Authentic Italy


By Chris Cutler

On this episode of Big Blend Radio’s 2nd Friday Vacation Station Food, Wine & Travel Show, travel writer and photographer Chris Cutler discusses four towns in Italy: Sulmona in Abruzzo, Agrigento in Sicily, Alberobello in Puglia, and Lucca in Tuscany. 

Each of Italy’s 20 regions contributes a distinct cultural, culinary, and dynamic pulse to the country. Many medieval towns tumble down the hillsides that once provided protection but today, offer sweeping views of the green valleys or rocky coasts. The ancient streets and churches, the friendly people, and the fine wines and delicious cuisines, delight everyone who experiences them. Believe me. If you like Italy because you like Rome, Florence, and Venice, these four towns will make you fall in love with all that is la Bella Italia.

Alberobello, Puglia

Alberobello is a small commune famous for its conical white houses that date to the 15th century. The ruler of the area at that time forced the peasants to build homes without using mortar, and the residents found that the round shape was not only easy to build, but also able to support the conical roof.

While most of the small town has what we consider “normal” buildings, with trulli dotting the streets, there are two districts that house the majority of the trulli. Rione Aia Piccola, the residential area, is quiet and home to residents who still call the trulli home. Wander through the narrow, winding streets of Rione Monti, though, and you will find bars, cafès, restaurants, shops, B&Bs, and more. The main attractions, of course, are the trullis themselves. Hoping for a sale, the shop owners will invite you in to have a look around.

Several of trulli call themselves museums, but they are mostly shops. The main museum in town is Museo del Territorio. More than 10 trulli combine to display the ancient agricultural and building equipment as well as rooms decorated in period style.

Lucca, Tuscany

The popularity of Florence and her treasures put Tuscany on the map, but I suggest getting out of Florence and heading to Lucca instead. The birthplace of Puccini, Lucca remains much as it was in medieval times, when the town built a wall to keep the Medicis out. Today, the 4.2 km perimeter is home to playgrounds, benches, drinking fountains, and a pedestrian and bike path. Be sure to also visit rooms and passageways under the wall, to view the ancient brickwork as well as current art exhibitions.

Since cars are not permitted on most streets within the walls, you can meander through Lucca’s narrow streets and alleys either on foot or bike. Take in a variety of markets and events in the local piazzas, and check out some of the more than 100 churches within the walls.

A remnant from Roman times is the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro (Amphitheater Square), and while the amphitheater itself no longer exists, the buildings that replaced it were built along the lines of the ancient, elliptical structure. Not far from this piazza is the Torre Guinigi with its rooftop garden.

Lucca hosts many events throughout the year, including July’s Lucca Summer Festival. Originating in 1998, the month-long festival hosts a variety of national and international artists (Bob Dylan, Elton John, Eric Clapton and Dave Mathews Band among them) on venues throughout the city. Among others, Lucca is home to the Lucca Blues Festival, Lucca Comics and Games, the Holy Cross Celebration, and Cartasia, a biannual paper arts festival.

Agrigento, Sicily

Agrigento overlooks the sea on the southern coast of Sicily. Founded somewhere between 580-582 BC, it was one of the richest and most successful Greek settlements. A visit to the city’s restored archaeological site, Valle dei Templi (Valley of the Temples), will give you a look at some of the largest and best-preserved ancient Greek buildings outside of Greece.

The ancient city covered more than 3200 acres, many of which are still unexcavated. Residents built seven temples there between the 5-6 centuries BC, and you are able to walk among some of the fallen columns and restored buildings. The Temple of Zeus, thought to be the largest Doric temple ever built, was never completed, and not much remains of the site devoted to the god of sky and thunder. Much of the area is rubble, but there are two partially restored Atlases on the grounds of what was the temple. Originally, 38 Atlases stood between the columns on the outside of the temple.

West of Agrigento along the coast, you’ll find the Scala Dei Turchi (Turkish Steps). The wind and sea carved a staircase into the limestone cliffs where the Turkish and Moorish pirates used to attack the area. The cliff is located between two beaches, the one on the west is where the pirates would berth their ships. You can climb the “stairs,” but be sure to wear sunglasses if it’s sunny, as the shine of the white stone can be blinding.


Sulmona, Abruzzo

Located 90 kilometers east of Rome, Sulmona is the birthplace of the Roman poet, Ovid, and confetti, the colorful candy-covered almonds (Jordan Almonds in the US). A number of the old buildings survived, including the 100-meter long 13th-century aqueduct, which once supplied water to homes and businesses alike. A 15th-century fountain still supplies residents with ice-cold mountain water.

During the summer, the city hosts international opera students who hold concerts throughout the town. The Wednesday and Saturday markets are popular places to buy everything from fresh produce to meats and cheeses, and from household items to clothing. Finally, the passeggiata, a nightly ritual where the townspeople walk the main street, is still very popular here.

From Sulmona, you can easily visit any number of hill towns or Adriatic beaches. The main attractions of the coast, though, are the trabocchi—old fishing ‘machines’ that sit over the water. In use since the 15th century, many trabocchi today are restaurants.

If you like being outdoors, you’ll find three national parks, one regional park, and more than 35 protected reserves in the area. The regions 18 ski resorts offer about 151 miles of slopes, and the mountains are perfect for walking, hiking, and cycling most of the year.

Christine Cutler is a writer, photographer, editor, guide, teacher, traveler, Ohio native, Nevada resident, and world citizen. She lives in Las Vegas with her husband and crazy Welsh Terrier, but she can’t sit still very long. In addition to maintaining her own websites and, she is executive editor of  FWT Magazine and teaches special grammar and writing classes for UNLV. Chris finds being a travel writer the perfect job since it allows her to see the world and work from wherever she is.  She’s visited three continents, 44 states, 35 countries, and more than 850 cities. Chris specializes in writing about food, culture, and history of the destinations she visits. As a new Italian citizen, Chris writes about her extensive travels there. She is a member of the International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA), North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA), Travel Massive, TravMedia, International Travel Writers & Photographers Alliance (ITWPA), Phi Kappa Phi, and Nonfiction Authors Association.

International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association




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About the Author:

Christine Cutler is a writer, photographer, editor, guide, teacher, traveler, Ohio native, Nevada resident, and world citizen.

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