Southern Italy Road Trip: From the Heel to the Toe
Updated November 2020, The Southern Italy Road Trip was originally written in December 2018
This Southern Italy road trip will take you through Italy’s southern regions of Campania, Basilicata, Puglia, and Calabria. These regions don’t quite get the number of foreign tourists (except for the Amalfi Coast, which I have included!) that the stars of Northern Italy get.
Don’t be put off by the scant information on Italy’s south, it’s definitely a hidden gem begging to be discovered. The people are more passionate, life moves slower and the food is made with all the amore (as well as an added kick of spice).
I will give rough estimates for timings for each part of this road trip as I know everyone likes to move at a different pace, and also has differing amounts of travel time. I think 10 days would be the minimum to complete it in while others may take 20 or more days. The trip will start and end in Naples, but fear not: If you’d like to continue down to Sicily by ferry it is completely possible!
If you’re looking for more Italy inspiration check out Dan Flying Solo’s Hidden Gems of Italy article.
Looking for more ideas? Check out my off the beaten path Italy guide
How To Rent A Car For A Southern Italy Road Trip
We used Holiday Autos to make our rental car booking from Naples Airport, but I also recommend booking through Expedia from other past experiences. The process was simple and picking up the car from the rental car agency was a quick process. I have used this company before in Cyprus and Morocco and have had all good experiences.
Southern Italy Road Trip Itinerary
Naples — 1-3 Days
Welcome to Italy’s Dirty South! Where better to kick off your Southern Italy road trip than with a warm benvenuto then the capital of pizza, Napoli.
You’ve probably heard some not-so-good things about Naples, it’s a city without a great reputation. With that said, I have been to Naples several times now and have never had an issue. Just keep your wits about you and use your usual precautions and all should be fine.
Some must-do’s in Naples include grabbing a pizza at Gino Sorbillo’s, checking out the displays at Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, taking a funicular ride up to Castel Sant Elmo, Gawking at the architecture of Gesu Nuovo, and grabbing a drink at Piazze Bellini. And that’s just a few things to catch in Napoli, there’s also The Royal Palace of Naples, National Archeology Museum of Naples, Castel Dell’Ovo, and Piazza del Plebiscito.
Just outside Naples, you can explore the ancient ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, and even climb to the top of Mt. Vesuvius– don’t worry if you’re not that active: there are plenty of great views of Vesuvius from Naples (but you can reward yourself with some more Gino Sorbillo’s pizza, just saying).
Plan your stay: The Naples Travel Guide
Where To Stay In Naples
- Budget: Hostel of the Sun | Booking.com | Hotels.com |
- Midrange: Napoli City Rooms | Booking.com | Hotels.com |
- Splurge: Grand Hotel Vesuvio | Booking.com | Hotels.com |
Amalfi Coast — 2-3 Days
Any of you regular readers here know that I’m not usually a fan of well-known tourist traps, but trust me when I say the Amalfi Coast is a tourist haven for good reason– it’s gorgeous. Just make sure and be patient, especially in summer for the traffic jams.. and not to mention the extremely narrow winding roads here– the Amalfi Coast is impossible to rush through.
We visited the Amalfi Coast at Halloween and can say albeit rainy weather it was a great time to visit, as the crowds were thin and all the festivities were going on.
Plan your visit to the Amalfi Coast with my Amalfi Coast Guide
Where To Stay On The Amalfi Coast
- Budget: Cetara Albergo Difuso (Cetara) | Booking.com | Hotels.com |
- Midrange: Hotel Savoia (Positano) | Booking.com | Hotels.com |
- Splurge: La Sirenuse (Positano) | Booking.com | Hotels.com |
Rooms in the towns of Positano and Amalfi tend to be more expensive. If you don’t mind staying in a smaller village along the coast it can save you some money, as well as staying just beyond the coast on either and in Sorrento or Salerno.
If visiting in the off-season many of the hotels will be closed. On our November visit, the gorgeous Hotel Savoia was still open and offered some great room rates.
Castelmezzano & Pietrapertosa — 1 Day
Shh, don’t let everyone one in on this secret gem of Italy… in fact, I feel like I’m betraying the place by mentioning it on this itinerary. But really, is this real life?
Yes, yes it is. These are the mountaintop villages of Castelmezzano & Pietrapertosa, surrounded by the wild peaks of the Lucian Dolomites dating back to the 10th century. For those adventurous, you can zipline between the two villages on the ‘Flight of the Angel‘.
See why you can’t pass up Castelmezzano & Pietrapertosa
Where To Stay In Castelmezzano
- Midrange: B&B Al Cuore Del Borgo | Booking.com | Agoda.com |
- Splurge: Borgo dell’Angelo | Booking.com | Hotels.com |
Matera — 1/2-2 Days
Once known to be one of the poorest cities in Italy and now slated as a 2019 European Capital of Culture, Matera has risen from the Sassi. Oh don’t worry, the Sassi has gone nowhere– The Sassies are the mountainside cave dwellings that the citizens of Matera have inhabited since Paleolithic times. Matera is chock full of underground homes, restaurants, churches, and even a museum.
Don’t miss visiting the archeological gem of the Sassi di Matera
Where To Stay In Matera
- Budget: Ostello dei Sassi | Booking.com | Hotels.com |
- Midrange: Stone Rooms | Booking.com | Agoda.com |
- Splurge: Locanda di San Martino Hotel & Thermae Romanae | Booking.com | Hotels.com |
Alberobello — 1/2-1 Day
Alberobello is home to the largest and best-kept collection of Trulli stone houses. The most popular theory suggests that in avoidance of paying high property tax rates by the people brought to the Itria Valley to work, these conical stone houses were built in such a way that they could be quickly dismantled when tax appraisers came by– only inhabited homes could be taxed back in the day. These fascinating buildings look like something straight out of a fairytale.
With all that said, Alberobello can easily be seen in half a day, but some may opt to spend a full day touring around or even take the opportunity to rent a Trullo and spend a night in one.
Check out the best things to do in Alberobello before you visit
Where To Stay In Alberobello
- Budget: Villiaggio Camping Bosco Selva | Booking.com | Hotels.com |
- Midrange: Il Trullo dei Sogni | Booking.com |
- Splurge: Trulli Resort | Booking.com | Hotels.com |
Martina Franca — 1/2-1 Day
Martina Franca is a short drive from Alberobello and is definitely worth the stop. The Centro Storico (Old Town) is very well preserved with great examples of Baroque architecture and hardly another foreign tourist around.
Where To Stay In Martina Franca
- Budget: B&B San Martino | Booking.com |
- Midrange: B&B Valle d’Itria | Booking.com |
- Splurge: Trulli del Carmine | Booking.com |
Grotta Della Poesia — 1/2-1 Day
Grotta Della Poesia translates out to the Cave of Poetry in English and is it ever so fitting a name. This beautiful natural cave pool filled with crystal clear aquamarine waters definitely warrants a stop as you make your way down Puglia– the heel of the boot.
Looking for travel ideas for the more iconic stop in Northern Italy? Check out my two week classic Italy itinerary and start planning
Santa Cesarea Terme — 1/2-1 Day
This small town near the bottom of the boot packs some lovely beaches around it as well as being home to a few thermal baths (hence the name Terme). Some may opt to pass through making a quick stop while others will plan to stay a day or three.
Where To Stay In Santa Cesarea Terme
- Budget: Grand Hotel Mediterraneo | Booking.com | Hotels.com |
- Midrange: Casetta del Mito | Booking.com | Agoda.com |
- Splurge: La Capase Resort Salento | Booking.com | Hotels.com |
Pollino National Park — 1 Day
It’s no lie– the south coast of Basilicata isn’t the most exciting (although, you can make stops and try to find hidden gems along the way!) But to break up the long drive from Puglia to Calabria a stop at Pollino National Park will break the monotony. The park is known for it’s plethora of tree types and stunning little towns.
Tropea — 1-2 Days
Tropea is no secret to Italian sun-seekers in the summer months. White washed with summer sun, sandy beaches, cerulean waters and the gorgeous Santa dell’Islo church nestled into a rock and looming over the sea below.
Where To Stay In Tropea
- Budget: Hotel la Perla | Booking.com | Hotels.com |
- Midrange: Passo dei Cavaliere | Booking.com | Hotels.com |
- Splurge: Hotel Rocca Della Sena | Booking.com | Hotels.com |
Grotto dell’Arcomagno — 1/2-1 Day
North along Calabria’s coast from Tropea lies the Grotto dell’Arcomagno, which is still very much a hidden gem in Italy, though do expect a crowd of domestic tourists in the summer months. To reach the grotto you will need to first head to the small seaside town of San Nicola Arcella, then walk across the beach and follow the trail up the rocks and be rewarded with views of the beautiful arch and clear waters below.
Maratea — 1/2-1 Day
Maratea is a picture-perfect coastal town, sprinkled with churches in typical Italian fashion and all the waterfront restaurants and marina with a statue of Christ guarding over from a cliffside above. After our visit, we highly recommend staying in nearby Aquafredda at Villa Irlanda with the most welcoming owner.
Where To Stay In Maratea
- Budget: Hotel Ristorante Borgo La Tana | Booking.com | Hotels.com |
- Midrange: Villa Irlanda Aquafredda (sleeps up to 8) | Booking.com | Agoda.com |
- Splurge: La Locanda Delle Donne Monache | Booking.com | Hotels.com |
Cilento Coast — 1-2 Days
The Amalfi Coast’s lesser-visited cousin– the Cilento Coast has just as much to offer with equal beauty and a fraction of the crowd. With sandy beaches and sunbleached towns, it has much to offer. Seaside towns to explore include Agropoli, Palinuro, and Castellabate. Move inland to find countless hikes on offer at Parco Nazionale del Cilento e Vallo di Diano and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Certosa San Lorenzo in Padula… and let’s not forget the Greek ruins in Paestum.
You can easily spend a week or more exploring this area, but for those crunched on time, you can still enjoy the views as you make your way back up to Naples to end your road trip.
Where To Stay On The Cilento Coast
- Budget: Casa Vacanze Alfano (Salerno) | Booking.com | Agoda.com |
- Midrange: Aurora B&B (Agropoli) | Booking.com |
- Splurge: Hotel Palazzo Belmonte (Castellabate) | Booking.com | Hotels.com |
When To Go On A Southern Italy Road Trip
Naturally, the south of Italy has a Mediterranean climate with mild winters and hot summers. Temperatures in the winter can range from 3-14ºC and in summers will typically fluctuate from 19-30+ºC. The wettest months of the year are October and November (which I can attest to as we did our Southern Italy road trip in early November).
To avoid the crowds and still get nice weather consider the shoulder months of April, May, & September. If you’re not afraid of chilly weather January & February can be a great time to visit as prices are lowest and crowds are thinnest.
Southern Italy Road Trip Tips
- Italy drives on the right
- Most cars in Italy are manual transmissions. Automatics are available but can book well in advance in the summer months. Plan to pay a little more for an automatic (in November 2018 an automatic compact car was going in the range of 7-15€/day, whereas manuals were going for 5€/day)
- Make sure and have an IDP (international driver’s permit) before you leave home. I had to make my friend Tay get one before she came over to visit me because I realized not only was mine expired, but I had lost it. If you get into an accident, even a simple fender-bender in Italy, and don’t have an IDP you will have a costly ordeal on your hands much of the time. Go to a AAA branch and apply for one, tip: bring a passport photo.
- Watch your speed. There are cameras on the roads clocking speed and dealing with the polizia can be a gigantic pain in the ass.
Have Any Southern Italy Road Trip Questions?
Ask your Southern Italy road trip questions in the comments below!