I grew up in a tiny town where the only main street is about 200m long, the road out to my farm is mostly just one-lane, and it’s natural to wave at every car you pass as you rattle off onto the gravel curb. Safe to say, getting off the beaten track with Back-Roads was right up my alley! I loved the small group vibe, the out of the way places we visited were packed with charm, and the local experiences we had were absolute highlights. I did a slight variation of the Enchanting Southern Italy itinerary and absolutely loved this style of touring – here are some reasons why.
It felt like we got under the skin of the places we visited instead of just admiring the destinations from behind our oversized holiday sunglasses. We stayed in small villages and had time to sit in the local square watching everyone speak passionately with their hands. We didn’t just sample limoncello, we visited a lemon orchard and watched as the fresh produce transformed into this speciality of southern Italy. We didn’t just eat a lot of pasta (although we did that too!), we learned how to make it from scratch in a family kitchen with fresh produce. We watched mozzarella being made, we dipped crusty bread in freshly pressed olive oil, and we dined in local restaurants where we practiced our very rough Italian with the friendly waitstaff. We had time to ourselves to wander the steep streets of Positano and browse all the colourful ceramics and beautiful crafts, and we greedily slurped away at every flavour of gelato while taking in the view from the cute town of Ravello.
As well as the immersive, we also got to tick some iconic sites off our list. We cruised out to the Isle of Capri, hugging the coastline full of colourful tiered buildings. The water was a vibrant turquoise and every new port was like we were browsing postcards, dreamily spinning the stand looking at a new part of the coastline captured in all its glory – but it was all unfolding before us in real time. Once we got to Capri we rode the funicular to Capri Town where we wandered the streets, café hopped, and took snapshots from the many vantage points. Another iconic experience was a visit to Pompeii where our local guide brought to life the narratives buried in ash. Everything was surprisingly well preserved and painted a picture of a city frozen in time. We also visited Cappella Sansevero in Naples to see The Veiled Christ. Now, if you think all chapels and churches look the same, then you need to go here. The marble art is unlike anything I have ever seen before!
Being that the group size with Back-Roads is capped at 18, they use smaller vehicles and can stay in unique properties that can only accommodate small groups. We stayed in a mix of different accommodation, each unique and boutique. A stand out was our country hotel in Paestum which was a lovingly restored family farm. The rooms were decorated with antique furniture and mine looked out over a terraced area with vines working their way up the walls. It was superbly comfortable and retained all its original charm, even offering beautiful Mediterranean gardens to explore in the golden afternoon sun.
Back-Roads use mini-coaches for their itineraries that let them live up to their name and travel on routes that larger coaches may not be able to – logistically or legally. There were many laneways that I would not have been brave enough to squeeze through on an Italian scooter, let alone a coach, but our driver expertly manoeuvred us through the winding roads of the Amalfi coast seemingly effortlessly. On one of the particularly narrow roads our guide interrupted our intense concentration on the sheer cliff to our left to let us know that larger coaches are prohibited from using these roads, so it was an experience that is reserved for small vehicles and local traffic (and despite the white knuckles, absolutely worth it!).
It was this accessibility, both to the places and the people, that made my tour with Back-Roads so special. I’m always on the lookout for my next trip… and it may just have to be another of Back-Roads’ Europe itineraries. Bellissimo!