the wooden door and window frames are painted burgundy. The streets are immaculate - barely any mule, horse and ox poo. After a night in Marpha, we headed to Kalopani. We followed the forest trail on the east side of the river almost all the way. Only a few parts of the path were washed out. Luckily, the trail was sheltered mostly from the wind. Photos of Marpha.
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